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Readers sound off on customer service at the bar

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In the June issue, editor Michael Sanson discussed spending time at an oval bar where all four bartenders would often isolate themselves on one side of the bar where they were hidden by a center island that held beer taps and pyramid displays of liquor. He suggested that the bartenders didn’t care much about serving customers correctly, though he blamed management for not requiring two bartenders to be posted on one side of the island and two on the other side. By not doing so, many neglected customers got up and left. He asked readers how they would handle that scenario. Here are excerpts from those who wrote.

The direction you are pushing in your column—to assign bartenders specific sections—is exactly the direction that my company is leaning toward. It is leaning toward this strategy because of observations much like yours. I understand the point. Here is why I disagree: The bartenders you observed are poor bartenders and/or lack leadership involvement and direction. I’d be willing to bet that if they were assigned specific sections, some of their fundamental responsibilities would still be neglected because they don’t understand service.  

Let’s say I’m wrong, and they achieve 100 percent of their responsibilities in their section. What happens when another bartender is struggling in his or her area, but for some reason does not communicate to the other bartender? Now we’ve trained bartenders to not recognize needs outside of their area, so half of the bar guests are happy while the other half remain frustrated because they see another available bartender who is ignoring the obvious need for support.  

To fix that problem, we might train the bartenders to be assigned to a specific section, but to be aware and mindful of their cobartenders’ sections and provide support when needed. I personally don’t like that solution because we create a gray area. Any of these strategies might work, but only if we choose the right bartenders, staff the right number of bartenders based on sales projections and provide the leadership and direction that they need.   

I agree that the manager should huddle up the team preshift. The conversation should go something like this: “OK team, what are our ticket time standards? Are we going to meet or exceed these standards? I’ll buy you a cocktail if we do. Are you prepared with all rimmers? Show me. Are you prepared with enough fresh garnishes? Show me. Are all beers and liquors stocked? How can I help you? Remember, this is a team effort and I expect every single guest to know your names, for you to know each of our guests’ names, and for each of our guests to walk out with a wow experience. I’ll be bouncing back from time to time to check in. Get my attention if there are any guests you want me to meet personally, or if you need my support for any reason.”

I agree with you to blame the owner/manager. They’ve chosen the wrong bartenders and/or failed to clarify expectations, and probably so much more. Bartending is an art and a science, but please do not discourage the team approach. When we choose the right bartenders and coach them the right way, the art of bartending from a guest perspective is an unforgettable experience.  It’s a show with multiple actors, not three different shows in three different sections of the same bar.

Jason M. Podell
Director of Training
A Pots and Pans Production
Scotty’s Brewhouse
Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Co.
Muncie, IN

Photo: Thinkstock/Getty Images

You are right; others see the same stuff you see. They notice not being served, their drinks empty, dirty tables, severs and bartenders doing nothing, etc. Service is the most important thing and the only thing. The host should say hello and goodbye. Servers should prebus their tables and others,’ Saying hello to your table is common sense. Saying hello to someone else’s table is special.  

I work in the kitchen every day with a monitor and cameras all over the place. I have an earpiece to talk to the hosts and others. I am their bitch in their ear. Everyone is under a microscope. I opened restaurants with the idea I will always improve. I think others just walk through the process.  

Jason Clark
Executive Chef/Owner
The Strip Club 104
Greer, SC

First things first: The oval bar with the center service/display island is a terrible bar design. I want to see people on the other side and perhaps send that attractive lady a drink! A two sided bar with four corners will make you money. The corners or the point as we call it are your money spots. The roaming bartenders should be told, “Hey, stay on your own side!”

I am sorry to say that good bartenders are hard to find. I can tell you that what happened to you would never happen at the bar in New York that I like the best—P.J. Clarke’s. As for your girlfriend, (chef/owner), if she sat at her bar and watched a stressed customer trying to get a drink walk out, her opinion of the grumpy boyfriend would change.

Bob McGovern
Packards Restaurant
Northampton, MA

Why should a guest “understand” why they cannot be served in a timely fashion? The guest’s job is to be just that—a guest—and to enjoy themselves, not sit there wondering when they are going to be served, especially when you can see that the servers are milling about taking more interest in last night’s party than their tables.

I am one of the most forgiving and understanding guests. I do get it. I understand. But there are times when things can get under my skin. Oddly enough I get antsy for other guests at other tables. Sometimes I just want to get up myself and say, “Can I get you another beer?”

Blaine Nierman
Executive Chef
Country Club of Spartanburg
Spartanburg, SC

I’ve owned and operated c-stores, delis and a sports bar my entire adult life, and it’s always been about service. There is no such thing as overservicing the customer. My motto was always: “You are not here to entertain, you are here to serve—and don’t forget it.” I coach, I coach and I fire. Employees don’t get to a third strike. When we were slammed I was the eyes and ears for the staff. I’d say, “This table is dry or this guy at the bar is dry.” When we weren’t slammed, I damn well better not have to coach an employee, and they all knew it.

Rich Mouser
Former Owner
O’Farrell’s Food & Spirit
The Velvet Turtle
Roseburg, OR

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