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Winning the hearts and minds of guests at your place isn’t a matter of life and death for bartenders or servers, I can assure you: it’s much more serious than that. It’s everything.

When people enjoy their experience at a venue, it not only drives tips, profits and word of mouth – it makes things more enjoyable on both sides of the bar. After 34 years in the industry, we hear from Paul Martin for his thoughts on how to wow and raise the experience for all who come through your doors.


Generally, industry staff fall in to one of two categories. They’re either reactive or proactive. Reactive bartenders are essentially ‘servers’, insofar as they wait for the guest to make a choice and then serve it accordingly.

The proactive ones, on the other hand, are ‘leaders’; as opposed to waiting for a guest’s instructions, they look for opportunities to lead the service experience, guiding their guests on an unexpected journey, of which a critical element of that process is making recommendations.

By taking the opportunity to recommend you are providing a more tailored level of service. You are giving the guest the benefit of your knowledge and expertise, leading to new and exciting drink or food experiences for them. You are also communicating a sense of truly valuing your guests (something that builds powerful loyalty) by taking the time to make the service experience personal and curated.

And one more important consideration: by providing proactive, rather than reactive, service, you can expect to experience significant uplift in your turnover.

So, with this in mind, let’s consider the following opportunities for leading and recommending:


After asking the ‘what can I get you?’ question, be wary of generic responses, for example ‘a gin and tonic’.

Here, you could respond by asking, ‘do you have a preference?’. However, this is a great opportunity to make a recommendation and put some skin in the game. Think about asking, ‘do you have a preference, or can I recommend something for you?’ Generally, anyone that doesn’t specifically call for a brand is very open to recommendations – allowing the opportunity to upsell or give insight to your, or local, preferences.


Use your superior knowledge about products to introduce guests to new experiences. For example, if a guest asks for a ‘gin & Mediterranean tonic’, try a response like, ‘actually, have you ever tried Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla? If you like your gin with orange, you’ll love this!’


Become more familiar with your menu. Consider which drinks have a naturally synergy so that you can make more courageous recommendations. For example, how do you get someone to upgrade from a spirit and mixer to a cocktail? The key is relevance.

For instance, there is no point recommending an Espresso martini to a guest that has ordered a gin & tonic. However, you could say, ‘actually, before I get your G&T, have you ever tried a Tom Collins? It’s similar in style with a fabulous citrus punch, for a G&T drinker it’s the perfect upgrade.’ Lead with flavor – shared characteristics with the choices made, or preferences from the customer, should inform your recommendation(s).


A far more challenging technique for taking control of the service experience is to do it up front, before your guest has even ordered. Your approach will differ slightly depending upon whether a guest is a new customer or a regular.

For the new customer, try to avoid simply asking questions like ‘what can I get you?’ Why not offer a recommendation up front? If you are confident enough, why not open with, ‘Hi, do you have a drink in mind or can I recommend something for you?’ or alternatively, ‘would you like to see the drinks menu or can I suggest something special for you?’

On the other hand, for regular customers, as nice as it is to say, ‘hi George, the usual?’ – you’re missing an opportunity. Why not surprise George with something like, ‘hi George, I’ve been thinking about what you usually drink, we’ve got this new X on the menu which I think you’re going to love, want to give it a try?’.

Once you start to employ techniques for proactive service, the game changes.


The key is to change your standard phraseology. Create some phrases that you can become comfortable with that also offer up the suggestion that you have some cool recommendations to share.

Try to stop simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘sure’ when a guest places an order. Instead, think of the examples above and see whether you can change your response to include the suggestion that you can recommend an improvement.

Once you have developed a few set phrases of your own, they become the standard way you respond to guest orders. As a result, you’ll find the opportunities to recommend, upsell and cross sell open up in front of you. Giving you the chance to sell products that are more premium and more exciting, far more often. Ultimately providing a profoundly engaging and entertaining experience for your guests whilst significantly impacting your business’s bottom line.

Be brave, stretch yourself and commit.


Keep up with all the bar lingo, tips and tricks @diageobarac on Instagram.

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