"Everyday engagement"

The Bar Owner: 'I am absolutely not a party person'

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Aurelius Braunbarth is the owner of Hausbar, a Berlin-inspired bar in trendy Clifton, Bristol. With 30 years' experience in the industry, Braunbarth is an expert when it comes to knowing what his customers want. Here's his story. 

I was born in a kitchen and grew up in a restaurant.

My father was a Michelin starred chef. We also had a small hotel in which I worked a lot and ran whenever my parents went on holiday.

For two and a half years I had an apprenticeship as a professional waiter in Munich. After that I went to Jamaica, Berlin then Bath and Bristol. I always had a second job on the side to my normal work. Normal working hours were at least 40, often more.

Next to this I worked on several open air concerts (Stones, Pink Floyd, Prince, etc.), at the VIP bar for the Davis Cup in Munich, and as a bartender for the Hells Angels in Berlin.

The extra money was always welcome, but never the main reason I do what I do. Sometimes I just helped out somewhere and then liked it too much, so I stayed.

My father always said 'cooking is 80% washing up and cleaning’.

It is similar in a bar. Every day I clean the bar, meet drinks reps, cut ice blocks, take orders and deliveries and do admin. At night I set up the bar for service, mix cocktails, serve and then it’s time to clean again.

You have to be interested in people and want to be a host.

You also have to have a lot of patience. Lots of discipline. I constantly have to engage with different groups of people – drinks reps trying to sell me their latest product, guests, staff, my accountant…

With guests the trick is to let them know that you are there when needed, without being intrusive. Listen, don’t rush them, but be quick to serve. With drinks reps it’s important to let them know that we don’t have all day to listen to them, but in a friendly, firm manner. Equally, you have to be open to new things.

I have a rule with my staff – be firm, but fair.

Again, listen. Being generous keeps people from doing stuff they shouldn’t do. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with them is better than just being there and telling them what to do, it helps build respect.

The way I get through to people is to show respect and interest in whatever they have to say. I don’t have to agree, though.

People don’t realise that bar work can be a profession, rather than just a job. And not everybody can do this, even if they think they can.

You need 360 degrees of awareness.

We do things differently here. It’s about knowing what the guests want or need, before they know themselves. I notice little details and keep pointing things out to my staff like ‘those guests need more water’, ‘they’ve almost finished their drinks – bring them the menu again’.

I try to set a standard by showing them how fast and good things can be done. Leading by example. We engage the customers with the business by being attentive and providing a great overall experience.

Communication is an art when it comes to cocktails.

We don’t use words like ‘nice’ or ‘really good’ to describe flavours, it’s better to stimulate the senses with words like floral, strong, creamy, etc. It’s gives a much better impression.

Occasionally there will be slow and bad service, bad preparations. I'll think I’ve been heard, but I haven’t been. Putting good communication into practice seems difficult sometimes. When something went wrong, my staff and I try to find and correct the problem together.

A good bartender is always busy.

Crossed arms, leaning against the bar, checking the phone – all very bad. There is always a glass to clean or polish, something to be refilled, a table to be cleaned.

I’ve had customers call me names and generally misbehave. People shut down and don’t listen, sometimes because they are drunk but sometimes because they’re just arrogant. But I try to practice patience, politeness and respect. A bartender can swear after the shift, but not during!

In a heated conversation, swap bartenders and let a colleague deal with the situation. The guest will calm down, because the new person didn’t start the situation. This has avoided a lot of trouble in the past.

We greet people as they come in, get the door for them on their way out.

It is important to leave your own issues at home. We are here to look after others, not ourselves. If you like what you are doing, you will bring the right attitude and the right manners automatically.

I started to skydive a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time for it lately. Dealing with a lot of people professionally makes me enjoy the quiet time at home without seeing or meeting people.

I remember having my first Friday off in six years.

All the people on the streets stressed me out. A busy bar is not a problem for me, but experiencing lots of people outside a bar and off work is difficult. I am absolutely not a party person.

About the project

The Everyday Engagement project is a series of interviews exploring the ways people communicate and connect in day-to-day life.

We want to learn about the instinctive skills and insights used in different professions, especially from people who deal with a spectrum of human emotion.

If you’ve got a story to share please get in contact.

More in this series:

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