I have found out recently that a very contentious topic of debate in the F&B industry is what to call the person that serves drinks behind the bar. Are they a Bartender? A bar-chief? A Mixologist? Is there any difference?
To get to the bottom of the man (or woman) behind the bar, I thought I would go and find out from some of the top people in the business.
Sebastian De La Cruz who is the Beverage Mentor for the Sapparot Group and currently on assignment at the high-end cocktail bar U.N.C.L.E. (United Nations of Cocktail Lovers Everywhere) prefers to keep it simple and call it as it is. He says: ‘I personally prefer to be called a Bartender because it’s more encompassing of what we do’
Is There Really a Difference?
There seems to be a consensus in the industry that there is no official definition as to what a Mixologist in comparison to a Bartender. The job of Mixologist and Bartender do seem to be quite similar. It was suggested to me by some people in the know in the industry that I hunt down legendary Hong Kong Bartender / Mixologist Antonio Lai who is the Bar Consultant for Quinary and several other popular bars in Hong Kong.
Antonio tells us: ‘For me they are the same. At the end of the day, we want our guests to be happy and enjoy our drinks. The name isn’t as important as the drink!’
The newly revamped Bamboo Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok applies mixology into their drink concept and believes that there is indeed a difference between a Bartender and a Mixologist and make a point of distinguishing between the two words.
‘A Bartender is in charge of all beverages and a Mixologist is in charge of the creation of new and signature cocktails.’ Mirko Gardelliano, Bamboo Bar Manager mentioned.
Smoke and Mirrors
Neil Rivington, Bar Manager at Aberdeen Street Social, which has recently won a position in Hong Kong’s Top 20 restaurants for 2015 & Best cocktails 2015 awards from HK Tatler said ‘There is no real difference (between Bartender and Mixologist). They tend to do the same job. Media and ‘Mixologists’ tend to give themselves this title. Bartenders tend to be a lot more guest-focused as well as preparing their own drinks, syrups, tincture and bitters. ‘Mixologists’ tend to be more of the 2nd part of the above statement. Focusing on drinks mainly, not so much on the guests. But, it has all become a bit blurred. Everyone tends to do the same jobs now’
Sebastian De La Cruz from U.N.C.L.E. added:
‘I think people who are Bartenders should take pride in being a Bartender. A Mixologist serves drinks and a Bartender serves people. I would rather be known for the moments we create behind the bar as a Bartender. But I understand that the media likes to use the word Mixologist simply to make bartending seem more important than it is’.
The truth is people love the PR fluff and if it has a big word or a word you can’t even pronounce correctly, it will get attention.
It’s All About People
The bottom line is no matter what you want to call it, in the eyes of the people who are actually doing the job, neither term seems to be better than the other. What makes you a good Bartender / Mixologist is one’s skill and the ability in keeping the guests coming back.
‘The ability to engage guests and act upon their wishes and desires is the number one prerequisite. Even if the guests may not know what it is that they want, a good Bartender always delightfully surprises.’ says Julien Reichenbach, Assistant Director of Food & Beverage at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong.
The person behind the bar has to not only be able to create a great cocktail, but also needs to actively engage the guests. Being a good entertainer and host is also a must.
Oh and one last thing to take into consideration. Cocktails need to look good too. Antonio Lai tells us that ‘Tasty cocktails are essential but we are seeing a trend where there is a need of equally beautiful cocktails with this explosion of social media like Facebook and Twitter that is influencing the industry. Basically they have to be photogenic’
Whether you prefer the term Bartender or Mixologist, either way, the people behind the bar have a very important and complex job that combines people, culinary and artistic skills into something that will keep the guests coming back again and again.