The bartender is one of the most powerful and influential components in your bar-machine. Ultimately, they are the face of your business and are the primary interfaces between your establishment and it’s most important asset: your customers. I know many entrepreneurs who believe your most important asset is not your customer, it is how you interact with your customer. With this in mind, I cannot stress enough the importance of enhancing the ‘behaviour’ of your bartenders to get the most from the position they are in – particularly their approach to customer service, productivity and therefore profitability.
I can also say the same thing for waitstaff – they too are frontline powerhouses for your establishment, and in respect to customer service and upselling training, I suggest you treat them similarly to your bartenders. Realistically, waitstaff are selling your product at the customer’s table (instead of the bar) and if anything, have more influence to upsell products (they’ll have more time to offer a sales pitch, and they won’t have to yell as much!). But with this in mind, your bartenders are more likely to be required to handle larger volumes of customers, so if you have a training budget, offer it to your bartenders first.
If you need a tool to sell the idea of ‘customer service training’ to your staff, tell them it will greatly increase their tip income. It’s best to cover this valuable mantra in the induction process – you can ‘shape’ the attitude of your new staff from the beginning. As I’ve mentioned in earlier chapters, organise customer service and upselling training for your frontline staff – you may even learn a valuable technique yourself.
Before we go any further, there is a common misconception in the hospitality industry that states: ‘the primary purpose of a bartender is to make drinks and put money in the till’. This is incorrect.
The primary purpose of a bartender is not to simply make drinks and put money in the till. The primary purpose of a bartender is to deliver warm and welcoming customer service, and to give your guests the best nights of their lives. Making drinks is a by-product of this function.
The next thing I would like to clarify is the existence of a fundamental difference between an experienced bartender, and a good bartender. I have come across many extremely knowledgeable bartenders with years of experience, however, in my opinion, they are terrible bartenders because they are missing one vital skill: genuine customer service. Yes, I understand experienced bartenders have been in the game for years, I understand they know incredible amounts of information about the industry and make amazing drinks, but what’s the point if they can’t make somebody’s night the best they’ve ever had?
An experienced, knowledgeable and skilled bartender is not necessarily a good bartender. A good bartender is any bartender with the ability to provide outstanding customer service, using their experience, knowledge and skill.
A good bartender will also possess a positive attitude, and will have a willingness to give their best and constantly learn new skills.
A good bartender will possess confidence, attitude and personality, but always have respect for customers, fellow staff and their venue. A good bartender will take pride in their appearance and be passionate about their craft.
Profile Of A Brilliant Bartender
So, what’s the difference between a good bartender, a bad bartender and a brilliant bartender? I’ve compiled a list of a number of attributes to look for. If you’re opening a bar, these will be the qualities to look for when looking around for (and poaching) staff.
If you are a new to the industry and looking to break into the bar scene (as a bartender), these are attributes you will greatly benefit from. And, if you are a brilliant bartender already, you’ll relate to everything I’m talking about.
As I have detailed in the trial phase of the induction process, a bartender should possess these basic qualities:
- Interacts well with customers,
- Handles well under pressure,
- Possesses premium customer service skills,
- Navigates around the bar well,
- Produces quality drinks,
- Displays initiative,
- Takes ownership of their tasks,
- Interacts well with existing staff,
- Has a ‘groove’ in a bar-machine,
- Interacts well with service systems,
- Moves with a sense of urgency (this is very important)
- Possesses superior non-verbal customer service skills
- Smiles! Smiling is also important!
A good bartender will also:
- Listen to what customers are saying. Listen to what they are asking for. Listen to what they are trying to say. Listen for clues to the status of their situation: if one customer tells another customer that they need a glass of water or a drinks menu, a good bartender will deliver one before they ask for it. Doing this will get the bartender a million points (hypothetically, of course), and will greatly improve chances of a tip. This also applies to other staff – a good bartender will automatically help with other staff member’s drink orders and work as a team to deliver individual drink orders.
- Be extremely attentive. See above point.
- Move with a sense of urgency.
