Hiring Practices from Los Angeles Beer Bar Owners

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Craft Beer Los Angeles

Serving quality beverages plays a small part in a beer bar's success.

At the L.A. Beer Week fest on October 23, I asked four of L.A.’s best beer bar owners (and one GM) pointed questions. In this case: “What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work behind your bar?” Their responses might surprise (or help) you.

Clay Harding (38 Degrees)

Basically, I start with experience. Because of the amount of people that are looking for jobs right now, and since about 2008, there’s been an increased desire to work in the industry of restaurants and bars, the service industry period. I take advantage of the fact that there are so many quality people out there that I know I need to pick through them. There’s so much value out there. I look for the experience and quality thoroughly, based upon their personality, number one, their experience and skills, as far as what they’ve built upon whatever service they’ve done, whether they’re a bartender, server, if they’ve been behind a kitchen line, then wrap that up and weed it out to something that’s more dynamic to my concept, which would be beer. If there’s any relevant significance to craft beer, then they’re automatically compiled to another category of people I’d love to interview. They go through a huge interview process with my management, my partners, everybody. But the main thing I do at 38 Degrees is taking care of people. It’s not just about the beer…If it’s somebody that’s got the most beer geek knowledge you would ever know, but doesn’t have a dynamic personality that I would like to see, doesn’t quite fit my M.O. for a server or a bartender or anybody. Behind the bar, I want people that will have people sit down and have a good time. That’s what we go out for anyways, whether you’re with your girlfriend, whether you’re with friends, somebody serving you, you should expect that person to be very personable and entertain you. Although everything I do at my place would be self sufficient, and you’d be happy with, I think that’s the biggest part of what I look for. What can you bring to the table to actually give my guests the best experience? That’s really how I hire. It’s pretty crucial, and it takes a long time, but I’m pretty into it. It’s really weeding through a lot of people, and I go for the best. There’s no reason not to right now, there really isn’t.

Brian Lenzo (Blue Palms Brewhouse)

First, a little charisma. You want to make sure the customers are comfortable with them. Then mainly beer knowledge, to make sure they can direct people through the right process. Still a lot of people in L.A. don’t understand styles and different craft beer, so it’s really big on education to make sure they can guide [customers] through the process and get them into the style they like.

Tom Kelley (Library Alehouse General Manager)

Most of the people we hire through the host stand, then I watch how they work at the host stand. We consider beer knowledge, of course, but you can teach somebody beer. What you can’t teach somebody is personality and customer service is much harder to teach. I watch how they deal with people and how they deal under pressure, and if they succeed at the host stand, then they’ll get an opportunity to serve behind the bar.

Ryan Sweeney (The Surly Goat / Verdugo Bar)

A personality. Seriously, I can teach a monkey to pour a drink. I can’t teach them to be a normal person. You’ve got to have the right energy, and you’ve just got to have the right mentality to work there, because I’ll be honest, the hours are brutal. It’s not fun. It takes a toll. You need someone who can persevere and is always willing to be a little chipper, even if the situation is going to suck. Really a good personality I can work with.

Gabe Gordon (Beachwood BBQ)

Passion for beer and a very, very, very good working knowledge…The interviews are fairly extensive discussions about beer and craft beer and we try and see if their eyes light up when they talk about it.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

if someone has a personality it makes the experience that much better. when you go to a place and get an awful bartender it just takes your focus away from your drink and on how unfriendly they are!

i realize its a tough job and sometimes mean customers roll thru but just slap a smile on please!

great post!

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