Skip to content

Everything I know I learned in the Bar Bizz

January 14, 2010

In my twenty plus years of tending and working in restaurants, I have learned a thing or ten about what I do and about people.  I have trained literally hundreds of people in the hospitality bizz, some of whom now own successful restaurants and bars.  I am very proud  of this fact needless to say, and I always look forward to the next person I have the chance to influence. In the process of training there is always something that gets missed, or something that we learn later in our career that wish we had known from the beginning that would have made a difference early on ( Trial by fire, say my friend Jenn).

I started to compile a list of things that I want to remember to pass along as I train and teach.  Then I thought it would be fun to ask some other veterans from behind the wood what they thought and here are some of the things they and I said…

  • George Sinclair wrote,”The main thing is to have an amiable personality, and if you are shy by nature then you must pretend to be gregarious. Its all about appearances.”
  • Your world stops at the door, and when you clock in.  Thats not to say you are not human and that things happen in your life that distract.  But when you are on the bar you are on stage, nad no matter what is going on in your world, you gotta rock it every night like it is the best night of your life.
  • Hunger and feeding are primal instincts, and when someone gets hungry, especially while imbibing, the worst of the best can come out.  Byron Rudolf said to me,”Do not underestimate the savage potential of a normally kind-hearted, thoughtful person when you stand between them and their basic survival need: food. This business is as much understanding the human psyche as it is service…or maybe it’s the human psycho.”
  • Making drinks is the easy part of the job.  Behind the scenes is a host of counting, learning, training, stressing, hauling, stocking,  and lifting that makes the “glamour” of being a bartender happen.  Unlike other businesses, there isn’t a team of grunts making this happen.  You are the grunt.  Shawn Soole Says on this,”the back of house stuff, counting stock, lugging kegs etc. The real logistics of the whole trade isn’t as fun as being on display and showing your craft. When that gets dumped in your lap, it can be daunting.”
  • Steve Shur says,”…knowledge, organization, and most of all patience. mastering these three aspects of bartending makes working a busy or even slow night easy. This is the best advice I can think of for a first time bartender.”
  • Take care of yourself.  The hospitality world is not an easy one.  You gotta stay healthy, and gotta stay fit. I missed my chance on this one a while back in a major aspect of my career:  my feet.  I always thought those neat little supports they sell at the drugstore were good  for me.  Later after developing a pretty mad case of Plantar Fasciitis, I learned better (unlike my Southern expressions!)
  • You are gonna get tired and burn out.  You are dealing with the public on a daily basis and that can drain even the strongest of psyche.  When you have a day off, make plans: don’t leave the day open or hanging.  It is important that activities outside work are  a catalyst for letting go of that stress.  If you don plan this, you won’t be making the best of your time off.  This is most important for managers.  Great advice Matt!
  • My dear beloved buddy Natalie, The Liquid Muse, says,”
    – A deep breath and a smile will go a long way.

    – No one will die if they don’t get a drink / plate / service right away when you’re slammed. Acknowledge their presence with a calm smile, give them 100% attention when you’re with them, deliver the best quality experience you can. Stressing yourself out will only make it worse for everyone.

    – Educate yourself above-and-beyond what’s required for your job.

    – Treat a customer like a friend visiting your home.”  Amen

  • Owner and managers are gonna makes changes in your place (menu, decor, glassware, whatever) that you or your customers may not like.  It’s their prerogative.  However they are not the ones who are gonna hear about it: You are.  They will ask for feedback from guest who support the decisions.  You are the scapegoat for the others.  As an employee, whether you agree or disagree with the change, should support the powers that be and support their choices once made.  This is delicate because it is very easy to slip into an agrument with your disgruntled guest.  A simple”I’m sorry you are unhappy with it”  will go a long way.
  • Nothing any customer says to you while you are behind the bar is personal, especially when cutting someone off.  As a bartender, you must maintain control at all times, and if your BFF has been in the bar drinking, comes up and rips into you with the worst expletives never heard from a sailor, they don’t mean it.  It is never personal!
  • My good ole Facebook buddy Evan Martin in Seattle writes,”You have to want to bar tend, meaning you want to be host to a variety of people and take pride in what you do. Not to make our careers sound dreadful but we have all seen too many bad bartenders and would do anything to see one less bad one. I always say you can learn how to bar tend but can’t be taught. You have to seek out how to do the little things by research and practice, if you’re simply “taught” you’ll never understand why an Old-Fashioned is a classic and will be muddling everything with ice for the rest of your life. Like anything in life you only get what you put in.”
  • Finally my dear friend down in Florida, Miss Cheryl Charming says'”
    I wish someone would have told me to…

    … truly love serving people and treat them like you want to be treated (golden rule) or like you think they want to be treated (silver rule). If you serve this way then you don’t need a long DO & DON’T list because EVERYTHING falls into place, perfectly, which includes perks, opportunities, and inner peace.”

Thank you to all my friends, colleagues, and buds for contributing to this post!  Great tips for all of us to remember in our day-to-day dealings.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2010 7:54 am

    Very nice post ! It gives me so much info and helps me a lot!
    Thank you Chris 🙂

  2. July 27, 2010 10:56 pm

    I’d like to add something to the other fantastic comments made… After 22 years of bartending what I really learned is that people simply want to be heard. Sounds weird but the bottom line is when most people come up to a bar they just don’t want to watch the game or the news for that matter; what they’re really looking for is some form of dialouge or inter- action with the bartender. What makes this simple procedure work is you have genuinely love people, and I mean people of all nationality, race, creed or color o matter what’s going on in the world,i.e O.J. Simpson. You are a diplomat on the highest level representing not just your estsablishment but sometimes your country. I’ve worked at the world’s busiest airport for the last 6 years ad I’ve seen some very intense moments in the past. I’ve have to play ambassador on many occassions when I have a bar full of Americans cursing about the Middle East wars while my friends from those neighboring countries sit there with discuss and anger. My neutralizing the commets and the topics puts things in prospective and keeps a normally busy bar free from any violent outburst of any kind. Always stay away from talking about politics, race, religion, and bad ethnic or women jokes is my advice to anyone aspiring to be bartenders. Always carry an inspirational booklet to read before your shift, believe in yourself and treat your family good. Finally make sure wether you like it or not your caught up on all the latest news and sports, because the more you know about our world the better your tips will be when you enter their world…

    Happy Hour!!

  3. July 28, 2010 10:17 am

    Well Said!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: