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Setting up your staff with the correct bar skills ensures that you have happy employees, satisfied customers, and processes in place that offer security for everyone who crosses your business’s door. Anna Sebastian, a food and beverage consultant, shares her insights on the best ways to train your staff.

Training for me is such an important part of one’s professional growth: without training, there is no consistency, focus, or development. As a bartender, server, barback, or host, having the proper training not only helps you understand the ethos of the venue but also the goal a venue wants to achieve operationally.


A bartender learning how to use smoke to influence taste in a cocktail

So, you want to build a brilliant bar with staff who feel equipped and knowledgeable but you’re unsure of where to begin?

There are essential skills all new bartenders should know and master. Here is a quick guide for preparing your staff and setting them up for success:

1. Heighten Your Drinks Knowledge

While this might seem like an obvious one, it is important that bartenders have a great knowledge of drinks. Some key things that every bartender should understand are:

2. Get Ahead with OrganiZation and Setting Priorities

The hospitality industry is one that can be demanding, often creating stressful situations for your staff. Prioritizing organization and developing habits that reduce pressure will ensure that your staff has the essential bar skills to help them flourish.

Consistency is key in many elements of bar life. Guests subconsciously value consistency as it gives a sense of security and creates trust. Consumers are more inclined to visit places that they trust as they know that they can bring anyone to this bar or restaurant and receive the same experience each time. As bar professionals, what can we do to create consistency?

Mise-en-place or ‘set up of the bar’ is important as this lays the foundations for every shift. When training new bartenders, it is critical to show them how this routine setup can alleviate their stress and improve their performance before doors open. Having clear guidelines and “how-to” manuals, and even cocktail recipe books provides structure for staff and ensures consistency.

3. Becoming Communicative and Calm

Venues with the most successful training programs and staff are those that prize an open communication style with team members, colleagues, and managers.

Don’t be afraid to encourage your bar staff to talk to one another openly and respectfully, and to have an ‘open-door’ policy for work-related matters where they can communicate the issues they are facing.

Problems will arise – even for people who have been in the industry for years – so it is important to keep calm and collected when dealing with difficult moments. Using mindfulness techniques can help with this. Here is a great one by wellness expert Andrew Johnson who works with people in the hospitality sector:


Two members of bar staff training to make cocktails together

An incredibly important trait for every new bartender is great customer service skills. This is something you should hone and encourage in every newbie. Offering new staff the basics can help them shape their customer service style.

When your staff is serving at the bar, encourage them to ask questions of their customers about what they enjoy in a serve, and what they don’t want in their cocktails. Ask them what flavors they like and what they don’t. This allows new bartenders to make assertive and informed drink recommendations that please guests.

Being attentive is critical for good customer service. Asking customers simple things like ‘Are you enjoying everything?’ or ‘Is there anything else I can get for you?’ can help your bar stand out simply by making a customer feel valued. Being patient with questions and demands from customers can also reduce stress and encourage staff to study their cocktails to be prepared to answer questions about the different elements.


bartenders behind the bar chatting as they serve drinks

Ensuring that training is in place monthly for staff members is important as it sets standards and manages expectations from the beginning. It also allows the staff to feel comfortable in their role and confident in the tasks that they perform on a day-to-day basis.

As bar managers, we aim to create intrinsic behavior where people can do their jobs so naturally, that they don’t need to think about it – almost like tying your shoelaces or riding a bike. This is essential as it allows the bartender to make a cocktail whilst engaging and interacting with the guests on a genuine and heartfelt level.

Training sessions should be mapped out like this:

One thing I have found helpful is having a designated trainer for a bar/venue/department who oversees the training program. It gives a sense of empowerment and allows someone to grow and develop in a specific role as well as being accomplished in other areas of the business.

Training works both ways and I really believe in ‘Up training’ and ‘Up mentoring’ for senior members of staff. Having more junior staff give 360 feedback to senior staff, and showing different elements of their day-to-day, gives an opportunity for greater understanding of every element of the business as well as building relationships between team members - no matter what the role is.


bartender learning to pour and strain cocktails

So, you’ve set up a training session, you understand the essential bar skills that your bar staff needs to know but you’re unsure on how to deliver these learnings? There is a multitude of ways you can do this:

1. Develop a Staff Handbook

Having a staff handbook in place can help your bartenders understand their role, what their responsibilities are, and what your business goals are. Communicating these expectations can help employees appreciate your workplace culture, inform them on things like time-off, create opportunities to educate them on handling customer conflict, and promote general policies that protect both them and the business.

2. Honing Your Craft with Bar Tools and Techniques

An integral part of training bar staff is to show them how to use their bar tools. Understanding, for example, how to use a jigger can help account for the perfect ratio of liquids in a cocktail serve while also helping with cost efficiency (knowing how much liquid is going into a drink).

Understanding how to strain cocktails correctly can help upgrade serves, so showing staff how-to that can ensure that your drinks are consistent.

Something that may seem like a given is the delivery of drinks. Sometimes, bar staff is required to deliver drinks to tables. Ensure that your staff is not only able to lift but able to carry and balance a full tray of drinks. This prevents loss from breaks and spillage and gives your bartenders more confidence in work. Incentivize this with rewards for going for a certain timeframe without breaking anything.

3. Show Them the Components of Good Cocktails

Every cocktail consists of a certain number of components that makes them delicious. There are a variety of recipes and techniques, but certain things remain the same. They are as follows:

4. Offer Bartenders Resources

There are plenty of online resources that your staff can utilize. From things like articles, podcasts, and quizzes, you can encourage learning in a fun and interactive way. For those who prefer a traditional approach, offering texts like ‘The Curious Bartender’ can help them develop their knowledge, understand the history and stories of their drinks, and provide a foundation from which their cocktail expertise can grow.

Five Key Takeaways

1. Be transparent when setting expectations with the team.

2. Create a timeline and dates with clear achievable goals for the team.

3. Create manuals for cocktail creation, service standards, and in-depth information about where they are working to get a good understanding.

4. Regular training each day/week/month.

5. Ask for feedback from staff members all the time.