Niall Moran owns three New York City bars, and at 52, he’s worked nearly 40 years in the business. Before opening Niall’s in 2007, he had spent several years opening new locations for Smith and Wollensky’s, and before that, he spent decades working in the front and back of the house, both in Ireland and in several U.S. cities. Bars are in his DNA, he says, There’s not much secret to keeping that good feeling going.
This is excerpt 3 of The Barstool MBA: Why Running a Bar Beats Running to Business School. Click here to read the other excerpts.
“You have to be present. People like to see the owner there,” he said. “Customers like to see the boss having a good time with the staff, and they like to see you….when customers see bar owners sitting at the bar drinking and yelling and screaming at staff, they don’t like that.”
That means keeping light-hearted relationships with staff, and playing to people’s strengths. Some fit better at day, some at night, some late nights. And everyone works better when “you let people be themselves.”
“I give people a lot of leeway, because that’s fun. At Smith and Wollensky, we did that. We picked good staff and gave them a very long rope. ….I try to keep it as fun as possible.”
We met Niall Moran in Chapter 5, where he stressed the importance of being a good cocktail party host, of being seen at the bar having fun. But when I talked to him about his management style, he also said there have been many occasions when he’s fired an employee — as a favor.
“Due to the nature of this business, the pool of employees is going to be a bit quirky, slightly off the rails. And this business does burn a lot of people out,” he said. “Some people self-destruct. It’s time for them to move on. But they don’t want to leave. So eventually it’s like suicide by cop. They do something that makes you fire them. They don’t know they are doing it, but I can see ”
On many occasions, he’s had staff who he’s fired a few months early come back to the bar and thanked him.
“They have new jobs without the late nights, things are better with family and so on, and they are grateful. I tell them I could see the business was eating you up, and they ask, “how the Hell did you know?”
In fact, Moran figures he would have burned out by now if he didn’t keep opening new locations — his fourth bar is slated to open in early 2019.
His management style, he admits, is a bit passive-aggressive.
“I know it’s not completely right. By the time you realize Niall is made at you, you are probably already fired,” he said. That’s a function of him stressing light-hearted, good times. “The smart ones realize it and make it fun, and realize they can make a good living.”