In a bar, you will find an interesting and diverse community of people who will seek out fine bartending, not only for the relaxation and camaraderie, but also for a familiar and comfortable environment where they are recognized and accepted. For many people, in this competitive and aggressive world, a bar may be a sole source of sustenance for those basic things that are so essential to us all as humans. We are, after all, social beings.
Who doesn't recall an episode of the television series "Cheers" when every time one of the leading characters would walk in, the entire bar would erupt in the chorus of "Hey Norm?" Few of us are entitled to such a universal form of recognition and instant acceptance from bar patrons, but an excellent bartender can provide almost the same sort of experience for customers.
I bartended to work my way through both undergraduate and graduate school, and have gone back to it several times when I grew weary of corporate life. The money (if you do it right) is about the same anyway, and, admittedly, it is tiring and demanding, like any job, but it is a heck of a lot more fun!
Every bar is different in its nature and appeal (strip bar vs. a restaurant's cocktail lounge), so this is not a "one size fits all" but, for the most part, if you follow these few words of advice, you can make it both enjoyable and very profitable!
1. Welcome all of your customers as though you know them and introduce yourself. Remember their names and welcome them, using their names, the next time they visit. (Keep a legal pad if you need too, "gray beard, thick glasses, name George, drinks Bud" ... and any quirks you can note that will help you recall. Failing that just say "Hey good to see you again!" Just think of it like if you were having a party in your own home ... It's easy!
2. Always keep in mind what their drink of choice is and be prepared to offer them their preference. You should already know the names and preferences of your regulars.
3. If a customer comes accompanied by a date or companion, treat them both as if they are royalty, address the customer as in "Wonderful to see you again, Mr. or Ms so and so (if they are a regular). And what can I do especially for your guest?" Be sure to use the finest glass for their friend. If you treat them with that sort of respect, you cannot only expect a nice tip, but you can bet that they will be back over and over, and looking for you.
4. Yes, do remember jokes. Remember them when you hear them and study them on the Internet. Internet jokes are so boring that most of us just delete them, but ahhh... the telling of a joke is just that, it is the delivery and the story telling that makes it both interesting and amusing. Be prepared to have at least two new ones on every shift.
5. Your smile and your obvious enjoyment of both your job and your customers are worth a lot more than tossing bottles about or doing circus tricks. If you can do it, well it doesn't hurt, but most folks are there for a drink, company and the respect and recognition that they don't receive in day-to-day life.
6. Depending on the policy of your employer, when customers come in for the first time, and have just one beer while reading the newspaper or looking around, and then start to leave, slide them a free beer/drink and say "I am glad that you came in and I have enjoyed your company," (calling them by name, of course). "My name is so and so, and please do come back." Pay for that beer/drink out of your tips if you must; you will get it back, ten-fold.
7. Remember that these are customers. They are not really your buddies, so stay professional.
8. Though you will have many opportunities for intimate encounters, stay focused on your career and that you are there to make a living. Don't ever forget that "one night stands" are never just that in the bartending world; the customer you became close with will likely be sitting on the other side of the bar, within a few days, regardless of how much you regret that moment.
8. If there is trouble or violence try, at all costs, to avoid coming out from behind the bar. Raise your voice and attempt to take control verbally, while you are dialing 911. Many bars do not provide security. A personal friend of mine came out from behind the bar and hit an assailant with a full bar bottle since the assault was against a woman. That bartender (who owned the bar) is still in prison not because the bad guy died days later, but because the bartender "came out from behind the bar."
9. Tip jars are sort of an optional thing, depending on the type of bar. If you follow the sort of relationship-building techniques I have suggested, then when your customer is cashing out it should be a face-to-face, handshake-to-handshake experience They are a lot more likely to deal with you fairly (maybe show off a little bit too) than if they can sneak a few quarters and a dime into a tip jar when you are busy. If you have waiter and waitress staff, one surly server can easily cost you a considerable amount, and that is only if you ever even see their tips. Tip and bar/service accounts should, in my opinion, be kept separate and are in many establishments.
10. That naturally brings me to keeping the other staff happy! Their ability to make money has to do with how well the drinks are made and how quickly they can deliver them, so there is a delicate balance between your bar customers and the table customers. Keep an eye on your own customers, and try to anticipate when they might need another drink. Take care of it, in advance, and if you you are filling table orders (very important) always acknowledge your bar customers and let them know that you noticed. Assure them that their drink is coming right up!
11. Even if it is not within your job description, help the table staff clean up and flip the chairs. Support them any way you can. The only time I would ever advise coming out from behind the bar would be in defense of the staff, and, even then, yell loudly, several times (to staff mostly), for someone to call 911. They will need to know that they have your support (even in if your place of employment has bouncers), so just always do what you can to protect their sense of having a good place to work because, in spite of all your efforts to provide a fun atmosphere for your customers, unhappy staff can detract from that.
12. When you have time, spend time talking with your customers. Don't sit on a stool sipping a coke and obviously trying to find some time alone, even if you are "on break." You can be on break at home. Talk news, talk about local folks and interesting places, but more importantly try and get them talking about what is important to them. They aren't in a library, they are in a bar, and maybe they want to talk, a lot more than be talked to. It's easy to walk away when you get busy; they can wait and, if they can't, start gauging their intoxication level.
13. Thank every customer for having spent their time there with you and, if possible, shake their hand. That sort of thing means a lot to people and will keep them coming back. Look them in the eye, particularly when they are cashing out. (Tip Time)
14. If that moment isn't available, because you are otherwise involved, when you see them rise to leave (and you are sure the bill is cleared), just yell over your shoulder "Hey (name) thanks! Be careful and come back, OK?"
15. Study any bartender's book on mixed libations carefully, but it's just as important to watch your co-workers mix drinks. It is a craft that can be learned from experience. If anyone requests a drink that might be from their local area, or by a name you are not familiar with, don't be ashamed to say "Hey, I don't know it but I'll make it right now. Teach me!" They will usually be proud to.
Some bars are just crazy some nights, or are just always that way, and you might be one of four or five bartenders with very little time to employ some of these techniques, especially with loud music or live bands. I know, I have worked in them as well but, even so, you will have brief moments when you can utilize these suggestions and, believe me, they will pay off. Even with multiple and busy bartending situations, customers will seek you out, try to sit near where you are working and, when you aren't working, they will ask when you are going to be working next.
By the way, once you have a "following," changing jobs is easy! Bartending is a fun, interesting and lively job! I have made up to $50,000 a year bartending as a second job! Find a place you enjoy living, a bar you like and ENJOY work for a change!
Steve Landen has over five years of [the website www.bartending-world.com cannot be found] bartending experience under his belt.