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8 Skills That Are Second Nature to Bartenders

by Melissa Allen Feb 9, 2018

After enough hours standing behind a bar, you build up a toolkit for the job. The eight skills below are just as important as knowing your drink recipes.

1. Multitasking.

In order to get a real flow going behind the bar, you have to be able to multitask. You’re taking orders while you build drinks; you’re running credit cards while pouring water for new guests; you’re having a heart-to-heart with a regular while fielding drink recommendations. It’s like directing traffic, you try your best to keep all the lanes running smoothly or else you will drive yourself into the dreaded weeds.

2. Introducing strangers at the bar with thoughtful details.

Chatting with bar regulars is usually a fun part of the job, but on nights when you are tired, grumpy, or just really busy, it can become a chore. A favorite bartender solution is to introduce your customers to each other. I’ve seen relationships and friendships come out of these connections. At the very least, most people are good for a few minutes of idle conversation which gives the bartender a much-needed breather.

3. Kicking people out in the nicest way possible.

I know closing time is a bitch. I know you want to keep the party going, but we got our own parties (beds) to go to. If we have to resort to turn the lights up, switch off the music, and yell “adios, folks,” we will, but we prefer a subtler approach. We might try a courteous last call to get the ball rolling. Sometimes we will play slightly off-putting music to subconsciously encourage the remaining guests to exit. Other times, we will dramatically extinguish all the ambiance candles. Once the busboy starts stacking chairs, folks, it’s time to head home.

4. Standing.

We are very, very good at standing.

5. Selective hearing.

Non-bartenders always ask us, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever overheard at the bar?” Sometimes we eavesdrop (we’re only human). If the bar is empty, it’s hard to avoid a loud conversation, but, in general, we are pros at tuning out. The majority of bar conversations consist of venting about work, venting about dating, discussing TV, or awkward first date getting-to-know-yous. As we all have a limited capacity to store mental information, most of your conversations go in one ear and out the other.

6. A good shake.

They say that the way a bartender shakes a cocktail shows how they are in bed. So, as a bartender, you want to make sure you have a good shake. It takes time to develop an effective method, but once a bartender does, they become fiercely defensive of their form.

7. Reading people.

While a helpful skill in all areas of life, the ability to read people quickly and correctly is vital to success behind the bar. Over time, you learn to glance at a customer and sense how to approach them. Is it a first date going well? Make sure to offer that second round. Old friends who haven’t seen each other in years? Give them space to chat and catch up a bit before you approach. The loner at the bar that just wants someone to ask him about his day? Ask how his day went! The loner at the bar that just wants to sit in silence and stare at his phone? Only interrupt to offer a phone charge.

8. Not putting too much stock in the opinions of others.

Some people envy the fun of the bartender lifestyle. Others respect the job and the craft. Many are convinced it’s not a “real” job. Our parents are definitely convinced that they did something wrong raising us. Everyone has their opinions about the bartending life, and they are often not flattering ones. As a professional bartender, you have to put all those opinions to the side and realize we all have our tribes.

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