Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Get your mind right.

Bartending is awesome. It's a great job to have and can be very lucrative if you're good at it. There are a lot of misconceptions that the public have about bartending however. If you are hoping to break into the industry, let's get the facts straight.

One of the first books I picked up about bartending was Mr. Boston's Official Bartender's Guide [link]. In the introduction, I read master mixologist, Dale DeGroff's, "Five Commandments for Bartenders". Let's start there. These points could also be broadly applied to anyone in the food and beverage industry.

Set the Tone
“The rapport between a bartender and guest is set by the bartender.”
It’s really up to the bartender if the guest is to have an enjoyable time at the bar or not. Under no circumstances should the bartender ever be rude to the guest, even if the guest is rude. Bartenders work in the industry of providing service to all of their guests, even the difficult ones. If a guest comes into the bar and is rude, it is up to the bartender to turn that rude guest around into a happy one. It is also the bartender’s job to make great, tasty drinks and (if needed) show their guests how to have a good time at the bar.

Be Observant
“Good bartenders need to sharpen their powers of observation and develop their ability to listen.”
Sometimes when a guest comes into the bar, they are looking for social interaction with the bartender. Sometimes when a guest comes into the bar, they just want to be left alone to enjoy their cocktail. There are no etiquette bar rules that say a bartender must chat with all of their guests because not all guests may want to chat with the bartender. It’s the responsibility of the bartender to “feel out” their guests. When deciding on how to interact with a guest, it’s always a good idea for the bartender to observe and listen rather than just speak aimlessly. When the bartender does less talking and more listening, they will be able to determine exactly what kind of mood their guest is in and whether they want to talk or be left alone.

Know Your Recipes
“You’re the chef of the bar and have the same responsibility to guests as the chef de cuisine has to diners.”
A bartender doesn’t necessarily have to know the recipe for every single cocktail ever created, but they should have a strong repertoire of drink recipes that consist of several classic and popular drinks. For example, knowing how much dry vermouth to add to a Martini or whether to stir or shake a Manhattan: these are fundamental basics every bartender should have before working behind any bar. Granted, bartenders have to start out somewhere when beginning their careers behind the bar. This is why it is perfectly okay for the newcomers to the craft to look up recipes using a reputable cocktail recipe guidebook or even ask the guest how they would like their drink prepared. When in doubt, a bartender should always ask the guest rather than pretend to know how they want their drinks. The one time a bartender assumes how a drink should be made without consulting the guest first will be the time where they will have to remake the drink and will disappoint the guest in the process.
As a side note, I strongly believe that ten percent of bartending is the drinks. The other ninety percent is the bartender’s personality. Anyone can memorize and learn to make drinks, but it take a special someone to keep the customers coming back for more, night after night. So just keep that in mind.

Perfect Your Craft
“A bartender is most definitely on stage, so expect to be scrutinized down to your fingernails.”
When a person is working behind the bar, they are on stage and the guests are their audience. Some people feel like in order to be a good bartender, they have to have flair. Flair is associated with the ability to flip bottles and light things on fire while preparing a guest’s drink. Not necessarily so. Bartending should never be reduced to a circus act. What it ultimately comes down to is the guest’s overall enjoyment of their experience at that bar. Guests want to enjoy a tasty beverage and enjoy the conversation with their bartender. They want to see that their bartender is confident in knowing how to use the tools appropriately behind the bar to make their drinks in a reasonable amount of time. If a guest asks the bartender specific questions about the spirits stocked behind the bar, the guest will rightfully expect the bartender to have some sort of knowledge about the spirit. The more knowledge and confidence a bartender has about the bar tools, drink preparation and the spirits stocked behind the bar, the happier their guests will be overall.

Exude Gravitas
“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 don’t just make drinks for their guests. There are many different “hats” a bartender must wear while working behind the bar. Bartenders have to be a wealth of knowledge for their guests when asked about current events, sporting events, where to eat and go out. Bartenders also have to play the recess monitor when trying to keep the peace at the bar between other rowdy guests. Bartenders are the therapists that must listen to their guests when they want to talk. Bartenders must make sure to deal with even the most difficult situations in a professional manner such as when having to cut a guest off from alcohol.

That pretty much sums it up.

Bartending is as demanding a profession as any. Your services and drinks will be scrutinized, critiqued and, unfortunately, be substandard quality to somebody at some point. It's inevitable. That's the bad news. The good news is that as a professional bartender, you may have a few bad guests, but you should never have a bad day or night. The bartender is the proverbial optimist. He/she cannot be taken down a peg. It takes confidence--A LOT of confidence actually. And confidence requires knowledge. So where do we start? Why, at the bar of course! Stay tuned...

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