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Are You Hiring a Bartender or a Drink Making Human?

“Please come to our new bar, we have a wonderful new array of innovative molecular cocktails concocted by a hipster mixologist (whose arms are covered with tattoos, and hasn’t shaved his beard since 2012)”, said a very energetic hotelier with a wink – and I never say NO to a free invitation for cocktails.

However, let me tell you this. There are only a handful of bars that I regularly go around the world. Sure, I will try new bars to check them out, but the ones that keep me coming back are the ones that I have a good relationship with the bartender(s), as well as the ones that make great chocolate martinis (There are quite a few of those).

From my recent trip to the US, I met two bartenders that had really made my day. One at the Randolph Bar Warwick New York, and one at the European Bar at Warwick San Francisco. Frank is the bartender at the Randolph, and I love him. Not only he can make drinks, but he can talk about things, from historical subjects to politics, to designs, and everything else. Jass is the bartender at the European bar.  When found out that we were from Thailand, he opened up a great conversation about about Muay Thai, Thai food, and even showcased some of his Thai vocabulary to us. You see – it’s all about engagement.

In Asia, it often seems like bartenders are too cool to be your friends. When you talk to them, they get annoyed, or even when they do want to talk to you, their manager will signal them to stop talking and get back to work. Even when the bar is empty. I guess that it’s better to see your staff behind the counter playing with their phone rather than being busy engaging with a potential repeat customer.

I have seen a lot of F&B directors that want to recruit people who look good in a rolled sleeve tight white shirt (that I am often asked to make), grungy tattoos, and look good in a leather apron (again something that I’m often asked to make), but as I have always been told, looks fade (as do the uniforms), and for this industry, the staff do too fade away from you quite quickly.

Relationships last longer. When I had one day left in New York, the last thing I did after landing in JFK from San Francisco was to go and see my bartender friend Frank. That’s how powerful good customer engagement is. Less than twenty-four hours left in the city, it was just noon but we had to see Frank once more.

How do you create a ‘Frank’ for your bar? Get a manager that can train your bartenders to be well-rounded, make good drinks, have a good people skills – meaning they need to know when to talk and when to stop, and what to talk about, and what should not be talked about.  

My suggestion as far as bartender training is to start with having them read a newspaper to see what’s going on in the world and to open up a conversation “Have you a read the news today?”

Whatever the answer might be, talk it over over a Martini.

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