Bartending: half art, half science. You’re golden if you can balance the two. You’ve got to have some natural skill to bartend; they say great bartenders aren’t made they are born. There are always ways to spice up your skills though. And if you’re brand new then hopefully these bartending tips that we’ve compiled will help steer you in the right direction. Take em with a grain of salt, you do you. They sit at your bar to be entertained and find some sort of connection, whether it’s with you or their drink, as a bartender it’s your job to deliver.
We’ve compiled what we believe to be the best bartending tips from master mixologists. If you want to be a pro then it’s important to learn from them.
“The rapport between a bartender and guest is set by the bartender.”
You as the bartender is in control of whether or not someone has a good time. If customers come in grumpy, it’s your job to turn their frown upside down, not to be rude back. Ever. You are there to provide a service, so make it a good, memorable one. Your guests will be happy, and in return your wallet will be happy.
“Good bartenders need to sharpen their powers of observation and develop their ability to listen.”
Most of the time your guests come to develop some sort of connection, but sometimes they come to just enjoy their drink and leave. It’s your job to read their energy and give them what they want. If you can’t tell right away what your guests want, then observe and listen rather than rambling on.
“You’re the chef of the bar and have the same responsibility to guests as the chef de cuisine has to diners.”
You should have a strong repertoire of drink recipes. You don’t need to know every single one, but knowing the most popular drinks is pretty essential. Whatever special drinks your bar has to offer should be your first priority. Having to look at a cheat sheet will slow you down and isn’t entertaining for your guests to watch.
It’s important to know the basics such as how much dry vermouth to add to a martini or whether or not to stir or shake a drink. You have to start somewhere- everyone does- but these are basics that you should know before you get behind the bar. Otherwise you’ll be remaking drinks- and that sucks.
“A bartender is most definitely on stage, so expect to be scrutinized down to your fingernails.”
The guests are watching you- sounds creepy, but it’s true. You’re on stage, you’re there to entertain. Have confidence, let your personality shine. Being a bartender has very little to do with memorizing drink ingredients and has everything to do with you as a person. Some people just aren’t meant to do it, and that’s totally cool. If you are a people person, enjoy entertaining, can be insanely busy without losing your shit, then you are good to go.
“A bartender’s skill and cleverness in being many things to many people is one of the most compelling and challenging aspects of the job.”
Bartenders wear a lot of hats. You’re meant to be knowledgeable, calm, good listeners and in control. It’s no easy task.
1. Do everything you can to make your guests happy within the boundaries you have been given
2. It's not your party. It's not your booze. It's not your bar.
3. You are on stage and people are watching you. Act accordingly. If you are not comfortable with this, find another job.
4. Sleeping with your customers is a great way to lose money.
5. Know what you serve and why. If you work at a beer bar, make sure you know about beer. If you're new and uneducated, pick a few that you can get to know well, and start from there.
6. Learn how to make cocktails. Practice the details.
7. Cash-handling is king. Neat money shows your customers and owners that you are paying attention to their cash.
8. Tips aren't everything. It's a long-term game, so don't sweat the random crappy gratuity from time to time.
9. Insist on proper behavior in your bar, whatever that happens to be. If you let the clientele run your establishment, you will never regain control.
10. Learn how to comp and why.
11. Look the part.
12. Control your environment. Is the A/C too high? Is the music too loud? Your clienteles' comfort is directly proportional to the number of stars they will give you on Yelp when they walk out the door.
13. Branch out. Make sure you have the skill-sets necessary to deliver what people can reasonably expect in your bar, and work to gain the skills you'll need to succeed at your next job. Because you will have a next job, and it will require more of you.
14. Know a joke. Get good at banter. People pay for booze, but they tip for your service.
15. Keep a clean bar. Turn bottles to face forward. Wipe the bar-top. Straighten the stools. If people think you don't care, they won't either.
16. Mise en place. It's a fancy French phrase for how you arrange your tools and ingredients. Set your mise, and do the same thing every time. You can't be fast if you're constantly searching for what you need.
17. Don't touch your face, hair, or any other part of your body. Cough into the crook of your arm. Sneeze down. Always be seen washing your hands. Don't be disgusting.
18. Open your mouth. Talk to people. Say hello when they walk up and goodbye when they leave. Chat with your clientele, ask how they're doing, even if it's just passing time. Often, that is exactly what people want from you.
19. Keep your mouth shut. Don't offer advice. Don't dominate conversations. Keep yourself to yourself.
20. Behind the bar, you are an illusion, a fantasy, a servant, and an actual person all rolled into one. Choose wisely which side you choose to present at any given moment.
