Cocktail Dive #3: Feeding The Fire

Episode 2 (1)

How To Maintain People at Your Bar

When maintaining your bar’s patrons, you have to constantly assume everyone needs a drink, everyone is looking at you, and everyone is counting on your for entertainment and refreshments.

Unlike restaurants, you don’t want to rush anyone out of your bar. Restaurants are serving a product that gets sold, consumed, then paid for. Bars are serving an experience that includes personality, drinking, relaxing, inviting friends, repeating, and then paying. It’s your job to ensure everyone is enjoying that experience and you should do whatever it takes to provide that.

The Essentials Of Maintaining Your Bar’s Customers

In the bar and restaurant business, you’re going to recognize there are areas of the job that need to be fulfilled like slicing oranges and serving drinks, and then that there are hospitality techniques you can implement that let you go above and beyond the scope of your practice to ensure an equally proficient experience.

Some of the things you’re going to have to do, no matter how hospitable you wish to be, are tasks like juggling multiple orders, ringing up new tabs while closing others — which comes along with greeting and saying goodbye, and mixing multiple drink orders with unique customers, all while serving with a smile and providing a comfortable and welcoming experience.

There are good bartenders who do the job well and follow the rules and then there are great bartenders who do the job great while also adding their personality and flair to the job creating a unique and unforgettable experience.

Little things like doing the job sufficiently but while conversing in an entertaining manner make that dull and organized task into a fun and hospitable task.

Take every essential task that would normally be a required and unentertaining practice and use that as an opportunity to find a fun and comfortable method of doing it. You’ll find you create an environment that is both running extremely smoothly since everything is getting done but that still doesn’t feel like a job to you or your patrons because you’re still managing to be the life of the party even in the process of operating a bar.

Conversation With Your Bar’s Patrons

A good bartender will curtail the conversation to what people are looking for. Just like a fine conversationalist, it’s your job to have the awareness and sense to understand what people are looking for and how you can serve them not only physical drinks, but emotional support and entertainment — all while knowing where this individual draws their lines and how you can avoid insulting anyone while still being playful.

A middle-aged woman walks in and takes a seat at your bar. She was just dumped by her husband.

If you merely spoke a few words to this woman, you might get the sense that she’s upset and perhaps even told you what brought her here today and that she needs to unwind and delay thinking about the situation right now.

Knowing what brings this person to your bar gives you the insight needed to know what to avoid talking about. Someone who just got dumped by their spouse certainly doesn’t want to hear about your happy relationship and your recent engagement. It’s not your job to be their therapist, but it is your job to be their friend. They’re at your bar because they had to get out of the house and watch some civilization.

If they’re going on about their unique situation and

Know Why People Come To Your Bar

One of the bottom lines that ensure you’re always providing the best possible service to whoever is entering your bar is to understand why someone is at your bar.

Much like the situation with the wife and her relationship, you may come across someone who enters your bar with great news.

A lady enters wearing business attire and a perky smile on her face. She just got a raise and a promotion at work and is looking to celebrate and possibly buy a round for the section of the bar she’s sitting at.

When you start talking to this woman and learn that she’s in a great mood and looking to celebrate, you’ll treat this patron much differently than the one who just lost their job and is looking to relax and rethink their next moves.

Learning why someone is in your bar lets you mould the situation to how you can please them best. Someone looking to party is going to want to interact with others in the bar and will be eager to try new and interesting cocktails. Someone who is looking to be silent and people-watch will still want their beers refilled but not be looking to enter a party-mode.

Find out their needs.

People are always going to be in your bar for a reason. What is that reason? Is the reason to meet new people, feel good about themselves, and party or is their reason to get a change of scenery and relax in the corner without much interaction? Is their reason that they just got a new business opportunity and celebrating one last hoorah before getting back to work? Or is it because their relative is ill and they need to forget about the world for a bit?

Whatever that reason is, it is your job to cater to that reason and ensure their experience is exactly what they hoped it would be. You must be self-aware and externally-aware enough to read every situation and say the right things all while doing it in a pleasing and entertaining manner.

If someone wants to complain about their girlfriend, let them complain. Do not talk about your great girlfriend and relationship because that’ll only bring them down.

If someone gets out of work and doesn’t want to face their house because things are a mess at home and their kid is sick, do not talk about your happy family and how much you love their health. It is your job to sympathize and make them feel comfortable with whatever their issue is.

Again, these tactics are not technically part of the job but they make for a much more hospitable experience that will result in happier customers and larger tips.

