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Aug 4th 2021
The Blend
Australia

6 ways that Burrow Bar builds a winning team culture

We’ve all been there: you’re at a bar, having a drink, but something just feels off; it’s like you’re at a party you weren’t invited to and you’re not welcome. 

“You can walk into a bar and not be able to put your finger on what’s wrong,” says co-owner of Burrow Bar in Sydney, Chau Tran. “If you feel like there are tensions behind the bar, you could have gotten the drink you asked for, the venue looks beautiful, has great music, but [there’s] this thing you can’t really quantify.”

It’s a sure sign the team culture is off, Trans says. And it’s the team culture which Burrow Bar has got right — there’s a reason why it’s regularly nominated as bartender’s bar and why they’re in the mix for Bar Team of the Year at this year’s Bartender Magazine Bar Awards.

“For me, team culture is really, really important,” says Tran. Over the nearly six years that Burrow Bar has been open, Tran and fellow owner Bryce McDonough have worked to refine their team culture, and work out what it means to them.

So what what are we talking about when we’re talking about team culture?

Tran describes team culture as an environment in which mutual respect is important. “If you respect each other, if you like each other — you don’t have to have the same interests — you can respect that you’re all trying to pull in the same direction,” she says. “You’re [all] trying to deliver the same experience and the same level of standard in your specific role within the venue.”

“Team culture is integral,” says Tran.

Below, Tran tells us how you can build a strong team culture, the things you need to do to nurture and support it, and why the quality of the people who leave your business speaks volumes about an operator’s success.

It starts with leadership

A fish rots from the head down. You have to cut off the head of the snake. The tone is set at the top. There are many inions out there which emphasize the importance  of leadership, and even though the team culture is built within the team itself, it doesn’t happen without leadership.

“Every day I am very adamant to create a positive environment,” says Tran. She says that regardless of whether or not she’s having a dumpster fire of a day, setting the right tone from your first interaction with your team is important.

“Even if I’ve had the worst morning I will come bouncing down those stairs and be really kind of happy,” she says.

Tran also sees it as part of her leadership role to share her experience with anyone in her team who are having a stressful time, whether it’s in the workplace or outside of it.

“It comes with time and with age to be able to navigate stressful situations and that’s kind of what I want to teach the team,” she says. “Stressful situations happen and someone people react really well and some people don’t, but we’re here to nurture them so they can handle stress well.” 

Onboarding is crucial for a strong team

The bigger the company is, the bigger the HR department gets, because big operations know that onboarding new hires is an essential way of communicating what the organisation is about and what is expected from new staff.

Yet not all hospitality businesses have the site and scale which allows for a proper HR department. Instead, operators have to adopt a jack of all trades mindset, and onboarding isn’t always a priority. Tran says that overlooking the onboarding process, however, is a mistake.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s been six and a half years that we’ve been learning along the way,” she says. “When it’s just the owners who have been involved for a very long time, we kind of know what to expect from each other, the lines are very delineated and you know what you’re in charge of and what you’re responsible for. 

“But as we started to hire people we found we needed to onboard people.” The approach they took at the start — “a one on one, really casual chat before you start the role,” says Tran — had to become more formalised and detailed. Over the last couple of years they’ve added more documentation to the hiring process, so that new hires better know what is expected from them.

Bond with the team away from booze and service

Working in hospitality, and bars in particular, means you’re around alcohol a lot. So it’s important to get away from this regular environment and change things up with your team.

“We do things that are non-spirit or service related in terms of team building exercises,” says Tran. “Things like going and having a booze-free picnic at the fish markets, [or] flower arranging classes or doing a painting workshop. [Our staff] are all really creative people in their own ways, whether it’s constructing drinks or constructing flavours of building a dish or cooking a dish — we’ve always tried to make sure that our education program doesn’t just stay on food and bev. I think other parts of other skillsets can influence the way you do things, so we’ve always tried to put something fun or left of field when we try to do team building things.”

At work, and outside of work

Being a leader and fostering a string team culture means understanding your staff have lives outside of the business, and that those lives can be messy and complicated and can affect the way we are at work.

So it’s important, Tran says, to understand what’s going on when your staff are away from work.

“Outside and inside of work important to us,” she says. “I don’t just care about you when you walk in and you’re on the clock, I do care about you when you’re outside.”

Don’t get angry; get them skills

Tran is realistic when it comes to hiring staff, and managers in particular; not everyone will have had the opportunity to further their skills before or conduct themselves in a way that suits your business. 

So it’s important that you provide training on the way you like to do things.

“I think being in a leadership position we try to upskill our own leadership team,” Tran says of the approach that her and McDonough take. 

“Instead of getting really angry, and screaming at someone because they haven’t done something that you expected, we try to sit down and walk them through it,” she says. “You’ve probably not come across this situation before, so how would you deal with it? [We] try to upskill them so they can become better managers. That’s our method.”

“You might not come with the skills you need when you come into a different venue, so we try to approach everyone individually and make sure they’re upskilling at a rate that suits them but also the venue,” Tran says. 

Great staff are a good leader’s resume

At the end of the day, whilst you might like to keep your staff forever, they will move on. But Tran and McDonough pride themselves on preparing their staff for not only their current role, but the next job too — whether it’s with Burrow Bar, or somewhere else.

“For me the dream scenario is that people stay with us forever,” Trans says, “but the reality is people out grow you and you’ve got to make sure that they’re ready for that and wish them well.”