It takes some savvy and charisma, along with knowledge of drinks, to be a successful bartender. This is one of those jobs in which your success depends on your personality more than anything else. You need to be a provider of drinks, a server, an organizer, a cashier, a friend, a psychiatrist and a neat freak among other things. Customer service is the key because the majority of your income will come from tips and there are a few things you should keep in mind when it comes to this part of working the bar.
1. Have a Good Attitude
This is the hospitality industry and every bartender needs to remember that. To be successful you need to keep a good attitude, no matter how bad your day is going, and treat every customer the same. Simple things like a smile and greeting when a patron sits down and thanking them when they leave can make the biggest impressions.
2. Keep the Bar Clean
Nothing says unprofessional bartender (or one who simply doesn’t care) more than a dirty bar. Use clean bar towels to wipe down the bar top anytime you see water or spills. Keep the bar back straightened by putting bottles back where you got them right away. Dispose of empty glasses, straw wrappers, napkins and other garbage as soon as you see it. Replace cocktail napkins regularly. These seemingly little things make a great impression and can often be done when you’re headed back to the tap empty handed. You’ll probably hear it from the boss too, but it’s true: “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”
3. Make Suggestions
This is one of the things that will tip customers off that you care about their experience. If you see a woman perusing the cocktail menu for 5 minutes, make a suggestion. If a couple sits down and look indecisive, make a suggestion. When you are greeting someone, set a cocktail napkin on the bar and tell them about that day’s drink specials. If you have a regular come in who gets the same thing every time try suggesting something similar, or offer the same drink with that new spirit you just got in stock. Eight times out of ten the customer is going to take your advice because you are an expert and they will show you their gratitude.
4. Memory, Memory, Memory
You are going to have waitresses yelling drink order after drink order, drinkers at the bar who hate to see empty glasses in front of them, and about 20 things that you have to check the stock on. A good short memory of a bartender is one of the keys to success and to keeping a busy bar under control. You should be able to retain multiple drink orders and associate them within the party so they go out together, recall what each of the people at the bar is drinking for the next round, and remember the names (and possibly other personal details) of your regulars along with what drinks they prefer. Also, have a good stock of drinks in your memory banks, beginning with the most popular and any local favorites.
5. Anticipate, Anticipate, Anticipate
As a bartender you need to be aware of everything in your bar and be prepared. How is your stock of lemons and limes? Do you need clean glasses or beer restocked? Is the keg or ice bin getting low? What about the drinks at the bar? If you see a customer’s drink getting down to the last few sips, ask if they want another. If you anticipate the needs of the bar everything will go nice and smooth (hopefully).
It is human nature to give preferential treatment to one person over another, but a bartender has to drop that habit. You should be showing the same amount of care and attention to everyone at your bar, old friend and newcomer alike. Avoid getting into a deep conversation with one patron and not scanning the rest of the bar for drinks that need to be filled, napkins that need to be replaced and tabs that need to be cashed in. If you ignore one person that tip will reflect the neglect.
7. Be Honest
Every person who walks through the door is entrusting you, as the bartender, with a good experience and one of the worst things you can do is to break that trust. Underpouring and overcharging will quickly get you a very bad reputation that might cost your job and possibly impact future prospects in the area. Inflating tabs for money in your own pocket or a drink for a friend is purely unacceptable and unprofessional.
8. Don’t Fixate on Tips
It is true, in the bar your tips will probably make up the majority of your income. However, if you are obsessed about everyone giving you the best (or even customary 15-20%) gratuity every time then it will show on your face. If a customer leaves a dollar on the bar after ordering 3 mixed drinks in 2 hours and you give a look of disgust, other patrons will notice and their perception of you will not be favorable. Take the tips you are given, do your best every time and the pay will add up. Some people are just stingy and you can’t help that. Also, don’t “beg” for tips, this is simply bad etiquette.
9. Card, Card, Card
It is your responsibility to make sure everyone drinking in your bar is of legal age to do so. If you have even the slightest question that someone is 21, ask for their ID. It’s a simple question that will save you a lot of hassle if they are underage. At first you may not think this a customer service issue, but it ensures that everyone at the bar is having a good, legal time. Consequences for serving a minor are severe, can cost you and the business a lot of money, and likely your job. Younger drinkers will often get offended at this request, counter that by simply explaining it is a part of your job. For older people who look just a little too young, this can often be flattering, especially for women in their late 20’s and early 30’s.
10. Most of All, Be Professional
All of the points above allude to this point, but it is important for you to project a professional attitude and appearance. Customers will trust you and come back again if they had a great experience. Keeping the conversations friendly, wearing clean clothes appropriate for the establishment and maintaining a professional attitude will create an environment patrons and management will appreciate. Bartending is a profession and even if you are using it as a temporary gig to get through college, you need to treat it as such. Most of all, have fun as it will show.