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Major Missteps: Bartender Mistakes that Make Managers Cringe

December 9, 2009 By: Robert Plotkin Night Club and Bar Magazine


It’s hard to imagine someone excelling behind the bar without making mistakes along the way. Bartending is a detail-oriented job and the clientele can be exceedingly demanding and unforgiving. Throw in the debilitating effects of working in a high-pressure environment and even the most stalwart of individuals are going to screw up. However, keeping the learning curve shallow and mistakes to a minimum will lessen the amount of collateral damage bartenders inflict on guests and the establishment.

To that end, we’ve compiled a list of the bartending mistakes that elevate managers’ blood pressure.

Maintaining a “Me-First” Attitude: Success in the bar business requires looking out for the house’s best interests. That necessitates adopting a cooperative effort — all employees helping each other to accomplish the stated objective, even when there may be no direct financial compensation pending. Prima donnas should pick another trade.

Disregarding Specified Serving Portions: The notion that great gratuities result from pouring “heavy” drinks is a costly one. Over-pouring liquor jacks up cost, increases liability and hurts the other bartenders on the staff who pour according to the rules. Their drinks will seemingly suffer by comparison.

Transferring Stress: Crank up the pressure and even common courtesy can quickly disappear. Nevertheless, bartenders must maintain their composure and control their emotions at all times. Stress and frustration must be internalized, not vented onto the clientele or co-workers.

Serving Inferior Product: Whatever the reason, if a drink isn’t up to quality standards, don’t serve it. Make sure mixes are well prepared and juices fresh. Fruit garnishes should be cut daily and used only in good condition. When it comes to the business’s product, don’t take shortcuts.

Cash Handling Impropriety: Depositing all of the bar’s cash proceeds should be done without hesitation. Theft undermines trust and staff morale. Running an honest till is a conscious commitment and the only financially and ethically sound course of action.

Being an Order Taker: Don’t be complacent just filling orders; make things happen. Energize the guests by suggesting new drinks and products. Recommend the daily specials or inquire whether guests would like to try an appetizer or two. There’s no more effective form of marketing than the enthusiastic efforts of servers at the point of sale.

Fixating on Gratuities: Making a decent living behind a bar is best achieved by rendering prompt, competent service. Focusing on tips during a shift disrupts concentrating on the job at hand. Take care of the guests and the tips will take care of themselves.

Inadequate Short-term Memory: Fault lies in the undeveloped ability to recall customers’ names and what they’re drinking. While people are pleasantly surprised when bartenders remember their names, they fully expect them to remember what they’re drinking.

Scattered Priorities: Working a high-volume bar requires the ability to take care of first things first, e.g. waiting on guests before washing a load of glasses or preparing drink orders for servers before chatting with a friend. Prioritizing tasks according to importance and the best use of time is a proven method of wrenching order out of chaos.

Missing Persons: When a guest sits down at the bar and the bartender is engaged, it’s rude and unprofessional to ignore the person’s presence until convenient to do so. Sure it’s busy, but all the bartender need do is make eye contact with the guest, smile and say, “I’ll be right with you.”

Not Knowing What You’re Talking About: Bartenders should be able to answer guests’ questions regarding the menu or a specific product quickly and knowledgably. Fumbling for answers or searching for someone else to deal with the situation diminishes credibility. People like to know they’re in capable hands. It’s far easier to upsell guests after articulating why particular brands are worth their elevated price.

We Don’t Make That Here: Saying no to a drink request is bad form. Regardless of whether the guest orders a Mojito or Long Island Iced Tea, if the ingredients are available somewhere on property, make the drink. Saying no is not an option.

Finally, bartending should be fun — or at least appear that way. Even when not thrilled about coming into work — perhaps a lounge chair on the patio is calling their name — great bartenders don their game faces and do their best to give the guests a worthy performance. NCB


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