- Smile! (I know I mentioned this above, but it’s worth saying twice)
- Contribute constructively (and safely) to bar theatrics (bar theatrics is ‘showmanship’ behind a bar – basically using flair and passion when making drinks)
- Read every detail back to the customer, when taking a table or function booking.
- Always carry:
- Pen (three or four)
- Wine Opener
- Beer opener/blade
- Cigarette lighter
- Be punctual, and be willing to stay back late.
- Say ‘We’ instead of ‘I’.
- Understand how to handle difficult situations with intoxicated patrons (they’ll know how to handle such a situation without aggravating the boozy customer).
- Be able to recommend a ‘good’ beer, wine, cocktail, rum, scotch or any other product, and be able to back up their claim with some factual support (i.e. say why the product is so good).
- Have a positive attitude and never forget that we are all in the hospitality industry to be hospitable.
- Show attitude and personality, but always show manners and respect.
- Is chivalrous (chivalry gets you tips… and it gets you noticed – but don’t let the ladies push in!).
- Check dry and wet stock levels at the beginning of every shift.
- Make more than one drink at once, and serve more than one customer if necessary.
- Promote a positive internal culture.
- Understand cultural differences in the industry.
- Have good eye contact, and a firm handshake.
- Is a ball of energy, focused on the customer.
- Goes into detail when a customer asks about the cocktail he or she just made, not just a reply of “it’s a Cosmo”. A good bartender will explain the ‘cocktail making’ process.
- Call customers ‘sir’ and ‘madam’ regardless of the style of their venue.
- Tidy up after themselves instantly (I push my bartenders to clean up their used cocktail shakers before moving onto the next customer, if you don’t already have bar-backs to do this).
- Leave their personal life at the door.
- Be knowledgeable in the products their bar sells.
- Upsell at any given chance.
- Pre-empt a customer’s order when their current drink is getting low. They’ll offer just before the customer is about to take their last sip.
- Engage themselves professionally, with a neat and tidy composure.
- Carry themselves with a positive personality! Customers love to see a positive and outgoing personality. This will also contribute to a positive staff culture.
- Serve two (or more) customers at once.
- Know the surrounding area fluently, and be able to give clear and concise navigational directions to customers if required.
- Communicate effectively through:
- Body language
- Be relaxed and confident.
- Do tricks, tell jokes, laugh and be merry (all when appropriate).
- Remember the names and drinks of regular customers (another trick to get a million hypothetical points).
- Be open to the drink selection of any customer, and will not enforce a drink choice on anyone.
- Use their initiative, and try to be one step ahead of any situation.
- Possess a hardy work ethic.
- Take pride in their work. You can always tell a bartender who takes pride in his or her work. Any, the drinks they make will taste supremely
- Apologise to customers if they have waited for more than three or four minutes.
- Understand how to conduct themselves hygienically.
- Always garnish a drink.
- Be warm and friendly.
- Not dwell on a problem. They will focus on a solution.
- Engage fluently with any demographic.
- Always offer a straw to a lady.
- Be honest. Honesty is a golden virtue.
- Always wear deodorant or cologne, but never too much.
- Not gossip or discuss the private happenings of customers – if a customer brings different dates into the bar, it’s no-one’s business why they are doing so.
- Know the location of a First Aid Kit, Fire Extinguishers and the telephone, in case of an emergency.
- Be prepared. One of the golden rules in hospitality is to be prepared.
- Thank customers when they are leaving the venue.
- NOT ask when they can go home.
- NOT gossip amongst other staff.
I also recommend keeping an eye out for the well-being and ‘emotional state’ of your bartenders and waitstaff. On busy nights, they work under high amounts of pressure and this takes its toll physically and emotionally – give them regular breaks and ask them to notify you of any issues that are affecting their ability to perform their duties (don’t say it exactly like that, maybe say: “Is everything okay? Do you need any help? Can I help with anything?”).
Make sure your staff have everything they need to perform at their maximum capacity, especially when it’s busy – your busy periods are when you have the ability to generate the most revenue per hour.
The two most essential ingredients of a brilliant bartender are outstanding customer service skills, and a positive attitude – once you have these, it’s easily possible to train for skill. Your bartenders and waitstaff are your frontline powerhouses – it’s supremely wise to invest in their training and wellbeing.