There isn’t a bartender out there that thinks, let alone says out loud that he/she is not a good bartender; especially not the ones that undeniably consider themselves ‘the industry’ folk. Proclaiming that you are in the industry instead of just brushing off your bartending days as something you do to pass the time and pay the bills until your acting career takes off or whatever carries with it a certain level of pride. People that say they’re in the industry, generally love what they do in spite of having to deal with the larger portion of unappreciative scum of the world on a daily basis. These people work hard and their cynical nature/hatred for the universe is entirely justified. There are the people who can call themselves amazing bartenders; I’ve seen them out there in the wild and I’m friends with many.
Not everyone in ‘the industry’ deserves a standing ovation however; not by far. There are far too many spoiled bartenders out there. These are the people that choose to do the bare minimum, if that; and still somehow consider themselves worthy of endless gratitude and a minimum twenty percent tip. These are the people that give all bartenders a bad rep. These are the people that carry the title but none of the load.
Here are some simple, basic ways to avoid being the latter.
- BEING KNOWLEDGEABLE – While being able to talk out of your ass and sounding like you know what you’re talking about is an admirable and often necessary quality to have as a bartender, it only gets you as far as the knowledge of the person you’re talking to. ‘Fake it ‘til you make it’ may have gotten you through high school, but out here in the real world, where you’re getting paid to know the craft that you’ve chosen as your career, or job even, you have to actually make sense when you open your mouth. You have to know your beer selection and the difference between ale and lager; you have to be able to describe the flavor profile of every beer and cocktail that your restaurant/bar offers. You have to know that you don’t shake a Manhattan. You have to know what liquor you carry. You have to know all these things and be able to explain them to the people that are inevitably going to ask, so that you don’t sound like a blathering idiot, making everyone around you question why you’re still working there and how you got the job in the first place.
- MAKING EYE CONTACT – When a person sits down at the bar, believe it or not, they should automatically become higher on your priority list than the text message you’re sending or the French fry that you’re eating behind the pillar. Assuming that you’re not in fact doing either of those things because you know better than to do them at work in the first place; assuming that you’re busy with another customer; you should at the very least make eye contact with a person that just sat down. You need to acknowledge them and let them know you’ll be right with them; give them a peace of mind. Naturally some people are too shitty to take that gesture for what it is and still behave in an obnoxious manner, yelling their order at you from across the bar or what have you, but at least then it’s not your fault. You’ll have passed the baton of decency and they decided to throw it in the fire pit instead of accepting and running with it.
- BEING ATTENTIVE – It’s important to talk to your customers. It’s equally important to know when and how to walk away, so you can give the same courtesy to others. You have to be able to spread your attention onto your customers like butter; evenly and carefully. It’s okay to have a little bit more butter on some portions of the bread, especially if they’re thicker (insert obvious ‘tips = bread and butter’ reference here); but you don’t want to leave portions of the bread completely butter-less.
- SPEED – Whether you work in a place that slings shots, beers and margaritas all night long or a place where the cocktail list consists of drinks made up of 8 ingredients or more; come crunch time, speed is very important. You gotta move fast when you’re facing a crowd that wants their cheap drinks immediately if not sooner. You gotta move just as fast when you have a full bar of people that are paying $16 a drink. Sure, there’s some leeway considering the amount of steps you’re taking in each scenario, but regardless, you can’t afford to take 15 minutes on a cocktail just because you’re wearing a fedora and suspenders. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for jiggers, the meticulous science that goes behind a well-crafted cocktail and setting the garnish on fire; but if that’s your game then you better have all your tools and ingredients ready to go so as not to waste a single second whilst making that incredible concoction. By all means, when it isn’t busy, I’m more than happy to sit there and watch you twirl your mustache as we both take artsy pictures of your work of art; but when you have thirst people that are there to pay good money for their drinks, you better skip the artsy fartsy process, put the pedal to the metal, and get to work.
- EFFICIENCY – You must master the art of multitasking if you’re going to call yourself a good bartender. You should be able to take a drink order, while remembering a food order (with modifications) from someone else; while making a cocktail for another person and replenishing the drinks of your regulars. You should be able to do all that while you travel back and forth between your bar and the kitchen, never catching yourself empty-handed; always completing at the very least two tasks at a time.
- AWARENESS – If you think everyone at the bar is taken care of enough for you to be able to walk away to chat with your coworkers, you’re wrong. Much like multitasking, you must master the art of constant screening if you’re going to call yourself a good bartender. There’s always going to be someone that needs something; whether it is refilling their water, removing adjacent debris from the bar top, or wiping the snot off their nose as they cry about a channel change. Bottom line is you need to be completely and utterly aware of everyone’s status at the bar; what they’re drinking, how fast they’re drinking it, whether or not they have a tab, etc.
- TEAMWORK – There is no ‘I’ in team. Bartenders that work in pairs but act like they are by themselves with a limited amount or responsibilities are the worst. There is a reason the term ‘bartner’ was invented. Your co-bartender is your partner; through thick and thin; not just when it’s convenient. You are supposed to work together and lift each up other when necessary; not let each other drown because your ego is larger than life and your awareness level is at zero.
- BEING POLITE AND PERSONABLE – “Why are you so serious? Smile!” – Everyone hates that. Fact of the matter is though; you can hate it all you want, but as long as you’re behind the bar you can’t have any of that hatred reflected on your face. If you’re told to smile, you can be as annoying as you want about it internally and drown yourself in alcohol when your shift ends, but you better f*cking smile. Just because ‘resting bitch face’ is a thing, doesn’t mean you get to sport it at work; not in the restaurant industry; not if you’re a good bartender. You have to be polite and personable. You don’t have to smile all the time, but there are times when you’re too wrapped up in something and super focused that you forget what you look like; you have to jolt yourself out of that zone and play by the rules. Engage in conversation as much as you possibly can without it affecting your prompt service to others. One of the most important things a bartender can do is act like they give a shit.
The list goes on with ‘behind the scenes’ things like prepping your bar, making sure your bar is clean, and many more things in the knowledge department. Like I said these are just the basics. If you’re gonna walk around claiming you’re in the family that is ‘The Industry’, you better act like it. You better be able to hold your liquor, recognize a good bartender when you see one and tip like a Rockefeller. Otherwise, shame on you.