The Top Four Bartender Skills
There’s a reason restaurants have yet to replace bartenders with vending machines. The bartender is both gracious host and gossip, always ready to provide information on the latest cocktails and brews. Professionalism is the key word here. With good professional skills, the bartender often fades into the background. A bad bartender, on the other hand, will no doubt ruin the night.
Here are a few tips that keep the tips large and the customers ready for more.
1 The Four Count Pour
You’ll never see a good bartender fiddling with a jigger, carefully measuring out each ounce of precious booze. It’s not because he’s lazy. He’s mastered the “four count pour”, the first and best trick up the bartender’s sleeve.
Most bars put spouts on their booze bottles to better facilitate the four count pour. They allow booze to flow at a slow, constant rate. You grab the bottle by the neck with the index finger alongside the spout, guiding the pour.
Hold the bottle sideways and nudge the spout with your finger and out comes a stream of alcohol. Then, simply count to four. It’s a quick four, not four “Mississippis”. You should get to four just as a shot glass becomes full. Practice often, and use water (booze is a bit pricey for training sessions).
After you’ve filled the shot glass a few times, try your four count pour in a regular empty glass and then dump the contents into the shot glass to see how close you got. The idea is to instinctively pour a shot (one ounce) during your count, so if a recipe requires half an ounce you can count to two, or if it requires two ounces you can count to eight.
The four count pour may feel counterintuitive at first, but after you’ve mastered it, your speed will increase dramatically. Slow and steady wins the race, after all. Get good enough and you’ll never need to measure again.
2 Keep Busy
A good bartender is never sitting in the corner, checking his phone. Even on a slow day there are always things that need to get done.
Cleaning is your first priority during downtime. Nothing drags out closing time more than a late night dish washing session that should have happened at seven after the dinner rush ended. After all, dirty glasses affect taste and taste affects tips, and nobody wants to rest their elbows on a sticky bar. Plus, it’s a health hazard. The point is, if you’ve got nothing else to do, get scrubbing.
There’s ice that needs to get restocked and sinks that need refilling and taps that need cleaning and kegs that need changing. Familiarize yourself with all of these and learn how to get them in tip top shape as fast as possible. Downtime is practice time. Don’t let the manager catch you taking an early break.
An exception can be made for chatting with customers. A friendly wait staff is great for business and chatty customers buy drinks and leave good tips. But be sure to keep an eye on the rest of the bar while you converse. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than having to twiddle their thumbs while the barkeep is waxing philosophic at the far end of the room.
3 Make Small Talk
Sadly, conversation is becoming something of a lost art in today’s world, and bars brimming with high-definition TV screens for every imaginable sport and talk show aren’t helping matters. But there are still plenty of old-timers who’ll talk your ear off about politics and cars, and these people drink the same as the rest of us. Get used to nodding. Sometimes these guys don’t like being disagreed with.
As a bartender, you’re lucky because you’ve always got an excuse to step away if things get heated or you just need a break. You can always remember some dishes that need washing or stock that needs arranging. But the one thing you can’t be is antisocial.
Keep up on basic news like politics, sports, local events and the weather; small tidbits you can dole out in case someone asks. And of course, know the drink menu inside and out. If you don’t have an opinion on Goose Island vs. Blue Moon, make one. In a bar, the one thing you’re sure to have in common with your customers is alcohol. Don’t be afraid to geek out.
4 Basic Safety
You are a bartender, not a bouncer. While you must cater to an irritable customer’s needs, if they become unruly or violent they are no longer your responsibility. Alcohol deadens pain and loosens inhibitions. People who drink often feel invincible. Under no circumstances should you provoke a fight. You will be fired and possibly found liable for whatever damages or injuries could occur in the ensuing brawl. As bartender, you must learn to be diplomatic when possible, and beat a hasty retreat when not.
Also, never leave anything on the countertop. Many a bottle has been lifted while the bartender’s back was turned. Keep your hands on the bottles and when you’re done pouring, put them back where they belong. Be prompt with cash and change. And keep eyes peeled for fake IDs. Bars have their own regimen for judging fakes and you’ll be trained rigorously before you’re allowed to mix your first martini, but it bears repeating that an underage drinker is a legal risk for you and the bar you work for. You can be sued for one slip up. Be vigilant.
There are a million ways to become a successful bartender, but hopefully these few fundamentals will provide some groundwork while you explore a career behind the bar. Practice, stay safe, and have fun with it. After all, who wants to buy drinks from someone who hates their job?