Behind the Bar To Your Health

Team Building Minus the Booze: 3 Healthy Ways to Inspire Your Bar Staff as a Team

Image: Valero Doval

Still treating your staff to post-shift shots and calling it team building? You may want to rethink your approach.

“Going out and getting drunk together is really ingrained in bar culture, but it can also alienate some employees, especially those who have families, relationships with people not in the industry, or those who don’t drink,” says Kate Gerwin, the owner of Albuquerque’s forthcoming Blue Hippo.

In addition, “it can make staff uncomfortable to be put in a position of having to drink with bosses and co-workers,” says Kailey Jenkins, the general manager at Zahav in Philadelphia. “Because our owner [Mike Solomonov] has been sober for over 10 years, team-building events without alcohol are important to us so we can be inclusive of all employees.”

At Flagstaff House in Boulder, Colo., health is also an important part of corporate culture. “We’re surrounded by alcohol every day, and there’s a bar where we work,” says general manager Adam Monette. “People at other jobs just don’t have access to that, so we try to focus on other activities for staff just like any other business would.”

Here, Gerwin, Jenkins, Monette and others share their strategies for developing and executing the best team-building activities without the booze.

1. Share a Meal

According to Jenkins, one of her staff’s favorite activities is eating Korean fried chicken together after Monday service. “We call and order ahead of time, and it’s a great late-night activity that doesn’t involve alcohol,” she says. “We get to hang out, chat and decompress, just over food, not over shots at a dive bar down the street.”

At Flagstaff House, Monette serves pre-service family meals with nutritious options like raw vegetables, a salad bar and lean proteins cooked in olive or avocado oil. Not only does the meal “break down barriers between front and back of house—for chefs to speak with servers, food runners and other staff without burners, plates and glasses between them—but it also properly fuels us for the work ahead.”

2. Opt for the Outdoors

Gerwin recommends outdoor activities like camping, paddleboarding and kayaking because they are family-friendly and not highly structured and get people out of their comfort zones.

Monette and his team often do the same, taking advantage of morning hours to ski, snowboard, run and hike local mountains and trails. In addition to several team members voluntarily running the city’s annual BolderBoulder 10K race and local Tough Mudder adventure race, the staff also plays frequent pickup games of volleyball and flag football, which Monette says is “great for building teamwork.”

3. Get Creative

From surprising her staff with a guest yoga instructor to bringing arts and crafts to liven up a staff meeting, Gerwin says the best activities are creative, spontaneous and not too corporate.

“Once, I brought in leather bands and stamp letters before an all-staff cleaning sessions, and at first, people were just playing around to get out of cleaning,” she says. “But then they got really into it, and we all ended up with matching team bracelets we wore for a year or two.”

Scott Sell, the distillery manager at Seattle’s Westland distillery, also recommends keeping activities varied. With everything from chili-cooking competitions to quick carnival-game-style activities like three-legged races to running clubs, he tries to make sure there’s something for everyone. Plus, when you constantly rotate activities, “it’s easier for someone to take part in something outside their comfort zone, because there’s a possibility that the next activity will be more in their wheelhouse,” he says.

Even after 15 years in the booze business, regional Grey Goose ambassador Selena Grace Donovan believes bonding is best without the booze. “When you’ve been in the industry for a long time, you get a bit tired of the routine: go out, get drunk, sleep it off, repeat,” she says. “So yes, it’s great to have a fun night out drinking, but it’s even more rewarding to solve an escape room together or muscle through a challenging workout alongside your teammates.”

Or as Monette says, “For us, it really comes down to this: You can get a drink with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Why rely on alcohol as a crutch for team building when there are so many other options available?”