Customer Service: What It Takes To Be A Good Bartender
Bartenders on what it takes to offer the best customer service.
Considering the talents and the egos that exist behind the best bars in the world you might think the secret of great customer service lies in the quality and imagination of the drinks that the world’s best bartenders can create.
Well, think again. Making gold standard cocktails and being able to choose the right style of drink for every customer is what the top bartenders are expected to do. That’s their job.
The real talent comes not in how they mix the drinks but how well they mix with the people they are serving - that’s the real art of great customer service.
It is also the motto of one of the world’s most respected and influential bartenders and bar owners, Jim Meehan, the inspiration behind the iconic PTD (Please Don’t Tell) Bar in New York - which for those in the know you access via a phone booth in the hot dog restaurant next door.
It’s why he spent the majority of his time during his last years at PDT - he left in 2019 following a change in management - not behind the bar making drinks, but working with his teams to ensure he had the right talent, with the best people skills to make visiting PDT as an exciting and memorable experience as when it was full of supermodels and movie stars in its heyday of the late 2000s.
To do that meant taking the time to find out how their personal lives were away from the bar and to do all he could to make their lives working in the bar as good as they could possibly be.
“I think we should be spending more time fostering environments that push our employees to challenge themselves to grow; which means making mistakes and learning from them,” says Meehan.
Martin Williams, chief executive of the Gaucho restaurant group and M Restaurants in London, Source: Martin
It’s a management approach that Martin Williams, chief executive of the Gaucho restaurant group and M Restaurants in London, completely believes in. Only by understanding how your are staff are feeling and living their lives can you help bring out their best when working in such an intense environment as a busy restaurant floor and packed bar.
It also means looking after your staff’s mental health, stresses Williams. Which has been particularly the case during the last year of lockdowns. At M Restaurant, for example, can take off ‘Mindful days’ for when they feel things are getting on top of them and they need to take a break.
Managers at all levels are also assigned up to six extra days of fully paid holidays per year upon reaching key people related bonus targets, such as staff retention and great staff survey results, to incentivise further a culture of learning and development.
Right working environment
For Davide Urgese, head bartender at Isabel, the exclusive Latin and Mediterranean bar and restaurant in Mayfair, London, the best customer service comes from bartenders that can capture the spirit of excitement and adventure and escape that the best bars can create for their customers.
As he explains: “The bar is the place where time stops, where people escape from the constant busy life and stop their time to seek rest and, perhaps, even have a laugh with friends.”
That’s the challenge that he and his team have every service to make sure they live up to those expectations with every drink they serve.
It’s a passion he has had from childhood. “Since I was a child I have always been passionate about this world. I remember when my father took me to a bar for the first time and I was immediately struck by how the bartender interacted with customers, so I promised my father that I would do that job even though he hoped his son would get a doctorate and not sacrifice every night for such a tiring job.”
Gary Burdekin, Master Bartender at TGI Friday, Source: Gary
“As a bartender, if I genuinely like the product - no matter how expensive or inexpensive it may be - that will be the one I encourage my guests to try.” That’s the key motivating force that Gary Burdekin, master bartender at TGI Friday, and a former winner of the restaurant chain’s UK Bartender Championships, has when looking to offer the best customer service to his customers.
For ultimately if you do not believe, or like the brand and spirit you are being asked to serve, then it is hard to create a drink with the necessary level of excitement, enthusiasm and passion that customers are looking for from bartenders when they ordering a cocktail.
It’s why adds Gary Burdekin, he is always on the lookout for the next big thing in spirits and cocktails by taking part in competitions himself and taking part in the London Spirits Competition as one of its specialist bartender judges.
As he explains: “It’s exciting to see what the next big thing will be, and I get a first-hand view at some amazing products that could be coming into our industry in the near future.”
Vitor Lourenco, head of bars at Southampton Harbour Hotel and Spa, says you can know how to make and serve all the drinks and cocktails in the world, but to offer the best customer service you also have to feel good about yourself when you are working.
He says it is key that he feels “comfortable” working behind the bar and that means being happy with the touch, look and feel of the bottles of spirits he is working with throughout service.
Vitor Lourenco, head of bars at Southampton Harbour Hotel and Spa, Source: Vitor
“For me, a comfortable bottle in the hand is the most important design for a bartender. Keep in mind the number of times during a shift that we grab a bottle from the speed rail or a shelf. We call it a ‘bartender friendly’ kind of bottle,” he explains.
“Our industry is constantly being challenged and influenced by the most passionate and inspiring individuals and their drinks creations,” he adds. It is therefore vital that he and his team “keep ourselves positive and proactive” so that they can offer the best possible customer service.
Cristiana Pirinu, bartender at The Donovan Bar, Source: Cristiana
Cristiana Pirinu, bartender at The Donovan Bar, at the iconic Brown’s hotel in London, says she likes to keep things as simple as she can in order to be able to create the best drinks and offer customers the best quality service. Again that comes down to the tools you are working with - which for a bartender means how comfortable you are with the bottles you are working with behind the bar.
“Simplicity is an important element, but you have to know how to use it,” she explains. “I am also looking to see how a product stands out next to the other bottles on the shelf. Does it have the elegance and intrigue me enough to want to taste it.”