By Michael Bumby
The resurgence and the revitalization of the cocktail is well documented and undisputable. “Fresh”, “Herbal”, “Hand-Crafted”, “Artisan”, “Classic”, and “House-Made” are just a few of the descriptors we see on drink menus these days.
It seems the days of asking bartenders to be bottle flippers and to blow fire balls across the bar has somewhat passed. Now bartenders are being asked to be more of a “liquid chef”. They are being asked to bring back the art of making true cocktails, to bring back the purity, the romance, and the mystique of cocktails that are being developed by renowned mixologists from all over the country.
The question is…. are you expecting too much from your bartenders? Let’s face it, most of them were hired because of their ability to wait tables or tell jokes. Maybe it was their dedication, or their tenure, or that they helped out with inventory, perhaps it was their gender. Is it fair that you continually change their job description, expect them to adapt to all your new programming and then are shocked when / or if the drinks are not being made properly? Is it his or her fault?
I can tell you, as a consultant and a person that has opened well over 50 restaurants, including casinos, cruise lines, hotels, etc… that a bartender will be as good as the training that she or he has received.
Recently I did a training seminar for an upscale restaurant group who has enjoyed much success and has received much recognition. We were rolling out a new beverage program. The inconsistencies and differentials in bartending styles between the bartenders were frightening. Something as simple as a rum and coke was being debated. One bartender had his own idea on how it should be made as the bartender sitting next to him had totally different thoughts (we’re talking about a rum and coke!). During the same seminar there was a debate on how to muddle a mojito… again, each bartender had different thoughts on how it should be made.
It is often assumed that because they are “bartenders” that they know and / or understand the art of making drinks. This assumption could not be less true. Just as a short order cook is not a chef, a person that pours drinks is not necessarily a bartender (if that were the case we’d all be bartenders).
Bartenders are given new recipes and asked to consistently recreate them. The drinks may be as simple as a rum and coke, but still need to be trained. Bartenders need to be trained… they need systems, checklists, management, etc… just as if they were your new sous chef. For example, a chef in your kitchen has a menu of 60 food offerings -- entrée’s, sides, soups, etc; A bartender has a menu of 20 specialty drinks and 100,000+ other drinks: Sex on the Beach, Mai Tai, Midori Sour, Cosmopolitan, Gibson, Goombay Smash, Planter’s Punch, Kami-Kazi, Cement Mixer, Purple Hooter, Paloma, Mint Julep, just to name a few. Who is testing your bar staff to be certain that these are all being made the same, or more importantly, correct? Or that the bar staff even knows what a Paloma is?
Challenge your bartenders. Pour test them daily if you free pour. Ask each to make one of your signature drinks and make sure they are consistent with one another. Find ways to improve their skills and their techniques through books, videos or hands-on training. Some of these techniques involve muddling, infusing of liquors and syrups, double straining, zesting, fruit cutting / knife skills, etc. These can and / or should be used as positive motivational tools. For example, the best pour test for the week gets a movie gift card, or gets out of bar clean-up, or gets to write his or her schedule for that week. There are numerous ways to motivate your staff while training them at the same time.
If creating a beverage culture is the main goal, then you need beverage-related minds. Determine your beverage percentage goals and work towards them. For example, if your goal is to have a 30% beverage mix then 30% of your time needs to be dedicated to beverage. Thirty percent then translates to 20 minutes of every hour, nearly 2.5 hours a day, 12 hours a week, 50 hours a month…. that means going behind the bar, testing the bartenders, creating new systems, bar clean-ups, training, development, and the list goes on.
This is a very exciting time in beverage. The art of mixing and developing cocktails and the art of bartending are back and will be here for some time to come. Take advantage of this opportunity and ride the wave. Be creative, be diligent and train those that affect your bottom line.
Michael Bombard “Bumby” is a Partner with Straight Up Solutions, LLC.