The Problem Isn't the Bartender

Darcy O'Neil :: January 19, 2007 1:38 PM

BartendingWhen it comes to making the world of cocktails a better place there are a few things that halt the growth. Many people would say it is the bartender because they focus too much on speed or the money, instead of customer service. This is partly true and there are a lot of bad bartenders out there. I almost never order a cocktail, on a night out, because I know the quality won't be there, unless I'm in a known place where the bartenders are skilled. But most bartenders don't have any formal training nor is there any encouragement at their establishment to work on quality. Also, the culture of "bartending schools"; focuses so much on speed that quality isn't even mentioned. A typical bar school teaches about 150 drinks, of suspect quality, and then there is the speed test where you have to make as many drinks as fast as you possibly can. Good drinks are crafted, not slapped together at 100 kilometers per hour. This isn't the fault of the bartender, it is managements fault, because that’s what they want, efficiency.

When it comes to quality, everything leads back to management. Most places are happier to employ one really fast bartender who makes poor quality drinks, instead of having two bartenders (or at least one bartender and a bar-back) who make quality drinks, but slightly slower. This is because more drinks sold, equals more profits for the bar and more money for the bartender. If a bartender makes $1 per drink, then of course they are going try to sell as many drinks as possible, so quality takes a back seat. Same for the bar / restaurant, more drinks sold equals greater profit. But this style of thinking is flawed.

The key to a great restaurant is great food and great service. So why does this not apply to the bar? If a bartender is over-loaded, because management is trying to increase profits, then the service is going to be lacking. If the kitchen is expected to make every dish a culinary masterpiece, why then does management insist on cutting corners for their drinks? This really shouldn’t be the case, but the bar is looked at as a way to increase profits, without too much overhead. A well crafted cocktail will usually elicit a second or third order. Sometimes it can even start a dining room wide request for “that drink”.  This type of buying is spontaneous and it has the benefit of increasing sales. A glass of wine or bottle of beer can’t do what a cocktail can.

The worst case scenario is that wine and beer are easy to serve, but cocktails take a little more time to make, so if a restaurant makes the cocktails sub-par then people will be less likely to order them. Then they can focus on beer and wine which is faster to serve, requiring less staff. I personally think this is why the trend in “ready to drink” (RTD’s) beverages like Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezer, Mike’s Hard and others of that ilk have become so popular.

Even if an aspiring bartender, attended a great bartending school, like Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR) run by Dale DeGroff, or Cocktails in the Country (Gary Regan) could still ended up working in a restaurant where cocktails are an after thought, and the aspiring bartender really can’t do anything. Generally, an employee has two option, obey or leave. Sadly, the idea of a bartender being a skilled job hasn’t truly been established. Sure in certain places like London, New York and San Francisco bartenders may have more respect, but the rest of the world still needs help and the help needs to be focussed at management level.

Management types need to understand that the bar is a profit centre, like the kitchen. Theoretically, you shouldn’t have fine dining service in the kitchen and fast food service at the bar. Unfortunately, at many places that is what is being done. I would personally like to see equal quality throughout an establishment. I don’t mind dive bars, I know what I’m going to get. It’s fine restaurants where the servers make the drinks that scares me.


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