Five top tips for young bartenders
Here at Copperpot Bar, we are lucky enough to work with lots of young bartenders across various projects and at different stages of their development. The old saying “you’re only as good as your training” certainly holds a lot of truth, especially in the hospitality industry where standards and training vary wildly from one company to another.
Obviously there are many more factors involved in how a bartender develops over the course of their career, but one we as a whole are very rarely short of is passion – so this article will make the assumption that the young bartender in question is interested and driven when it comes to their job.
If you aren’t, our suggestion would be to find another industry in which to work as hospitality probably isn’t for you. For clarity, that’s absolutely fine, but it’s worth being honest with yourself about it as you’ll be much happier in something you enjoy.
- Try to think of the venue you work for as bigger than just the space behind the stick.
I was once taught that bartending is 80% cleaning, 15% managing people and 5% making drinks. Whilst I don’t quite agree with the ratios of this statement anymore, the central tenet on which it’s based is certainly a lesson many bartenders never learn – that what goes into the glass in-front of you is so much less important than the experience your guests have come to enjoy.
Sure, the drinks are a part of the experience, but they are only one variable. Lighting, music level, cleanliness of the venue, a greeting, a smile and a goodbye are just a handful of the hundreds of little things that go into making a visit to a bar or a restaurant excellent instead of just “okay”. Sure, being proud of your drinks and developing your ability to make them consistently and excellently is crucial, but the earlier you start to look at the bigger picture, the better you’ll become.
- Do everything you can to the highest standard you can, as quickly as possible, all the time.
I suppose this should be an obvious point, but it’s probably the hardest thing to implement on this whole list.
Great bartenders consistently make things look natural and easy, whether that’s making yet another Ramos gin fizz or flaming an orange zest onto a cosmopolitan. Your aim should be to operate to the same standards and pace that you do on your best day, even when it’s your worst. Simple things like prep and garnish are usually the first things to suffer, whether that’s the quality of your lemon wedges, the ratio of your sugar syrup of the amount of lime juice you’ve made. It’s on your worst days that you need the backup the most as it will make the coming shift much, much easier.
Personally, whenever I’m setting up a bar my aim over the course of the shift is to have as much fun as possible – and running around, trying to catch up because your prep was crap is the farthest thing from fun I can imagine. Fun , in this instance is being completely in-control, making banging drinks for nice people that I’ve got time to chat to and engage. This is only possible when your speed, prep and quality is on point. A much wiser man than I once said “you can do anything on any bar with enough prep” and he wasn’t wrong.
- Don’t get snobby.
It’s a sad fact, but bartenders have a tendency to be extraordinarily snobby, especially when it comes to products they sell and the recipes they write. We’ve all been through it, you discover Tanqueray 10 and all of a sudden you become too cool to be seen drinking a Gordon’s and tonic.
The important thing to remember here is that drinking is supposed to be fun and ultimately tasty. It’s very cool in the bartending community to love obscure bitter liquids, and I too am partial to a drop of Branca Menta or Cynar but it doesn’t mean that there’s no place for Passoa or Koko Kanu on your back-bar along with it.
After all, if you’re lucky enough to be able to choose what goes on drinks menus and to be writing your own cocktails, remember that the drinks you select are ultimately not for you, they are for your guests. Choose them or write them as such.
Chorizo-fat-washed, kaffir-lime infused aquavit foam might sound very clever, but if it’s not as tasty as a recognisable alternative that you can easily order from one of your suppliers, is it really worth it?
By all means experiment, but think, if nobody wants to buy your drink and then have a second one, maybe it’s a poor use of time.
- Get enough sleep and beware overindulgence.
The hospitality industry has a tendency to attract people with a weakness for a good time and I count myself amongst these. It’s important to remember that if you’re going to make this a career that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Month-long benders, turning up to shifts having not been to bed etc. is both not-sustainable, it’s also incredibly unprofessional.
By all means have your fun, hell, have more fun than most other people in most other jobs – it is one of the major perks of what we do, but just keep it under control. Many many greats have gone to the big stick in the sky all too soon because they couldn’t get a handle on their bad habits.
Also, know your limits. You’re probably all going to have a drink on shift whether you are permitted to or not, it’s a fact of the job that comes from being around booze all the time and working silly hours. However, make sure you stay within your ability to do your job well, far too many good bartenders have developed unwanted reputations for a distinct lack of self-control.
- Listen and be humble.
Bartenders usually come with ego attached. Again, this is due to the sort of people that the industry attracts, but make sure that you always have an ear open for new techniques and philosophies. You can learn from everyone you meet and that is never more true than in hospitality. Try talking to your chefs for example when in need of a new flavour pairing or method of incorporating a particularly tricky flavour into a new drink. Chefs are an odd-bunch but you’d be surprised at how much a bartender can glean from a good look in the kitchen.
Listen to everybody and aim to take the best bits of each person you work with or for and incorporate them into your own way of working, the more you absorb and understand, the faster you will develop. However it’s important to ask questions and understand the reasons for techniques and choices made behind a bar.
If you understand why something is done the way it is, you can then make informed choices as to how you’re going to go about it in the future.
We hope that this little guide will benefit you as you develop throughout your career and would love to hear your feedback. You can get in touch with us through the website or via social media @copperpotbar.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.
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