Too Much Right Brain: Why Some Great Bartenders and Chefs Struggle

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Ask a bartender or chef what part of the job they love the most. Nine times out of 10 they’ll say it’s creating new menu items, the chance to utilize the artistic skills that many say is related to the right side of the brain.

The right brain and left brain debate has been around for some time: pop culture plays it up with quizzes on social media that will tell you which side of your brain is dominant. It’s all fun and games until someone calls bullsh*t.

 

The Myth

Yes, it's fun to say you are creative or analytical and use that as an excuse for why you don't excel at the other things you don't like doing. It’s all very convenient…and also it's what's holding you back.

The brain is divided into two hemispheres: the right and the left. Certain parts of the brain do handle certain tasks, but your brain flips back and forth so fast between hemispheres that you would never notice.

It's easy to place blame on external circumstances and say, "That's just the way I am." Well, easy is for losers. It's not that you are a certain way, it's that you choose to act a certain way. Remember that talent and natural skill might get you to the top but it's behavior and character that keep you there. Let's stop this “I'm just too creative to get down to business” nonsense.

 

The Problem

There are a lot of very creative bartenders and chefs in the industry. Finding people who can dream up beverage and culinary masterpieces isn’t difficult. The problem is there are very few who have a handle on the other skills needed to go along with “fun” stuff.

I’m talking about skills like:

  • building a team;
  • training standards;
  • understanding a P&L;
  • running labor to budget;
  • managing food and beverage cost to budget;
  • costing a recipe; and
  • understanding branding.

These are the skills that owners really need. Sure, that guest appearance on TV was awesome (the camera loves you by the way). It also might get some PR for your business and drive traffic to your establishment. But if you run off all the other people who work there because you have no people skills, if you are buying ultra-premium products that are used only in one drink or dish on the menu, then owners will soon see that you are costing them more than you are bring in. That's called a negative cash flow situation, and eventually owners wake up. That result is usually that the bartender or chef leaves (or is fired) due to irreconcilable artist differences.

 

The Solution

You are a variety of behavioral traits. Some are your strengths and some, well, not so much. The thing you want to do is take into consideration what Mark Cuban says:

"You gotta know what you’re good at, you gotta know what you’re marginal at, and you gotta know what you suck at. You gotta find people that compliment your skills.”

If you don't like sitting down at a computer and costing recipes, don't do it. Find someone on your team or hire someone with whom you can collaborate. Just because you are not skilled at something doesn't mean you’re not accountable for it. Knowing your cost for every recipe is a nonnegotiable in the bar and restaurant world. Using the excuse that a business skill cuts into creativity is lame. If you don't know how to do something, just cowboy up and admit it.

While your modern interpretation of a Manhattan may truly be a taste revolution, you’ll be replaced by one of the many up-and-comers if the business can’t make money selling it. The line of up-and-coming talent waiting to take your place wraps around the block. And here's the thing: some of them will understand how the numbers work, meaning they can make heavenly creations and a profit.

 

Become More Valuable

Those at the top of their game know that learning is a never ending task for the professional. You will need to invest time and (sometimes) money into education. Knowledge itself is not power, it is just potential; you have to apply that knowledge to yourself.

Many people know what to do. The real question is, do they do what they know? Don't be one of those people who walk around saying, "Oh, I know that." If you can’t apply your knowledge and turn it into tangible results, it’s just cheap talk.

Take a class to deepen your knowledge of bourbon, tequila, or wine. Network with people who are at least one level above where you are now. You don't get better playing with people at your same skill level; you get better when your skill sets are pushed beyond their current limit. That is where the growth is!

There is so much information available on the internet today that not taking time to learn is inexcusable. Saying you don’t have time is just another excuse to which you’re clinging. Remember that you never have time, you make time for those things that matter. Education makes you more valuable to a brand, so take an online course to improve communication skills. Buy a book. Get a mentor. Take an improv class. You are only limited by the limitations you set for yourself. Unleash your potential by dropping the bullsh*t excuses.

Oh, and drop the sensitive artist identity – profit is not a dirty word. With more and more restaurants and bars opening, discovering the pathway to profits is the only real solution to surviving in today's market.