Jen Gregory knows a thing or two about how to bring bartenders together. As president of the Chattanooga, Tenn., chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, Gregory has been instrumental in not only creating a serious sense of camaraderie in her city but putting the midsize town on the map for other bartenders in the region and country.
“I’m a 20-plus-year veteran of the food and booze industry and have seen some pretty interesting trends come and go,” says Gregory. “I feel like I’m constantly saying these days, ‘We are fortunate enough to live in a time where we can support and grow as professionals in this industry.’”
Below, Gregory outlines her suggestions for community building in the service industry and suggests how basic manners—like, you know, thank-you notes—can go very, very far.
1. Build others up, don’t tear each other down
“While this one sounds inherently easy enough, we all know egos are a part of what we do as bartenders! I’ve found this is a tough lesson for industry folks, regardless of age or experience.”
2. Be willing to have the hard talks
“We are all consistently putting on a game face to better serve our customers, guests and coworkers. We are all aware of the drama, dysfunction and substance abuse that can be a big part of many of our daily lives.
“You should have a space where to talk openly in a truly connective way. For me, that includes a closed Facebook group of industry folks dealing with depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. It also includes regular therapy. But being a leader in the community means providing that safe space (or sometimes opening the door for) those tough conversations that can lead to growth and change.”
3. Create real connections and nurture them
“This one is really tough for me, and I think it depends on your personality type as well. But with all these major industry events going on these days, it’s easy to want to get to know everyone. I’ve seen much greater success in those willing to create lasting industry relationships. Move beyond the superficial, and those deeper relationships will serve you and your circle so much better in the long run.”
Gregory and her bar team
4. Write handwritten letters
“Yeah, this one is a small one but ties into all of the above. It’s a habit I picked up when I was a distributor in the fine wine and spirits division. I love dropping notes in the mail to someone I’ve met with whom I’ve had a great connection. It means so much more than some social media post.”
5. Humility is key
“We are in the era of bartenders being rock stars, media personas and national celebrities. It’s such a cool thing for the industry at this point. However, regardless of success, it’s so important to stay humble. Be grateful for your success, and be willing to teach it to others.
“Years ago, I used to work in the live music industry and met rock star musicians on a daily basis. I walked away from that experience realizing that regardless of your social status we’re all just human beings. And the ones who acted with grace and humility, even as celebs, were the ones I remembered.”