To Be a Really Excellent Bartender
A rant by Brandy
"You're a Fine Girl" Alexander
As a LUPEC member,
caterer, and rock and roll star, I spend a considerable amount of time
in bars of all description. It would be difficult for me to come up with
a set in stone group of standards by which I judge bartenders, because
naturally a great bartender in a shot and beer dive is completely different
from a great bartender in a hoity-toity cocktail bar where you have to
serve white wine in a different glass from red wine. That being said,
there are a couple of common-sense standards that apply to any bartender
who wants to get a big tip and a positive recommendation from the ladies
of LUPEC. Here are some:
Ladies like to be fussed over a bit if they are sitting at your bar. I
can not tell you the number of times I have over tipped a gentleman, particularly
at the Rosebud, for rushing over to light my cigarette. It is classy.
You should also keep a watchful eye on a ladyís ashtray if she is
smoking. While compulsively emptying the tray after every butt is annoying,
she should not be forced to put out cigarette number three on top of cigarettes
number one and two.
Another way to charm
me is to remember what I am drinking even if I am NOT sitting at the bar.
My favorite bartender in Pittsburgh, Tim at Gooskis, is phenomenal at
this. The place can be packed full of Yinzers and indie rockers all demanding
his attention, and he will STILL come at me with a Sierra Nevada Pale
Ale (on microbrew night) before I have even said anything to him. And
it is not just me---he has a Corona ready with the lime before my friend
Dark and Stormy makes her way to order. That is bartender cool.
There is of course
a flip side to attentiveness, especially for a lady sitting alone at the
bar, and that is overbearing chattiness. A lady sitting alone at the bar
could be waiting for a friend, or enjoying her solitude with a nice martini,
or reading something very interesting. You will not score any points,
or tips, by acting as if she is a charity case. Use subtle clues to gauge
if the lady would like to have more than passing witty repartee with you,
and then abide by them.
This is one
of those qualities that varies from establishment to establishment. If
you are working the bar of a shot and beer joint, I will not expect you
to know how to make a Pink Squirrel. I WILL expect you to know what is
on special, and to recommend the specials to me. I will also expect you
to know how to mix basic shots that people enjoy (although I will never
ever order them) and some basic information about the beers you have on
tap and what might be interesting in your import/microbrew cooler.
If you work in one
of those hoity-toity places with the fancy glasses and a bar that changes
colors, I will expect you to have a thorough knowledge of everything that
appears on your cocktail menu, and a working knowledge of other classic
cocktails. I will also expect you to have a reputable bartenderís
manual at your disposal and to USE IT when you must. BT Kevin from The
Lava Lounge was great at this---he knew how to make most things, but he
was willing to consult the manual for things he did not know, rather than
guessing and screwing it up. A side note to this---you should also know
basic cocktail ingredients well enough to be able to suggest a substitute
when necessary. You should NOT just go ahead and substitute something
without asking the lady you are serving---if she has ordered a specific
cocktail you donít know, she most likely knows what is supposed to
be in it and will not be charmed if you make it WRONG. In most cases,
she would rather choose something for which you have all the ingredients
than suffer through an inferior version of her favorite. You wonít
know unless you ask, and you wonít get a good tip if you assume incorrectly.
This is a tricky one. In general, if you are working a busy bar, you will
most likely have been hired because you have a generally pleasant disposition
and the confidence of the management that you will treat your patrons
with grace and respect. However, there are certainly cases where personality
is not as important as knowledge or attentiveness---I am thinking here
of the bartender from the Suburban Room, who is crotchety as all get out.
He does, however, know how to mix a Pink Squirrel, and so I will on occasion
visit his bar and withstand his cantankerous disposition in order to get
a classic cocktail in the appropriate glass. Tim at Gooskis is a pretty
quiet and reserved fellow, but his amazing memory and ability to make
me feel special in a room full of demanding rock and rollers more than
makes up for his lack of chattiness. On the other hand, bartenders like
Don Bistarky from the Lava Lounge/Tiki Lounge was skilled with the attentiveness
and knowledge, in addition to having a winning personality that made me
want to sit at the bar and discuss the subtleties of pomegranate molasses
with him all night long.
I can think of no
instances where personality alone has carried me through an evening of
substandard attentiveness or knowledge though. So donít rest on your
laurels just because you are a friendly guy (or gal).
This should really go without saying, but if you are sloppy with the drink
mixing, if you donít pick up my empty glass before you set down my
full one (on a clean bar napkin) or if you allow sloshes and puddles of
beer or alcohol or even melty ice to sit on the bar in front of me, I
will be stingy with the tip. Shame on you.
I know that in many cases you as a bartender do not have control over
what is stocked in your bar. That is forgivable, to an extent. However,
it is your responsibility to have the proper garnish well stocked, and
plenty of napkins and matches in the napkin and match holders, and also
to know before you start mixing my drink if you are out of something.
Taking stock of the bar takes only a few minutes, and will save you lots
of embarrassment later. If you are out of something basic, like for example
BRANDY, you should endeavor to do something about it before it is too
These are some basic
requirements for a good bartender from the perspective of a good bar patron.
Learn them, live them, and you will be guaranteed a good tip from the
Ladies United For the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, and from your
other patrons as well.