How To: Achieve Bartender Excellence
Alcohol offers the highest profit margin in a restaurant yet too few restaurants really focus on their bar staff.
An excellent bartender is the key to both selling drinks and keeping customers at the bar. Here, some top bartenders offer up their tips to Restaurant Management for bartender excellence.
“The most important traits for a bartender: Product knowledge, ability to communicate, and multi-tasking. If you can talk and make a drink, while dispensing a bit of wisdom, you’re a dream bartender.” - David Chou, bar manager, John Howie Steak, Bellevue, Washington
“The most important trait I think a bartender should have is to be able to read your guest. When a new guest comes in I size them up, by paying attention to what questions they're asking, what are they looking at behind the bar, and who they're with.” - Brian Selbitschka, Zolo Grill, Boulder, Colorado
“A bartender is a perfect dichotomy of knowledge, spirit, passion, humility, listener, and showman. Each trait is careful not to overwhelm but rather inform.” - Mariena Mercer, mixologist, The Chandelier Bar at The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas
“If you have multiple bartenders, it’s helpful to play off each other. If you look like you’re having a good time behind the bar it will translate to the rest of the restaurant. Customers have fun when they see you’re having fun. The key is to work well with each other.” - Dave Hinton, bartender, The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille, Washington, D.C.
“Making a guest feel at home is imperative. A relaxed guest is more open to suggestions and more willing to try a new cocktail, wine or beer. We try to treat all of our customers like regulars and our goal is to make them all regulars. With our regulars we know their habits and their likes and dislikes. We can save bar stools and have their cocktails ready when they arrive. It's all about creating an atmosphere that is fun and inviting.” - Tim Harris, Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, Denver, Colorado
“When a guest orders a drink you should make it in front of them; it grabs their attention and you continue to create an engaging environment.” - Chris Carello, bartender, T.G.I. Friday’s, Homestead, Pennsylvania
“Excellent service starts with product knowledge, so know what you are selling. This is true in any sales environment. Keep in mind, your product is not only the drinks you sell but the overall experience you are providing.” - Alex Miller, Bar Dupont, Washington, D.C.
“The overwhelming best technique is really concentrating on each guest. If a guest orders water without ice, I want to remember that the next time they arrive. I want to greet them with the water without ice before they ask for it. True attention to needs and preferences goes a long, long way at the bar. It conveys a sense of caring, that [guests] are important to us, and we make the effort to remember them.” - Lee Edwards, Capital Hotel, Little Rock, Arkansas
“I always serve a glass of water while the guest is figuring out their drink. I hate when the guest has to ask for water 30 minutes after they've been sitting there.” - Lauren Curran, DC Coast, Washington, D.C.
No matter how busy you may be, you cannot continue to the next guest until you're finished with the last. Why not blow their mind with your patience and liquor knowledge? Always remember, everyone just watched how you handled your last customer.” - Al Martin, bartender, Red Fish Grill in New Orleans
“One of the most important things is to establish eye contact. Right from the start, making good eye contact lets [customers] know you’re there for them. Later on when you come back to them, all you have to do is make that eye contact. In a busy bar that can buy you an extra minute or two.” - Dave Hinton, bartender, The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille, Washington, D.C.
“A martini-drinking guest will appreciate you chilling the glass in front of them while you gather the ingredients. It takes the glass-chilling process from being a 'function' of the recipe into being part of the engaging mixology experience.” - Chris Carello, bartender, T.G.I. Friday’s, Homestead, Pennsylvania
“When it comes to making a drink, make sure the customer sees you making it. Don’t turn around or go to the other end of the bar. Make sure they see what they’re getting. If they see you pour, they won’t be worried it’s too strong or weak and you can engage and interact with the customer.” - Dave Hinton, bartender, The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille, Washington, D.C
“More than a few times every night, someone will ask me ‘What do you make well?’ Don't say ‘everything,’—it makes you look pompous. Flip it around and ask what type of drink they might prefer. Rely on your knowledge and personality.” - Al Martin, bartender, Red Fish Grill, New Orleans
“A lot of 'creating' new cocktails is simply working with tried and true ratios and playing a game of substituting ingredients. Sometimes there is a chance to work backwards from a flavor profile or ingredient. But most of the groundwork for mixology can be found in books published before or during the era of Prohibition. The rest is just updates and putting art in what you do.” - Marshall Altier, creator of the drink menu at JBird, New York City
“I look to the classics for inspiration, and then I start concocting and sharing my creations with the staff and guests to get their opinion. Then we make little tweaks, like adding our house-smoked salt for our Campfire margarita.” - Brian Selbitschka, Zolo Grill, Boulder, Colorado
“Classic cocktails are essential for today's bar menus. Even more common is taking a classic cocktail and changing one or two ingredients and reshaping the flavor profile. As far as innovative cocktails these have a life of their own. Experimenting with different types of liquors, wines, ports, bitters, ice, seasonal fruits and herbs is challenging and rewarding. - Tim Harris, Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, Denver, Colorado
“I like to mix it up and try to find citations for my classics. This gives guests a sense of historical impetus. It's more about making sure that there is something for everyone by balancing spirits, flavors, and styles of drinks.” - Marshall Altier, creator of the drink menu at JBird, New York City
By Amanda Baltazar