TIPS for an Aspiring Bartender
So you wanna be a bartender? Whether it’s a part time job to get you through school or you’re making a career out of slinging beer, here are a few pitfalls to avoid.
By Tracy-Lynne MacLellan on May. 22, 2018
Based on a true story. I wish I had made it all up, but I’ve seen it far too often and I bet you have, too. From saggy pants to checking your phone while taking an order, here are the Must-Don’ts of Bartending 101.
Bartender Tip #1
Show Your Mind, Not Your Behind
Pull your damn pants up. I can see your boxers and I don’t want to. I’m all for not having a uniform in the workplace, but even if you can’t manage to look professional, at least have some dignity. Yes, this applies to female bartenders, too. The Thong Song was released 17 years ago. Grow up.
Image Source: vitamin-ha.com
Bartender Tip #2
The Ice Well is Sacred
Don’t throw the scoop in the ice well. Ice goes into drinks, which goes into people’s mouths. If the handle is touching the ice you should probably just shove that handle in someone’s mouth. Go ahead, see what happens.
Think about all the things your hands have touched before you grabbed the handle of that ice scoop; you used the debit machine, put someone’s order in, cleared a dirty plate, muddled a mojito, grabbed cash off the bar, put empty pint glasses into the dishwasher, took the bottle opener out of your back pocket and opened a few bottles, checked your phone, touched hair/beard, took off your toque, etc, etc. Thanks for the side of e-coli with my Spiced Rum & Coke.
The same thing applies to the pop gun. Everyone’s hands have been on that gun. Dude from the kitchen just poured his own pop, the servers have been reaching across the bar and grabbing the gun for refills, you’ve made a hundred happy hour hi balls, and then you throw that putrid hunk of plastic into the ice well, next to the filthy ice scoop.
Hey – who ordered the Double Staph Infection & Tonic?
Bartender Tip #3
Wash Your Damn Hands!
Why do I even have to tell you this? Always. Wash. Your. Hands. It’s not possible to over-wash them. It’s like those people who think you can die from drinking too much water. You can’t. Most of us don’t drink enough water and the same goes for hand washing in the restaurant industry. You are not washing them enough. Trust me. Consider also using hand sanitizer. Not in place of, but as well as!
Here are key times a bartender should always wash their hands:
- after you have a cigarette,
- after you use your phone
- after you use your phone while you are having a cigarette
- after you eat
- after you take your phone out of your back pocket
- after you handle dirty plates
- after you handle dirty glassware
Remember when I said this was based on a true story? I literally saw my bartender do all of the above and NOT wash his hands. Come on, it’s 2018 – we can do better.
“Please, please, please don’t put your fingers inside a dirty glass when you clear it. Dear god now what’s all over your hands? If you go anywhere near my food I’m definitely going to be sick tomorrow.”
Bartender Tip #4
Pay Attention To Your Guests At The Wood
I watched my bartender do 10 unimportant things before taking my drink order, including checking his phone that he was just on – at the front door, while having a smoke, when I walked into the bar!
Your Guests are paying you to pay attention to them. That is literally the point of your job. If they wanted to be ignored, they’d stay home. There are so many pitfalls you can avoid if you simply put your Guests’ needs before your own. Think about how you would like to be served if you were sitting at the wood. Then do that, but much better. You have a chance to make someone feel better than they did when they walked in. No, you’re not saving lives, but you also don’t want to be office fodder the next day over coffee. I’ve done this job. Sometimes I still do. So I get it. It’s a delicate balance between handling chits in a timely manner and looking after your own guests. That’s not the point here.
I made this funny meme about my bartender. His name was not Bill. Or maybe it was, I don’t know. Regardless, don’t be like him.
“Is your conversation with the server really more important than me? Oh good, you looked over here… and continued to ignore me. Why? Okay, I get it – she’s a good friend and you need to solidify your weekend plans or maybe you’re venting about work. Oh, I know, there’s a super cute cat video she must see right now. Come on, buddy, help me out here.”
