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Global Diageo World Class Ambassador Spike Marchant on how bartender training has changed

One of the biggest misconceptions about bartenders is that we are universally an ill-educated rabble who fell into the trade to cover our academic deficiencies. Tell that to the marketing, science and math degree holders I know who have actively chosen the world of bartending over the lure of desks, labs and graduate schemes.

Superficially the bartender’s world has many attractions: cool people to meet, work and play with, the funkiest ‘office’, great food and drink and nights out that only those in the trade know how to enjoy fully. It sounds irresistible, if only it were all true.

Bartender training on-the-go

Seriously, there has also been an extraordinary shift in the way people inside the industry view bartender training. Twenty-five years ago when I was starting out, you learnt as you went along, instructions were barked along the bar by your colleagues. The first time I was asked for a ‘cocktail’ was in a pub. “…and a Kir”. I froze in fearful ignorance until my manager hissed at me “white wine and ‘alf a finger of cassis, ‘urry up”. That was the first step on a long road of training to be a bartender.

The first professional bartender training I received came from Dick Bradsell, the eccentric genius grand-daddy of the London cocktail scene. I still have a mental picture of his hand-drawn annotated and illustrated cocktail lists that still today form the basis of how I make classic cocktails.

In the hallowed halls of the top 5-star hotels, the methodology for classic cocktails was passed through the generations of bartenders, backed up by compilations of operating procedures that resembled telephone books. Along came the American chains like T.G.I’s who brought in defined systems for bartender training and many great people have come through their ranks and even more have adapted that approach. By the 2000s, new style bar groups like the UK Match Bar group started working with personalities like Dale de Groff to develop their in-house bartender training programmes.

Relevance of bartender training

Part of the fabric of contemporary cocktail culture is its improved bartender training and education, as well as an awareness of both the historical richness of bartending and the advancement of new food science and bar techniques, which shape future trends.

Education has also shifted dated business attitudes to staff training. A lot of conventional bar owners (and this is a direct quote from someone I worked for) saw staff as “human batteries, to be exhausted and replaced”.

This is changing as more owners and managers recognise that those of us at the front line in hospitality are the people who hold the success of the business in our hands. The better trained and educated bartenders are, the better the customers’ experience and consequently so is the long-term health of the business.

It’s for these reasons that industry programmes like the Diageo Bar Academy are so important: to develop, encourage and retain great bartenders. It keeps the bartending industry moving forward, one great drink at a time!

Spike Marchant is the Diageo World Class Global Ambassador and works on the Academy. Having held this role since the programme started, he has the task of designing the bartending challenges and hosting the Finals each year. Spike has been in the bar industry for over twenty years.