A good bartender can fix you a proper cocktail, of course, but there’s more to the job than making drinks. Bar professionals are also champion multitaskers, managing personalities, operations, and more while being hospitable to everyone at the bar. We asked 10 bartenders across the country how they tell if the person making their drink is a pro.
“Easiest way to tell if your bartender is a pro? The bar top is clean. Nothing makes me more hesitant to sit at a bar than seeing debris from previous guests and a bartender that is in no rush to clean it up. If they’re not concerned about keeping their bar clean, they probably aren’t concerned about making your drink correctly or efficiently either.” — Stuart Jensen, Beverage Manager, Brass Tacks, Denver
“I usually can tell a bartender is a pro by a few things. How well their stations and mise en place are kept. How clean and exact their pours are. Their attention to detail. And their demeanor under pressure. And I think overall, a high state of awareness of their bar and guests’ needs.” — Christopher Longoria, Bar Director, Che Fico, San Francisco
“One way to tell a bartender is a pro is just by the way they move. A seasoned bartender might look like they’re unflappable, even while drink tickets pile up and guests line up at the bar. But when you look closely they’re always moving, deliberately, to get everything done.” — Melissa Jura, Manager, Headwaters, Portland, Ore.
“Several demeanors will tell you if your bartender is a pro: They speak to the guests instead of each other. They are constantly cleaning and wiping… Their language to guests differs from their everyday language. They know how to put bar jargon into layman terms. They are always prepared for a super-busy or super- slow night.” — Juyoung Kang, Lead Bartender, The Dorsey, The Venetian, Las Vegas
“Being a great bartender is like juggling multiple plates. You have to have a handle on exactly what’s going on at all times (did someone new sit down, is someone almost done with their drink, is someone lost and looking for a recommendation?), you have to understand time management, being as efficient as possible, keep multiple orders, tabs, and credit cards organized, keep a clean bar, etc. etc., while still being able to maintain great guest conversation and answer just about any question on a massive range of products. Most of the time, it all happens at once and when you see someone not only accomplish this, but make it look easy, you know you’re dealing with a pro.” — Anne Beccara, Beverage Director, Treadwell Park, NYC
“They are clean when they work, precise in their measurements/recipes, and knowledgeable in spirits, wine, and beer. Most importantly, their hospitality is their best feature.” — Darren Fabian, National Beverage Director, Moxie’s Grill & Bar, Dallas, Houston, and Plano, Tex.
“There are a couple different key ‘tells,’ such as how they handle their tools and how they conduct themselves under pressure. Being a professional bartender means a lot more than making high-quality cocktails and being fast. It also means being courteous and aware of all of the surroundings both behind the bar and in front of the bar. Little things, like whether the bartender keeps their head down or scans the bar top, whether they greet everyone who’s new to the bar, as well as the way they handle their own peers are all telling. As far as technique goes, the biggest red flag that someone is not a pro: bartenders who shake drinks that are meant to be stirred, such as Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and Negronis.” — Freddie Sarkis, Chief Cocktail Officer at Liquor Lab, Co-founder, Dollar Cocktail Club, NYC
“Are they making eye contact? Are they moving toward the action, anticipating your needs and genuinely taking care of you, or simply trying to impress you, then walking off? Are their motions fluid and natural, or rushed and flustered? Ultimately, you can only fake it so much, and a real pro will take real pleasure in his or her job that can’t be hidden. However, my personal test is how long it takes another bartender to call ME out when I’m at another bar… I try to be incognito when I go out, so I know another bartender is a pro when he or she asks me, ‘Which bar do you work at?’” — Jeremy Allen, General Manager, MiniBar Hollywood, Los Angeles
“True professionals excel at multitasking. All too often I watch bartenders zone out and focus a little too closely on the task of making perfectly executed and garnished cocktails while ignoring the guests seated right in front of them. When I see a bartender mixing drinks for a guest or service well ticket while engaging with other bar guests about food and beverage (or any other subject matter) while keeping eyes and ears open to needs from service staff, I’m always impressed. And I definitely notice and respect a well- organized and clean workspace.” — Charlie Gleason, Bartender, Paley’s Place, Portland. Ore.
“I know a truly professional bartender by their ability to multitask. Anyone can mix drinks; the real skill is to carry on conversations, answer questions, support the floor staff, greet guests, etc., all while making cocktails. If I walk into a bar and I see a bartender not doing at least two things at once, it generally means I’m about to get sub-par service.” — Sean Keipper, Beverage Manager, Jovanina’s Broken Italian, Denver