“I am a host, I represent the French 75 bar, and in a small way I also represent New Orleans. So when the doors open, I am there to help guests get along on their stay, both in my bar and in the neighborhood and city, whether they’re locals or not. Anyone can make a drink; sadly not everyone can make an experience to go along with said drink. It’s the business we’re in. Figure it out.”
“I always hope a menu is handy to hand the guest, or a glass of water—something to reassure them they’re noticed and will indeed be placing an order soon. As frustrated as I get, and I know I’m frustrated, I always remember they’re the ones who took the time to come, who will be spending well-earned money to drink here, and to keep my attitude to myself.”
“Reading people is very important, as it allows you to mold your style of service to a guest’s specific needs. You have to be able to find a way to relate to so many different types of people from so many backgrounds. Projecting a sense of calm, even when you’re not, is important to making your guests feel comfortable and not stressed out on your behalf.”
“An Old-Fashioned. You can see their spin and find out a lot about their cocktail knowledge through the simple choices they make for literally the oldest cocktail in the book.”
“Consistency. Can you make a great cocktail? Awesome. Can you make that same great cocktail 60 times a night, four to five shifts a week? It’s not a skill, but barbacks are always overlooked when considering a great bar. They are the lifeblood. Barbacks keep the bartenders stocked on syrups and glasses and they make sure everything is right where it needs to be when we reach for it.”
“Pouring drinks on the back bar is something that really frustrates me. Not only does it mean turning your back to the guest, but it also hides what you are doing. Everything we do should be open for the guest to see. It creates trust. Leaning is also a no-no for me, but that mostly applies to my staff. I used to be frequently guilty of that and it is a very hard habit to break. But as the adage goes, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”
“We’ve all been served by the bartender who makes a killer Martinez, but doesn’t give a fuck about you or your experience at the bar. These bartenders are birds and they can fly away. Cleanliness [is key]. Keeping your workspace and your bar top clean demonstrates power, capability, organization, and care.”
“Giving the customer ‘not what they ordered.’ Cut. It. Out. This continues to boggle my mind beyond belief. Say we were in a restaurant setting and you ordered spaghetti. Ten minutes later the server comes back to deliver your food, and says, ‘You know what? Spaghetti is so 1997, instead I’ve given you fettuccine Alfredo. It’s like a variation of spaghetti but with thicker noodles and a white cream sauce.’ No. Never. This is never okay.”
“I think that keeping a great tone and a positive vibe is a lot easier to do when you are prepared. When I first started bartending, and for many years afterwards, I had a really hard time with this: I had so much on my plate just trying to remember recipes and where things were stored at the different bars I was working at. I didn’t know the food menu well enough to guide guests painlessly through it. Even if the bar is slammed, when you are prepared to the best of your ability, you can create a tone that shows you are confident and care. On days that someone calls in sick at the last minute and I have to unexpectedly jump behind the bar, I know my service is not at its best until I settle into the shift. When I am mentally prepared, which I tend to do while I am setting up the bar, particularly when I am cutting fruit, I get in the mindset of a bartender. When the doors open, it all just starts to flow.”
“Active listening is the most sincere way of being engaged by your guests. Good time-management skills: knowing when to pick up the pace and understanding the different energy levels in the room.”
“A great bartender must be a genuinely gregarious and hospitable person, not someone who pretends to have these traits for the sake of our guests. He or she must have an ability to operate with a sense of urgency while not looking hurried or stressed. Taking care of our guests in a timely and efficient manner is key to a bartender’s success, but a great bartender can go 100 miles per hour and look like they are cruising the countryside at 25. Mise en place is important to creating this sense of ease and allows for fluidity of movement. Bartenders must also prioritize tasks, and most importantly, anticipate guests’ needs. He or she will assist with their drink choices, fill water glasses, present food menus, and realize when they are ready for a check. Lastly, confidence. I’m not talking about conceit or cockiness, but the confidence in knowing all there is to know about what they are serving and the steps of service.”
“Eye contact and acknowledgement is key. We’ve all seen the bartender who is so in the weeds they don’t look up in fear of someone adding to their workload. But, if a guest feels like they have been acknowledged, they will be more patient. So, look up, smile at your guests, maybe hand them a menu to stall a bit. Once they know that they have been seen, any reasonable guest will wait their turn.”
“Hospitality and generosity. I realize that hospitality has been a hot topic in our industry for the last year, and I am glad that people are talking about it again (although I wish it had never come to the point of needing to hold classes and seminars on it). To me, signs of true hospitality are making people feel welcome and comfortable by greeting them when they come in, whether or not you are going to be able to help them right away. By generosity, I mean a willingness to engage and connect with the people at the bar, and the vulnerability to enter into honest discourse with your guests.”