Bartender Tip #5
Leave Your Phone Out of Reach
Piggy backing on the previous section, your phone is the biggest distraction because we are all addicted to smart phones and apparently can’t go 3 minutes without looking at them. I’m not saying you need to cut yourself off from the rest of the world for 6 hours (let’s be realistic), but if you at least keep your phone off the floor you have a better chance of paying attention to your Guests because you’re not constantly checking texts or social media. That means not having your phone behind the bar, in your apron, and definitely not in your back pocket. I can’t believe I actually have to say this, but please don’t pull your phone out of your back pocket while taking someone’s order to see who is calling you! Yes, that actually happened to me! I was mid sentence, about to choose my side dish when Dirtyhands McBoxers decided to take his phone out of his back pocket, see who was calling, think about whether or not he wanted to answer the call, then put the phone back in his pocket and finally look back at me to finish taking my order. Rude!
“Am I being Punk’d right now? (Looks around frantically) Where are the hidden cameras. There’s no way this isn’t a reality TV show.”
Using your phone isn’t just inconsiderate. I couldn’t help but notice after he put his phone back in his pocket, he then took my order, made a couple of drinks and put away clean glassware. You and I both know he takes that phone into the bathroom with him. Think about that for a minute. Still not sure what I mean? Look at the picture below. If you were there that night, there’s a good chance this is what a scientist would find in your mouth.
Bartender Tip #6
Be Honest And Diplomatic
A high pitched “Ehhhhhh…” is not an acceptable answer when someone asks you how the pulled pork is. Guests will ask you what your favourite dish is or what you recommend or if a particular item is good. Don’t avoid eye contact when you’re uncomfortable with the question and don’t lie either. Most people have a pretty accurate bullsh*t meter. Be sincere but remember you also represent the restaurant. Shrugging is also unacceptable. These are acceptable answers:
- Honestly, I haven’t tried that one yet, but Suzie loves it.
- We make our BBQ sauce from scratch and it’s got a bit of a kick to it. It’s also a pretty generous portion, so if you’re hungry and you like it spicy that’s a good choice.
- I’ve probably served (not “sold”) about a dozen of those in the last hour so it’s pretty popular.
- We source the meat locally and make all the sauces in-house.
- Actually, my favourite is our slow roasted chicken with a side of mashed potatoes and slaw. Delicious.
“By the way, you were right about the pulled pork. Why didn’t I listen to you?”
Bartender Tip #7
Do You Know Your Beer?
Please be able to answer basic questions about beverages. People lose faith in you when you don’t know what you serve. “Do you have a stout on tap?” should be an easy question for you. If you serve ISA, be able to answer “What’s an ISA?” What have ya got for fruit beer? If “none” is the answer, that’s okay, but follow that up with “We’ve got a Cider or Radler instead if you feel like one of those.” If you carry the Village Neighbour but don’t know whether it’s light or dark, we have a problem. Also, “what’s your hoppiest beer?” isn’t a brain-teaser, it’s a common question. If it’s on the menu, you are responsible for knowing what it is. If you serve more than Coors Light and Rickards Red, read up on some beer basics.
Bartender Tip #8
Your Guests Don’t Really Want To See You Do Normal Human Things
Sitting down at the bar across from your Guests eating your dinner in the middle of your shift is tacky. There are even some restaurants that do not allow you to wear your uniform while dining before or after your shift, let alone on break mid shift. Even restaurants that don’t have set uniforms, may require you to change into something different after your shift to indicate to guests that you are now “off the clock.”
The same thing often goes for using the public bathrooms. There is more often than not a designated staff bathroom, out of view of customers.
At the end of the day, being sincere and human with your guests while building a rapport is wonderful. Just understand that there is a line of professionalism that should exist no matter how casual the restaurant is.
“You are currently sitting down at the bar eating. I am watching you eat across from me right now. What in restaurant hell is going on? You’re not even eating food from here. I need to make better life choices. Oh good, you’re back from your second break in 40 minutes and you didn’t wash your hands – again. Did you forget where the sink is located? I’m out of patience now. I just want to pay my bill and get out of here so I can throw up in the comfort of my own home.”
Last, but not least…
Bartender Tip #9
If you put your grubby hands anywhere near the top of my pint glass where I put my mouth, I’m sending it back.
Image Source: Manan Chhabra on Unsplash
Written by Tracy-Lynne MacLellan, Bartender/Server for over 25 years; a customer for much longer.
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