What should I know before I start handing out drinks?
July 2, 2009 10:23 PM   Subscribe

I've landed a trial shift at a pretty busy bar this coming Saturday night. I'm pretty comfortable with most kinds of hospitality work, whether front of house or behind the scenes, but I've never done quite this sort of thing before. What should I know before I go in? How should I gird my loins?
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First, please tell us a little about the bar. For starters, what country is it in?
posted by ryanrs at 10:34 PM on July 2, 2009

Australia. It's primarily a music venue, but open during the day etcetera as well. Basic mixed drinks, beers, wine by the glass, nothing too elegant.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 10:45 PM on July 2, 2009

I worked an extremely busy and sometimes unruly bar in a major U.S. industrial city. I would not ever be so bold as to claim to be an expert or to be a "real" bartender (it was many years ago). But there are a few things that I learned that stick with me and help in lots of other situations, too:

No matter how unruly or bossy people may get, you need to stay a) positive and upbeat; and b) in charge. Keep your cool no matter what, and remember that you play a huge role in setting the tone of your part of the bar generally. You will have to roll with whatever the culture of the crowd that night may be, but you cannot just drift with the current of it. The bar is your territory - your domain - and you are the gatekeeper to all it has to offer. If someone wants to assert themself by pushing you around, insulting you, being a jerk, etc., don't fight with them, but stand your ground and remember that you set the tone, you are the Man (or Woman, as the case may be), and the bar runs on your terms (i.e. the terms of the House).
posted by The World Famous at 11:32 PM on July 2, 2009

I assume you're talking about a bartending shift. This is what I'd tell trainees on their first shift with me: put it back where you found it, whatever it is. I want to be able to put my hand on any bottle or tool or garnish in complete darkness in the middle of an earthquake. That's more of a courtesy than an instruction, but it'll make your shift go much easier.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:38 PM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

My time bartending reminds me of Robin Williams' genie in Aladdin: "phenomenal cosmic power in an itty-bitty space." You shouldn't let that go to your head, but The World Famous has the basic dynamics down: set the tone, stand your ground, don't get into arguments.

Respect the order in which people show up to get served: have a mental queue in your mind. If you need to, say "you're next, mate" just to make sure you remember. No queue-jumpers, no special favours, no double measures. If you invite friends, they are not your friends when there's a bar between you: they're just customers. Serve one order at a time, i.e. where one person pays. Don't try and combine orders: you'll just get confused.

Have a sense of how the till / cash register works before things get busy. If that means going in a bit early and having someone show you through it, it'll help you out when things are at their busiest. Count your change twice. Don't drink until the doors are closed.

(And since this is Australia, the vexed issue of tipping doesn't really apply.)
posted by holgate at 12:00 AM on July 3, 2009

One other tip: tell people their orders back to them. It's going to be loud in there, but it's better to have something you misheard corrected at the beginning than when you serve. "Two lagers, one JD and coke, one glass of chardonnay, right?" "Right." "Coming up." Saying it out loud should also make it harder for you to forget -- and it's probably best to start by getting the drinks in that order , even though you might work out a quicker way to assemble an order over time.
posted by holgate at 12:09 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't be afraid to cut people off. They'll act like it's the end of the world, but it's really, really not.
posted by Eumachia L F at 6:26 AM on July 3, 2009

I'm with BitterOldPunk. Always put stuff back, always have the bottles facing the same way, and if you get a free minute, there's always something that needs refilling or washing.

This is more for waiting tables than bartending, but never make a trip with empty hands. You walk out with a tray of drinks, always pick up an empty glass or an ashtray or something on the way back.

I started on a Saturday night with no experience on that side of the bar, and it was fine. Just smile and ask for help if you need it, and before you know it the night will be over and you'll have a pleasant jingle in your pocket.
posted by bink at 7:19 AM on July 3, 2009

