SERVICE BASICS

A true education in service - which is by far the most important part of a bartender's job - can only be gained through firsthand experience. That said, here are some tried-and-true basic principles.

 

YOUR JOB

If the owner sets the establishment's tone, the bartender projects it to the clientele. If the bar is the engine of the establishment, and it is (both economically and in terms of energy), then the bartender is the engineer. But the bartender is lots of things to lots of different people, and the person who does that job has to be at peace with that role and secure in his (by which we mean his or her, as throughout this manual) own identity.

The bartender opens and closes the place, handles the money, tips out the staff and a whole lot of other little things, to be sure. He's the one who makes you stay too long and draws you back every day. That's the job in a nutshell. It is the why that's the secret. His drinks are good and he is fast, sure, but that all happens while he's part of conversations up and down the bar, about everything under the sun from sports scores, to a restaurant location, to a pep-talk for an out of work pal. The bartender has to be a basic source of information on the day's events in sports and in the general news; he's a glossary of where to dine, drink, see and be seen.

That's one part of the job, and in many ways the most important - no matter how good a drink he can make or how fast, a cross-grained, ornery type who deep down just doesn't like people will never make a great bartender. That said, the skill a bartender has in handling the tools and the small theatrical elements involved in making drinks can return huge dividends. Not that a bartender needs to put on a circus act, but he should display a sense of confidence that is apparent to a guest at the bar. A bartender is most definitely on stage. (That scrutiny demands that the bartender be carefully groomed down to the fingernails!)

 

YOUR CUSTOMER

The relationship or contract between a server and a guest in the dining room is clear. The guest in effect rents the table for the duration of the meal. Close attention to the needs at the table is paramount, but the privacy of the space must not be violated by the service. The server in the dining room is always an interloper at the table and must get the job done quickly and unobtrusively. Not so for the bartender.

The guest at the bar is in a shared space and the tone of that space is set by the bartender. This means that the bartender needs sharp powers of observation and a highly developed ability to listen. In the first encounter with a guest he will determine not only what the guest wants, but also his mood, if conversation is welcome or not, why he has come to the bar and how to make his visit a success.

If a guest is short or less than cordial, the bartender, according to the contract, cannot respond in kind. Once a bartender becomes unpleasant, rude or morose in reaction to a guest, a gratuity or whatever other perceived slight, the shared space is compromised and people are no longer comfortable. It is a one-sided contract weighted in favor of the guest, but in practice it is an opportunity for the bartender to do what he was hired to do, turn difficult guests into friends, make great drinks, and even on occasion teach people how to have a good time.

He has the ability to keep peace in a light handed way, to gently separate a gentleman from a lady who may not find his company as compelling as he finds hers. Rudeness to a bar guest is never acceptable; there are many alternate ways of reacting to a difficult guest. Of course, if a guest is unruly to the extent that the other guests suffer or are endangered then immediate action by the bartender and management is necessary, but the most difficult of guests can and must still be handled with a professional demeanor, even if it requires enlisting the help of a manager or bouncer. Just because the guest is out of control that doesn't mean the staff can be.

 

THE PRACTICE

Every bartender should be a 'patrolling' bartender. It's of course fine to talk to customers - indeed it's an essential part of the job. But at the same time, you must always have a wary eye and some part of your attention alert to whatever else is happening in your domain. Everybody likes a bartender who has a nice word or two to say to them, but everyone loves a bartender who is on the spot, and even suggesting a refill before they have to track him or her down. It's impressive how much more can be served in a bar when a sure-footed, fast-moving bartender is making his or her rounds - and thereby increasing the customers' rounds.

Don't be embarrassed to admit that you don't know a recipe or a spirit. Listen to the customers. Ask lots of questions and hunt down the information you need - recipes, techniques, whatever. And don't worry, you're not going to get it all in six months and nobody's expecting you to (maybe in six years). Finally, don't waste your time with second-rate bartending. Find a place that believes in honest drinks made with fresh ingredients and quality spirits!

 

BARTENDERS TIPS OF SERVICE

1.     Greet all guests as they arrive at the Bar. If you are busy with a guest at least make eye contact with new arrivals.

2.     Make drinks in front of the guest whenever possible.

3.     Make a check immediately after serving a drink or a round of drinks.

4.     Be a roving bartender and keep a wary eye. If you can't take care of a guest immediately, acknowledge them and indicate you will take care of them shortly.

5.     Avoid long, involved conversations with guests.

6.     Keep bar top clean and neat; remove soda and beer bottles quickly.

 

LEADERSHIP BY EXAMPLE

Making world-class drinks ain't easy. Unless you're fortunate enough to work in an establishment that has already caught the fever, you're going to be working harder than your fellow bartenders. In a perfect world, they would all pitch in and step up their own games. In this world, however, you may be the only one at your bar who's obsessing about the right way to make a Ramos Fizz, which bitters to use in an Improved Whiskey Cocktail or how to extract the oil from mint leaves without making that Mojito taste bitter.

The thing about real bartending, though, is that it's contagious: all around the world, bartenders are catching the fever. In other words, odds are, you won't be alone long. In fact, if you play your cards right and don't turn off your co-workers by pushing something on them they're not ready for and concentrate on leading by example, you may just find them joining you.

In the meanwhile, concentrate on working hard and doing the research and getting it right - and when you finally do get it right, stand by it! There are lots of "experienced" bartenders out there who don't know what they're doing or talking about and will try to put you down because your way isn't the easy way or the way they know. Ignore them. Having said that, don't show off your knowledge; just perform and enjoy the results because your passion will be evident to most and will be enough to sustain you.

Taste everything: spirits, wines, beers, sake, shochu, cocktail recipes - if you come across five recipes for the same cocktail, try them all. This is a profession that deals in potable beverages - all of them. You can't afford to ignore something just because it's not popular now. There was a time when nobody drank vodka or tequila. You can bet your boots that when those things started catching on the bartenders who already knew something about them could write their own tickets.

 

CASH HANDLING

Cash handling begins in the office with orderly procedures for issuing banks and reconciling the day's sales. Maintaining these two procedures with meticulous attention to detail will go a long way towards protecting against theft and mismanagement of the day-to-day receipts.

The banks issued to the bar staff should be consistent in amount and denominations. The bartender should count the bank in the office upon receiving if possible to report mistakes at the moment of issue. Bartenders should make a check after each transaction. The check should be settled after each round or if the guest chooses to leave the account open held for the next addition.

A bartender must never go to another guest without settling or recoding the previous transaction, it is too easy to be swept away by a busy bar and so miss drink entries and cash or credit settlements. A bartender who is consistent in check handling is the best friend an establishment can have.

 

CLOSING PROCEDURES

At the close of a shift the bartender should count his total cash drawer and make a blind drop with all the day's sales receipts. Bartenders should never be given the job of settling their cash drawer. That procedure must be done in the office.