“Bartending no no’s: Mind bogglingly gross shortcuts. I was standing at a bar watching someone complete a cocktail that is intended to be dumped out on the ice it is shaken on. Instead of pouring the cocktail into the glass until it couldn’t accommodate any more cubes and then using a Hawthorne strainer to strain out the rest of the liquid, this person stuck their hand into the tin, using fingers to filter out the rest of the cubes. I’d rather see you waterfall my drink then put your hand into it. Also: rudeness combined with ignorance of your product. I was recently working an event at a casino—I can only imagine how difficult that job is. However, I had two wildly different hospitality experiences in two bars in the same building. In the one bar in a busy steakhouse, we had a wonderful experience with two very gracious and outgoing bartenders who took wonderful care of us in spite of the fact that we came in and ordered a full meal at the bar 20 minutes before closing. At another bar, aimed at serving cocktails and focused on high-end spirits, the bartender, who was admittedly busy—although not what I would consider in the weeds—was extremely rude to the woman who was in front of me. He actually insulted her. When it was our turn to order, we asked for a specific bourbon. His response was, “How am I supposed to know if we have that? Do you see it on the bar?”
“Respect. Having respect for yourself, your co-workers, your tools, the spirits, the recipes, the guests, and the guests’ time—both the time they spend at your bar, and the time they spent earning the money they’ll spend at your bar.”
“A classic Daiquiri. It will give you a sense of whether they like to make their drinks a little drier or sweeter. Also, their choice of rum reveals a little of their own tastes.”
Regardless of how confident you do or don’t feel, it’s important to remember that professionalism is key. No slouching, no trying to avoid customers. Go up, ask them their order and if you don’t know how to do it, ask one of the experienced bartenders to show you how. Chances are a certain bartender will take you under his/her wing anyway and will be happy to show you the ropes.
When you’re new to a job – especially if it’s your first bartending job – your employer may have you working quieter shifts at first. This is great for allowing you to get a feel for your job and developing your skills with less pressure, but it also means you may face less crowds and a generally quieter atmosphere. This can lead to some moments where you could have no customers.
During these times, it’s important to keep yourself busy. Ask your experienced co-workers if there are any tasks they’d like you to do – such as cleaning the bar or mopping the floor. Or, maybe you can pick their brain and ask them for some guidance on making certain drinks. What’s important is that you’re constantly proving how invested you are in your job, even if you’re only at the learning stage.
However, if your other co-workers are also busy with other mundane tasks that need to be completed when there are no customers around, ask them for a number of tasks to complete so that you don’t keep taking up their time or distracting them.
If you have a patron who is fairly talkative, chances are they may want to have a lend of your ear to discuss anything and everything. Whether you’re invested in the conversation or listening because you know they appreciate it, it’s important not to get caught up in conversation and forget about your other duties.
When other patrons come in, politely excuse yourself from the conversation, serve them, then return to the patron you were having a conversation with. If you have other tasks that need completing, let them know and tell them you’ll be back soon. This is a trap that even experienced bartenders can get caught in because building a rapport with your customers is such an important aspect of the job – but it’s not the only aspect.
You’re working at a bar. Things will get busy, some patrons will get intoxicated and your co-workers may become a little more abrupt than usual when they’re in a rush from patron to patron. It’s important to not take anything your patrons or co-workers say during such times to heart.
You co-workers could be stressed – just like you could be – and intoxicated patrons could say certain things they don’t really mean. Of course if it does seem like a certain patron or co-worker is being directly malicious towards you, stay aware of it to see if this is something they continue to do over time. If this is the case, you should let your boss know. There’s a difference between temporary abruptness and outright bullying.
Bars, clubs and pubs can shift from being quiet to a complete rush in a matter of minutes, often due to after work drinks or popular times such as happy hour. During these rushes, this is where you need to be more aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye on your patrons to make sure none of them are causing trouble. If it is also part of your bartending job to clear tables, be sure to do that. Look for spillages, broken glass or other hazards that could lead to injury.
Rush periods can be a cacophonous affair, but as long as you remain alert you’ll be helping make everyone else’s job easier.Bartending is no easy task. Thankfully there is lots of information out there from professionals. If you want to do it, you can. Just understand what it actually takes to be a good one. Hopefully the bartending tips from professionals that we have given you has helped, if not, let us know how else we can help you! If you have any bartending tips and tricks of your own please share with us!
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