Are they throwing you in or having work along side someone first shift? Hopefully the latter. Observe. Shadow. Be helpful while staying out of their rhythm. Rhythm can't be learned in one night or where everything is. By the third or fourth shift you should be getting the rhythm of the setup and the unique peculiarites of this particular place. Fingernails perfect. Hair tied back if its long. Comfortable shoes. Ask beforehand what the dresscode is for your position is. Iron your clothes. Don't be late. Smile. Ask questions. Appear confident. Bring a church key and a corkscrew. Front the bottles. (turn the labels all facing perfectly outward with perfect symmetry...nothing speaks amateur better than not knowing this.) Don't scoop ice with a glass; use the scoop. One broken glass in the ice bin and all the ice gets thrown out along with you. Learn the buttons on the mixer tap. Where Coke / Diet coke / Sprite is for a start. Its fair to ask if the buttons aren't labeled. Tighten the nozzle. This is a favorite trick to see if you are a rookie. Loose nozzle and everyone of the patrons at the bar gets sprayed. Check it! Observe the set up of the well. ie. from left to right vodka / rum / tequila / gin / mix, etc. Learning the POS system, if there is one, takes some time but plan on having it down by the third shift (pretty much.) Ask if you can re-stock the beer if it's not all on tap then do it. Anyone can figure this out. Rotate the stock. Put the new beer behind the old so no one gets a warm beer. Ask if you can cut garnishes. Bring a small sharp paring knife or risk haivng to borrow one from a busy hot under the collar chef. Check the condition of the garnishes. You'll get a fair idea how pro or lax the operation is by checking how funky /fresh the lemons limes / cherries / olives / onions are. Set up some new hot water in the wash / rinse sinks. there shoulkd be little packets of wash and rinse powder somewhere. Ask. Ask which sink is rinse and which one is wash; each bar sets this up differently. You can't be expected to know the lay out of each indvidual bar but yourt job the first day is to pretty much learn it pretty damn quick. ask how they make their drinks when an order comes in. Everybar makes drinks differnetly so use htta fact to your benefit. They will know within one hour anyway,if you have ever bartended before. I could ALWAYS tell. A LOT of people lie to get this job. Some if they are really quick and really cute get to stay a second shift. A lot get asked to "call me tomorrow and I'll see if we can get you no next weeks schedule." Hopefully with this cheat sheet you will wing it through the ifrst few shifts which are tough even when you DO have experience. Good luck. Mefi mail me and let me know how it goes.
posted by Muirwylde at 7:43 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh and find the clean rag stash and hide some for yourself. Polish glasses. dump contents of used glasses in one sink, wash in next sink, rinse in last sink. Takes about 15 seconds to do all three steps if you are pro.
posted by Muirwylde at 7:48 PM on July 3, 2009

Also, you get exactly four glasses of wine from a regular bottle. dont muck this up! ;)
posted by Muirwylde at 7:56 PM on July 3, 2009

I'm pretty sure that Aussie bars and clubs are generally closer to their British equivalent than American ones: no well, spirits on the wall in optics, a few premium bottles at the back with jiggers, G&T, JD & coke as the standard mixed drinks rather than cocktails, slices of lemon/lime as the only garnish. Music venues are usually even more pared down in what they offer. (If you're dealing with optics and have to replace a bottle: hold both the optic and the bottle when you turn it upside-down and keep holding onto the optic as you slot it back on the wall. If you try justing holding the bottle, you'll get wet feet and an early night.)

But Muirwylde is completely right about rhythm and "flow", no matter what the setup -- there can be times on a busy night when you're comfortable in your space and everything just hums. You probably won't pick that up early on, so it's best to avoid treading on toes until you do.

One other thing: music venues often use plastic instead of glass, but if there is glass and no-one's on dedicated glass duty, any downtime is glass-clearing time.
posted by holgate at 11:00 PM on July 3, 2009

Like muirwylde said, hopefully you'll be shadowing but I always felt the key to my success behind the bar was PREP PREP PREP. Everything that needs to be prepared before the shift is ready and stocked, with backup as needed. Nothing sucks more than running out of something when you're busy and having to restock. And when you leave, restock as expected for the next shift. When they come in and you haven't left them with an obnoxious amount of prep work, they'll appreciate you a whole lot.

The other tip is to consolidate orders as much as possible. Don't get caught in a rut of grabbing one drink or one customer at a time... the back and forth is exhausting and the customers see you as overwhelmed, not in control.

Make eye contact with people who are waiting; a nod let's them know you see them and aren't ignoring them.

And have fun!
posted by Sabine3283 at 8:34 AM on July 4, 2009

Update: went great, got the job. Thanks everyone! Pace was fast, but not overwhelming. Now I just need to learn layering for shots and I'll be rad.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 12:35 PM on July 4, 2009

Good news! Congrats!
posted by Muirwylde at 2:52 AM on July 7, 2009

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