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What makes the best bartenders

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In the November issue, editor Michael Sanson discussed some behaviors that bother him at restaurant bars, including bartenders who fail to greet new customers in a reasonable amount of time and bartenders who fail to measure ingredients for sophisticated cocktails. The best bartenders and, therefore, the best places to drink and eat are places where the bartenders do both, he says. The following are excerpts of some responses from readers.

Before I comment on your topic I would like to address a bit of restaurant terminology that I feel needs consideration. It’s a small point, but I would like to see our industry refer to our customers as guests. Guests are friends that I invite for a hospitality experience that feels special and unique. The word customer feels less personal, mundane and “retailish” in a big box sense.

As for the greeting and recognition of a guest, I like to train with a few steps in mind:

• Acknowledge
• Set an expectation
• Ask for permission
• Act

The first three are completed within seconds, keeping in mind that 80 percent of our interactions with guests are non-verbal behaviors such as eye contact, head and hand gestures, body posture and professional dress and demeanor. Subtleties and nuanced behavior, consciously executed, can be powerful guest service tools.

“Hello and welcome to The Deelite. Would you mind if I finish up this drink order?” Thank you. I will be with you in just a few.” These statements in some cases don’t even have to be verbalized. The body language is so clear, positive and persuasive that an immediate assumption and connection of trust is established.

The last step—act—is setting a realistic timeline to provide timely and efficient service to the guest. “Just a minute” means just a minute. How many times have we been trapped on the phone with an unrealistic timeline for action? “We greatly appreciate your business and will be with you momentarily.” As two minutes turn into five minutes you begin to feel abandoned and duped. The same holds true in our business of hospitality. Set a realistic timeline for action and beat it when possible.

As for your thoughts on measured pours, I completely agree, especially in the new world of boutique mixology. As for a standard gin and tonic, Jack and Coke, some flexibility, training and a reasoned approach will suffice.

Steve Loftis
Harbor Restaurants
Grand Haven, MI

I’ve written you before and I often disagree with the premises of your editorials. This time at least we agree on some things. I disagree wholeheartedly with your statement that there has never been a period where our country has had more or better bartenders than it does now. I’ve been an owner for 34 years, 25 of them tending bar, and I learned one fact: I could teach a monkey to make drinks. Teaching someone to tend bar is very different. Good bartenders make eye contact with customers, letting them know they will take care of them as soon as possible. They notice everything that is happening at their bar. They know to take care of women who are alone and how to handle customers who may be intoxicated.

I also hire a certain type because I learned early on that some of the main characteristics of a great bartender—integrity and responsibility—can’t be taught. One of my biggest problems is finding someone who won’t give away or steal food and drink. My father used to say, “opportunity makes the thief.” With bartending there is too much opportunity.

I could go on for days, but we agree on one thing: these “mixologists” are not bartenders yet and some will never be. As for the use of jiggers and other measuring devices, it should not be necessary. At first, maybe yes, but not once a bartender has learned a drink. Do you see top chefs measuring their herbs and spices?

Paul Lazzareschi
Vasco Restaurant
Mill Valley, CA

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