THE THINGS I’VE LEARNED
World-renowned author and mixologist Gary Regan offers three of his best bartending tips…
You don’t spend nigh-on fifty years in the bar business without picking up a few hints and tips along the way, and I like to think that I’ve learned quite a lot about the craft of the bartender as I’ve held forth from behind the mahogany. I’ve also picked up valuable advice when hanging out on the other side of the bar, too, and it hasn’t always been the case that I’ve been learning from my elders, or people with more experience than me. Quite often I’ve picked up 24-carat gems from folk who have graced the earth with their presence for a decade or three less than I’ve been around.
Writing about some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years helps me to keep them fresh in my mind, and I’m hoping that you might find some hints in this column that help you as much in your career as they’ve helped me over the years. Let’s have a look at some of the pearls of wisdom that have been passed down to me by my brother and sister bartenders. Here, then, are three of my Best Pieces of Advice that I invite you to consider incorporating into your work-life.
1. KEEP ON YOUR TOES
One of my earliest lessons when I got my first New York City bar job was to constantly patrol every inch of the bar, and we used to do this by walking up and down our beat to try to ensure that everything was spick and span. Approachability is also fundamental to sales and building that relationship with your customers. My advice - take this on board and patrol you’re bar constantly making yourself accessible to your customers. When you do this you are giving each and every guest an opportunity to speak to you, to ask you if they may see a menu of a cocktail list, or perhaps to order another drink. Far too often I see bartenders spending all of their time chatting to the servers at the end of the bar, effectively ignoring the people who pay good money for a drink, and rightfully expect good service.
Sub-Hint: When you start a new job, it’s a good idea to wipe clean every single bottle behind the bar. This not only keeps you moving up and down the bar, it also teaches you where every bottle is so that, before too long, you won’t have to search long and hard to find that obscure single malt or the sherry that’s hardly ordered—you’ll know exactly where everything is. Also, start to develop a photographic memory. Where you can, it’s good to identify regularly customers and build up some rapport - remembering when they come in and what they drink is a good start.
2. FIND A MENTOR
I don’t care how long you’ve worked behind the bar, you need a mentor. Maybe you need two or three mentors. So take a look around at the people in your town or city, and take a little time to figure out who it is that you look up most, and think about approaching them about mentoring you. This can mean that they become people whose judgement you trust on myriad topics. People you can go to for their opinion when you’re looking for answers to all sorts of questions that typically crop up behind the bar such as how to handle a manager who helped you out for half an hour when you were busy an now expects half of your tip cup, or what you should do when you’re really busy and a guest tries to insist that you have a conversation with him.
One of your mentors might be the woman who makes the very best Mai Tai in town, and builds Bloody Marys that people travel from miles around to sip, and the best way that someone like this can help you is to allow you to sit at the bar and watch them, then to make themselves available for questions that might crop up as you observe her skills. You’ll more than like find that great bartenders in the trade tend to be very generous when it comes to dispensing wisdom.
3. BE EASY TO WORK WITH
Nobody loves a Prima Donna, and more importantly, few people will give a Prima Donna a job, so even if you’re at the top of you game - if your fellow bartenders constantly praise you for your mixology skills, and if local TV stations visit you regularly to get your opinion about current drinking trends and new bottlings of every spirit under the sun - whatever you do, don’t let it go to your head. You’re a bartender, and that’s something of which to be proud, and the very best bartenders tend to be the women and men who are easy to work with.
If, for instance, the bar manager calls you at home to ask if you can fill in for one of your fellow bartenders tonight, don’t pause to count the cost, if you can be there, then be there. If you’re in the bar on your day off when a huge delivery arrives, be the bartender who doesn’t just sit and watch—jump in there and help receive the goods. And if your bar-back is busy re-stocking glasses and you need ice, just go and get the ice. What’s the big deal?
You’ll find that this kind of attitude pays off really well in the long-run, and although it’s true that some folk might take advantage of your good nature, the vast majority of people in the business will realize just how valuable you are to the bar or restaurant at which you work, and I promise you’ll be rewarded in ways you never even dreamed of.
I hope that my Three of the Best come in useful to you as you walk the Path of the Bartender, and I promise to put bring you a few more things I’ve learned over the years next time around. Meanwhile, be good to yourselves and, whenever possible, try to be of good service to your guests, your fellow workers, and to everyone who needs a little help.
Gaz Regan is based state-side and can be found behind the bar from time to time. To keep up-to-date with him check out his social media pages @gazregan and Gary Regan on Facebook.