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3 traits managers look for in a great bartender

Posted by Kyle Thacker on Apr 24, 2017 8:35:00 AM

When a manager evaluates their bar staff, they are looking for specific skills and traits that define what a good bartender is.

There is, of course, the checklist of self-evident things: a friendly personality, an understanding of hospitality, and knowledge about the beverage program. Or, on the negative side, someone who won't slip twenties from the register and put them into their pocket.

But those are obvious things. What skills and traits do managers look for in a great bartender that aren’t talked about enough? Let’s take a look at the highly valued but often understated skills that make a great bartender.

3 Traits Managers Look For in a Great Bartender.png

Working Clean

You’ve got to work clean. It’s said cleanliness is next to godliness. And if you want to shake and stir with the best, then you definitely have to be clean and organized.

Nothing handicaps a bartender more than when their work area becomes a disorganized mess. Whether it’s a pile of dirty glassware, a sticky bar top, or a sinkful of shaker tins, a mess will put you in the weeds.

It also looks bad to customers. A sloppy bar will leave a bad taste in your customer’s mouth, even if the drink you make them is perfect! 

Tips to Stay Clean 

1. Set up a Workflow and Stick to it
Create and follow a series of actions that keep you organized and in sync. For example, take the same steps to clean your tools after each cocktail you make:

  • If You Get a Drink Ticket for Two Drinks
    After you shake your first cocktail and strain it into a glass, immediately put the dirty shaker in your rinse sink, rinse the cocktail strainer under the faucet it and place it back in its proper spot, and then move on to the next drink. Once that second drink is completed, rinse both shakers and begin from scratch. And pat yourself on the back, because you’ve kept your bar clean and tidy!

2. Organize Your Work Station
This is no different than a cook arranging their mis-en-place, which is how a cook organizes the tools and ingredients they use at their work station. This keeps everything organized and easily accessible. Treat your work station like a chef would. This includes all your bar tools, frequently used bottles, and proper garnishes. And always put tools back in the same spot. Nothing is worse than wasting time searching for a tool that you just used. 

3. Adopt the Pivot Rule
When organized properly, a bartender’s work station should have any commonly used tool or item within arm’s reach. For your most commonly used items, you should only have to pivot to reach them; whether a quarter turn or full, you should minimize the amount of time you spend leaving your work station to get anything.


Hawk Eyes

My first bar manager always told me to have “eyes like a hawk.” I was told it’s what separates a good bartender from a great bartender

But what does having “eyes like a hawk” mean?

It means awareness. Spying small issues that can disrupt service, or anticipating what can be done to elevate a guest’s experience. Hawks are predators, their keen eyes are tools for survival. And for those who tend bar, their vision is crucial too. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and to anticipate your guests’ needs.

Has a guest put their wallet or credit card on the bartop and do they need to pay? Is the bar napkin soaked from condensation and does it need to be replaced? If your restaurant uses digital menus, maybe your guest has a question about one of the menu features. A bartender needs to have 360-degree vision and full awareness of their surroundings.

During a busy stretch of service, a bartender cannot fall into tunnel vision. Train your hawk eyes instead. 

Tips for Better Awareness

1. Take Mental Notes
Recognize common issues that come up. Some things are universal and happen at every bar, like seeing when a guest is almost done with a drink and when to offer another round. Other issues are unique to specific bars, like if your glass washer leaks during heavy use, you’ll know to drop a bar towel or a container to catch leakage during busy service on a Friday night.

2. Follow a Schedule 
Put yourself on a schedule where you take “rounds” of your bar. This is like a security guard who walks around whatever area he is guarding in order to make sure it’s secure. Take a loop around your bar, checking on customers, on stock, or silverware that needs to be replenished. I used to call this “running sweeps.”


Cool Under Pressure

There is no greater stressor than becoming “weeded” behind the bar.

For the uninitiated, being weeded, or “in the weeds,” means you’ve fallen behind on your workload and are hustling to catch up. Many bartenders claim that the chirp of drink tickets printing is the soundtrack to their nightmares. But a good bartender bypasses the fear by refusing to be overwhelmed and goes directly into beast mode.

Whether you work at a restaurant or a club, a rush at the bar can be overwhelming and seemingly endless. A sea of thirsty bar goers can swell and crash against your bar out of nowhere. This really makes you appreciate the connection between the word “bar” and the term barrier. And it’s best to stay cool in these situations.

Tips to Stay Cool 

1. It Will Pass
Just remember, you’ll get through it! Like the flu, or if you’ve had one too many drinks, you’ll eventually be okay, you’ve just got to outlast it. Remembering that this isn’t the end will help you get out of the weeds.

2. Communicate
Talk with your fellow bartenders, barbacks, and managers to get assistance and help to catch back up with your work. Smart people know the value of asking for help. Remember, every second wasted behind the bar impacts your guests’ experience, and can have a negative impact on how much money you make behind the bar.

3. Traits 1 and 2
Everything from the first two sections in this post will help you stay cool. When you’ve stayed organized and efficient, you can battle back and stay out of the weeds with ease.


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 Kyle Thacker.png Kyle Thacker is the Director of Marketing Operations for Uncorkd. Uncorkd creates digital beverage menus for restaurants with a focus on educating guests on wines, beers, and spirits. After years spent managing bars and restaurants, he now works to help restaurants and bars build successful beverage programs. Learn more about Uncorkd at www.uncorkd.biz.

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