10 Commandments for Bartending Responsibly

Contrary to popular opinion, the best bartenders are born, not made. This is because the right personality is key to greatness in bartending. While anyone can learn the recipes and techniques, great bartenders ooze confidence and an attention to detail that inspires their patrons.

While an advanced degree isn't necessary to be an awesome bartender, professionalism definitely is. Mastering the skills of the trade pays off when the bar is jammed. Watching the precision moves of a skilled bartender under fire is a pleasure to watch–just as a frazzled, surly and inexperienced one is as inspiring as a train wreck. Whether you're an accomplished bartender or an aspiring one, these 10 Commandments will boost your professionalism.

Learn to Remember Names and Drinks

bartender tossing drinks

Image via Flickr by Southern vincentvds2

The key to attracting a loyal clientele is giving your customers a little personal attention. Get to know your regulars and greet them when they come in. Learn a few details about their life and use them to make small talk when business is slow. Make a point of getting new guests' names, whether it's part of a greeting when they arrive, or as they cash out at the end of the evening. Remember: Customers appreciate it when you remember their names, but they expect you to remember what they are drinking. 

Be Meticulous About Your Glassware

stacked wine glasses

Image via Flickr by Denise Cross

Your glassware should be spotless; nothing turns off guests like a dirty glass. Hold up each glass before you pour to ensure it's clean. If there's time, rinse out glasses before you fill them to remove any dust or detergent residue that might affect the flavor. Take care to use the correct glass for every drink, especially wines and fine whiskeys where the aroma is important to your guests' drinking experience. Don't get lazy with beer; with today's focus on pricey craft beers, your guests will expect their brew to be served in the correct style of glass.

Prioritize Your Work

This should be common sense for hospitality workers, but it needs to be stressed. Serving guests comes before washing glasses or wiping the bar. Preparing drinks for a waitress with food orders comes before opening a beer for a regular. Internalizing a "first things first" mentality is the key to great customer service.

Learn Tactful Ways to Cut Someone Off

One of a bartender's most important responsibilities is managing patrons who drink too much. There's no magic number of drinks to indicate a customer has had too much; it's based on behavior–glassy eyes, slurred speech, total inhibition, and loss of motor control. When a patron's behavior is preventing your other customers' enjoyment of the evening, it's time to cut them off

Pay Attention to Mise en Place

bartender tools

Image via Flickr by Barney Bishop

Just like a chef, an expert bartender needs to have his implements, ingredients, and garnishes close at hand and ready to go for smooth drink service. Mise en place is a French term which means setting things up. For bartenders, it means preparing your fruits and vegetables for garnish, organizing your shakers, spoons, and strainers, and making sure you have clean glassware, utensils, and towels to start your shift. 

Get Educated About Beer, Wine, Spirits and Cocktails

beer taps

Image via Flickr by Trombone65

People love to ask their bartenders for recommendations, so it's important you know enough about your products to help guests make good choices. Learn the unique qualities of the various beers you offer. Ask the chef for wine pairings for popular menu items–and pick a favorite wine or two so you can honestly answer guests who ask for suggestions. Learn the flavor nuances that separate a $10 bourbon from a $100 one. In addition to the cocktails every bartender should know by heart, learn a few vintage cocktails to tempt and delight your guests. 

Work Hard to Make Guests Happy

Your number one job as a bartender is to make your guests happy. This is not just a ploy to get better tips–although it certainly helps–it's the key to brisk business and job security. Accommodate requests as much as possible, whether it's an extra lemon wedge or whip cream on a frozen drink.

Anticipate your patrons' needs by refilling water glasses and snacks without being asked. If you serve a martini or a neat scotch, follow it with a glass of water for a touch of class. Smile at your guests and ask them if they're enjoying their drinks. Always be attentive; no customer likes being ignored.  

Remember It's Not Your Bar

It's also not your booze, your equipment, your supplies, or your cash. Respect your employer's rules about serving size. Don't comp drinks unless your employer authorizes you to do so–and learn when it's appropriate to comp. Don't pour top shelf liquor and charge a rail drink price. Be careful with delicate barware. Most of all, be honest and conscientious with your cash. Of course, if you are the bar owner, you already recognize these good business practices. 

Control of the Atmosphere

Is the band too loud? Is the air conditioner set at a comfortable temperature? Are tables being cleared promptly? Is an obnoxious guest ruining the fun? One of the bartender's jobs is to make sure guests are comfortable and having a good time. Even if you mix the best drinks and your prices are good, you'll get dinged on Yelp if your customers are uncomfortable.   

Know the "Nevers"

Each bar has its own specific "nevers," but these are universal:

  • Never drink on the job.
  • Never touch the rim of a glass.
  • Never use your cell phone unless you're on a break.
  • Never say,"I don't know how to make that." Look it up, or recommend an alternative.
  • Never scoop ice with a glass; the glass may chip and you'll never notice it mixed in with the ice.

A good bartender is an asset to any establishment; even in a poor economy, he or she will always find work. An outgoing personality combined with skill mastery and adherence to the Bartender's 10 Commandments will keep you at the top of your profession.

Contributed to jobs.net by Kim Evans

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