In the restaurant business, finding a good bartender is akin to striking gold. There are lots of people who can mix drinks, but few have the delicate mix of friendliness and aloofness that is the trademark of a good bartender.
The bartender is the top position of the front of house staff. Depending on the style and set up of a restaurant, a bartender may be responsible for getting the rest of the staff drinks for their tables (service bar) as well as taking care of customers who sit at the bar. Other bartender responsibilities include:
- • Ordering liquor and beer
- • Changing the beer gas
- • Ordering non-alcoholic drinks, such as soda and juice
- • Stocking the beer cooler and liquor shelves
- • Creating nightly and/or weekly drink specials and other promotions
Traits of a Good Bartender
A good bartender will listen to customers while at the same time help out the rest of the staff. He or she needs to be responsible since they typically lock up the restaurant each night and making sure that nightly deposit is taken care of. No other person on staff, save a manager or owner, has as much access to the money as the bartender.
They may be responsible for cashing out the servers at the end of the night and making sure the paperwork all matches up. For this reason alone, you want to make sure the person you hire to tend bar has an honest and trustworthy reputation. References are an absolute must.
Bartenders must be good listeners, or at least be able to fake good listening. Customers sit at a bar for a variety of reasons. They are lonely and want someone to talk to. They are tired and want to be alone. They want to watch the nightly football game.
They want to try to pick up a date. Whatever the reason, the bartender needs to be able to interact with customers on their level. That lonely guy who wants to pour his heart about his recent divorce will need an ear to listen to his problems. If a bartender shows irritation toward that customer, or just ignores him completely, the customer isn’t likely to come back.
On the other hand, if the bartender insists on chatting up a storm with the guy who just wants some peace and quiet after a long day at work, that guy won’t come back. A bartender needs to know how to read people and interact with them accordingly. These are the types of bartenders who develop a strong customer following. A good bartender will bring customers in, just because he or she is working.
A Bartender Should be a Good Salesperson
A bartender should be a good salesperson, without being pushy. A customer asks for a martini. A good bartender would ask if they want Beefeater or Bombay, and not just assume they want well gin (yuck). Many restaurant bars offer full dinner service. A good bartender will always offer a dinner menu and tell the customer about the daily specials. They will have as much knowledge of the menu as the servers and will always be able to recommend a favorite dish or two.
Experienced Bartenders Only, Please!
One of the most important traits in a good bartender is experience. Tending bar is a hands-on job. You cannot learn it from a book. You have to do it! For this reason, it is a very, very, very bad idea to hire someone fresh out of bartending school as your main bartender.
Bartending schools, a good idea, in theory, do not give the kind of hands-on experience that is needed to be a bartender at a busy restaurant. A graduate of a bartending school is ideal for a bar-back position or even a bartender on a slow night, but they are definitely not the ideal choice for the busy weekend shift. Like all careers, the bartending school graduate must work his or her way up the restaurant staff totem pole.
Always Check References When Hiring A Bartender
Always check references. Hiring employees is time-consuming and frankly, a pain in the you-know-what at times. It is often tempting to hire a person on the spot, because he or she is a friend of one of the staff, or a friend of a friend, etc…
Because of the important role a bartender plays in your establishment, you should be vigilant about checking references. Also, ask your employees about the person you are considering hiring. They may give you a more candid opinion of the candidate than a former employer or reference.
Questions to Ask Bartending Candidates
When you are interviewing a bartender, ask candidates to describe their previous job settings. Is the previous restaurants where they worked similar to yours? If the candidate only worked a service bar, then they might not be the ideal choice to run a busy pub or sports bar. Other questions to ask a potential hire include:
- How do you tell if someone has had too much to drink?
- How do you handle drunk customers?
- How do you handle a busy bar?
- How do you deal with an unhappy customer?
- You have a problem with one of the other staff, what do you do?
- Are you TIPS certified?
Final Words About Hiring a Bartender
As a restaurant owner, it’s hard to be in all places at all times and know everything that is going on. However, you should definitely keep an eye on the new bartender. Despite the above-mentioned advice, you can be snowballed by a friendly face and pleasant manner.
Ask your other staff (privately) how they like working with the new bartender. While many employees don’t want to be viewed as a rat, you can gauge their responses. Are they enthusiastic about the bartender? Are they evasive in their response? A good boss knows his or her staff and will know how they like the new bartender.
Also, keep an eye on your liquor inventory. Many a bartender (and other staff) has helped himself to a bottle or two of house liquor. If you notice that a certain brand of liquor is flying off the shelves, check your POS to make sure that it is accounted for. If it isn’t, speak with your bartender about where it has been going.
Until you feel one hundred percent comfortable with the person you have entrusted with a good portion of your business, keep track of sales, receipts and deposits, and inventory.