High Volume Shortcuts without the Shortcuts

NOT Herbs & Rye, but just look at that stir... Image: Getty

When the topic of high-volume cocktails and the shortcuts available to bartenders comes up, batching is usually the first approach that leaps to mind. And why not? Bars all over the US utilize batched cocktails, including some of the most famous and respected within our business.

However, there are bars and bartenders who build and serve cocktails in a high-volume environment without batching. Jonathan Pogash is a bar, restaurant, and beverage brand educator and consultant, and he’s also the man behind The Cocktail Guru. Nectaly Mendoza is the owner of Herbs & Rye and the winner of the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Bartender of the Year award, and Joe Pereira is an enthusiastic bartender at Mendoza’s Las Vegas cocktail bar and restaurant. The trio tackled the subject of high-volume service without batching at the 2017 Nightclub & Bar Show.

To begin the discussion, Pogash, Mendoza and Pereira explained that high-volume cocktailing can be interpreted in two ways. There are high-volume bars and restaurants, and there are big events that call for a high volume of beverages to be made and served. Cocktail and hospitality phenom Herbs & Rye is a high-volume bar where batching is simply not part of beverage operations. If there’s any doubt about their volume, know that Herbs won Best American High-Volume Cocktail Bar in 2016 at Tales of the Cocktail.

So, how do they do it? Is the staff superhumanly quick? Does the Flash work behind the stick at Herbs? Of course not. Mendoza’s strategy can be summed up in one word: simplicity.

"Don't make shit hard. You know why? Because then it's hard," said Mendoza during the presentation.

Herbs operates on 5 juices, egg whites, and cream. The best ingredients are used and the cocktails are executed well. Bartenders don’t waste their movements, and Mendoza looks for a couple of specific traits when putting his trust into a bartender: poise and consistency.

"We're not looking for rock stars, we're looking for rocks,” Mendoza says of what he looks for in bartenders.

This presentation wasn’t about providing a formula, it was about preparation, execution and consistency. There isn’t a magic bullet to apply here. Rather, this topic boils down to practical bartending and performance in a high-volume environment with the right staff executing well. That being said, there are steps you can take in your bar to shift the odds in your favor.

Practically, Mendoza and his team adhere to the French culinary principle of mise en place, or “everything in its place,” and apply it to cocktail operations. All of the wells are identical at Herbs, from the tools to the garnishes. Everything required is within arm’s reach. Bartenders arrive early to prepare their stations, and each of them know that they can step to any well and execute efficiently. The team practices free-pouring on a regular basis.

Philosophically, the team at Herbs believes that they themselves are the mise en place. They have developed muscle memory. Mendoza looks at cocktail recipes and attempts to simplify them wherever he can, reducing steps if the cocktail quality won’t be jeopardized. A busy night can fluster the most experienced bartender, so the staff strives to hone their skills in order to reduce the chances that they’ll crack under pressure.

The reality of a high-volume operation that chooses not to embrace batching is that efficiency is the only real shortcut.