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The festive season might be a little bit different this year, but delivering a memorable and positive drinking experience is just as important as ever. Bestselling author Paul Martin shares insight and tips on how to encourage responsible serving in your venue.

Over the years, our view on what delivering a great guest experience really means has evolved. Staff members view alcohol in terms of better, not more - and have a much wider choice of tempting low or no alcohol options to offer customers looking for choice.

It’s worth considering that the vast majority of positive bar reviews on Trip Advisor reference ‘engaging service’ as being the most memorable aspect of their experience. Far more often than the food or drink! This leads to the truism, that to become truly effective responsible servers, you must think in terms of selling amazing experiences. In the current climate, positive drinking experiences are critical not only for your guests but for business as well.

Once you have this clear in your mind, you need to question; do you and your teams have all the skills and tools to enable you to deliver your experiential service?

In that regard, here are a few of my ‘must-dos’ this festive season.


This is essential. In the first instance, it builds trust and lays the foundations for rapport, meaning that activities like a recommendation, suggestion, upselling, etc. are greeted much more openly. Ideas such as suggesting snacks and nibbles accompany drinks or offering low & no alcohol choices are viewed by the guest as receiving a higher level of service and help bartenders provide a responsible service at the same time.


It’s worth remembering that your knowledge of alcohol may be broader than a lot of guests’, and you have countless opportunities to shape the service experience through leading. This technique is about tailoring your responses to a guest’s order. Instead of being reactive (giving the guest what they requested), ask yourself whether there is an opportunity to make any suggestions or recommendations. Think about introducing your guests to new drinking experiences that will excite and entice, whilst also giving options for a positive drinking experience. For example, a Grapefruit Iguana is 30% longer than a Negroni with 20% less alcohol (taking the customer longer to consume less alcohol) and yet it is an amazing upsell to any Negroni lover.

Remember, guests are often more open to new ideas when they are in a celebratory festive mood so don’t be afraid to make suggestions.


Delivering responsible service goes beyond the front door of the venue too. Do you offer numbers for a taxi service and will you call on behalf of your guests? If so, when do you make it known? Letting your guests know right at the start of the evening makes a statement of intent (you care) and will stick in their minds later on.

Additionally, do you have a broad range of non-alcoholic drink options, and water available? And if so, how are you making that known? Consider whether you’re communicating this to your guests in ways beyond simply standing the products on your shelves or using the free POS.


The current climate has driven businesses and guests alike to embrace the convenience of contactless ordering/service through apps. This presents a great opportunity for responsible service whilst increasing spend and improving the guest experience.

Instead of just publishing your menu online item by item, you could ease customer decision-making by creating some food and drink combos to choose from. This form of cross-selling is remarkably powerful and by its very nature facilitates greater sales within the context of responsible service. Likewise, highlight your lower-alcohol drink options and perhaps feature your longer, lower alcohol mixes as ‘special signature serves’.

While your focus will be on offering great tasting, well-presented drinks, be sure to make use of bar tools such as a jigger or spirit measure to ensure alcohol per serve is exactly what it should be. Similarly, if you’ve entered the home delivery market, these tools are perfect additions to your kit for a responsible ‘at home’ drinking experience.


Ultimately, responsible service, like all great service is about proactive interaction with your guests. It requires thought, skill, training, and lots of practice but when mastered, becomes an attitude to great service in general.


  1. Engage and build rapport with guests. Without this connection, all forms of service become functional and impersonal.
  2. Take control of the service experience and lead your guests with suggestions, recommendations, etc.
  3. Continue to build your knowledge and share it with your guests at each appropriate moment.
  4. Think broader. What else can you offer that will enhance the service experience from the guest’s perspective?
  5. Train, train, train. To become skilled at these and other techniques, it is vital that you spend time sharing the skills and practicing the techniques.