There could be a bar full of thirty people and it is your job to keep in mind that every single person has a different story and is there for a different reason. Your Saturday nights will consist of everyone from the local dads who want to enjoy some beers to the perky college kids who are looking to meet friends and mates.

The good bartenders are the ones that will pick up on everyone’s individual situation and ensure their needs are being met depending on what their purpose is in the first place.

Your Bar Is Emotional

People come to restaurants because they’re hungry. They have an urge that needs to be met and they choose your product to do it for them. It is then the restaurant’s job to move them along and fill those seats with other customers.

People are coming to your bar for a more emotional reason. It’s not very technical when you’re behind the bar and recognizing everyone’s situation. It’s never black and white and you can’t merely use the same cookie-cutter tactics for certain types of patrons — everyone’s story is different so every experience has to be different.

Learn It’s Not About You

Don’t talk about yourself.

The perfect bartender puts the needs of the customer before their own. You can do this by listening to people and making their day a little bit better.

We once had a server that would constantly talk about himself. He’d open every dialogue with a story about himself and ultimately hope the table would join in the praising and admiration of him. This is the wrong approach when serving.

Sure, you’re welcome to bring up a personal story to relate to something your patrons brought up, but it should stop there and you shouldn’t be looking to steal the spotlight. They’re coming out to relax and have their needs met. When you rant about yourself and your mere accomplishments, they’re acting as your sounding board and using their energy to comprehend what you’re telling them. Don’t make the job of the patron anything more than enjoying themselves.

If you find that you or your staff is doing this now and again, it might be worth reevaluating how they should be performing on the job.

You Are The Host Of The Party

One of the secrets we use while training our bartenders is to treat your shift as your house-party and treat the customers as friends and family coming to your house.

You would never leave the door ajar allowing people to walk into your home aimlessly with no concept of where the food, drinks, or games are. Greet them.

Treat it as every shift you work is like having a cocktail party at your home. You’re going to greet everyone. You’re going to have some friends who might not know everybody who needs some introductions made. You’ll ask each and every person what they’re drinking and if there’s anything you can do to help them. And finally, you’re going to make sure everyone is comfortable. Just like you don’t want anyone feeling uneasy in your living room, you certainly don’t want anyone feeling that way in your bar either.

A good host or hostess of a cocktail party is going to spend the majority of their night refilling everyone’s drinks. That is your technical and hospitable job as the bartender in this case.

Similarly, as they leave you’re not just letting them walk out the door, you’re telling them goodbye and asking how they enjoyed the night. You’re shaking their hands, asking them to come again, and ensuring they’re walking out of that bar saying to themselves how pleasant the entire experience was and that you can’t wait to return.

Checking IDs

There’s a stern way of asking for someone’s ID and a hospitable way.

A seemingly young looking fellow walks into the bar with their head slightly down; they have their guard up. You wish to ask for identification to ensure their age but don’t want to insult anybody.

The uneducated bartender might neglect to give this person the benefit of the doubt and immediately take an attitude toward them and say something like,

Yeah, OK buddy. Let me see some ID pal.

Imagine the egg on your face when they whip out a perfectly valid and legitimate drivers license indicating they’re in their mid-20s. You’ve done many things here. You insulted the customer by assuming their age and you set a bad tune for their entire (likely short, at this point) stay. The hospitable way of approaching this would look something more like,

Hey man can you do me a favor and just let check some ID?

By asking for a favor, you immediately change the situation from you demanding something from them and removing all satisfaction for cooperating to you allowing them to feel better about themselves since you come across as not really wanting to check their ID but that you have to and you hope they’ll understand.

Think about it in terms of the business. You spend thousands and thousands of dollars on your bar, the atmosphere, and the marketing. You’re paying good money to have that person come into your bar — why would you immediately be a grouch and start trouble with someone who is only trying to help your business?

When you’re hospitable in every stage of the interactions with your patrons, you’ll find even the difficult conversations become much easier and that everyone’s willing to cooperate.

Hospitality, The Job, and YOU

Hospitality isn’t a job. No bartending certification class is going to teach you how to properly greet and welcome everyone into your bar.

There is a fine line between doing the duties of your role, going above and beyond the duties, and being hospitable. The duties are the duties and should be the first thing you accomplish so the bar is running smoothly. The supplemental duties like refiling the ice earlier so the next shift doesn’t have to are also going to make you stand out to management.

Being optimally hospitable and ensuring everyone is enjoying their stay and returning to see you and your smiling face is something that will not only make you more money but will make the bar more money. There is no better trait you can have while bartending than hospitality and you’ll find that many operators prefer someone who can’t mix a drink but can hold a conversation than the other way around.

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