Great bartenders are born, not made. If you
walk through a crowd, you can pretty much point
to people who could succeed at this job, based on
how they carry themselves and how they relate
to other people. The basic skills of the job can
be taught, and the nuts and bolts of our job do
not require an advanced degree, but a truly great
bartender has the natural compulsion to anticipate
the smallest details, and the training required to
ensure each one is executed correctly.
Bartenders have no adjudicating body that can
tell us all the right and wrong way of executing our
jobs. Every bar is different, just as every person is
different, and it is impossible to devise a system
that works for all the various bars in the world, the
hordes of people who work them, and the throngs
of those who drink there.
There have been some great bartenders who
have laid down general guidelines for how to
tend bar (Dale Degroff’s 5 Commandments for
Bartenders comes to mind), but it is difficult to find a
detailed, specific list of how bartenders should act.
What makes a good bartender? What about a bad
one? What does a good bartender do… and what
don’t they do?
As I train bartenders for my bar, I try
to pass along these 20 rules. Do you
have any to add?
1 Do everything you can to make your guests
happy within the boundaries you have been
2 It’s not your party. It’s not your booze. It’s not
3 You are on stage and people are watching
you. Act accordingly. If you are not comfortable
with this, find another job.
4 Sleeping with your customers is a great way to
5 Know what you serve and why. If you work at
a beer bar, make sure you know about beer. If
you’re new and uneducated, pick a few that you
can get to know well, and start from there.
6 Learn how to make cocktails. Practice the
7 Cash-handling is king. Neat money shows
your customers and owners that you are paying
attention to their cash.
8 Tips aren’t everything. It’s a long-term game,
so don’t sweat the random crappy gratuity from
time to time.
9 Insist on proper behavior in your bar, whatever
that happens to be. If you let the clientele
run your establishment, you will never regain
10 Learn how to comp and why.
11 Look the part.
12 Control your environment. Is the A/C too
high? Is the music too loud? Your clienteles’
comfort is directly proportional to the number of
stars they will give you on Yelp when they walk
out the door.
13 Branch out. Make sure you have the skillsets
necessary to deliver what people can
reasonably expect in your bar, and work to gain
the skills you’ll need to succeed at your next
job. Because you will have a next job, and it will
require more of you.
14 Know a joke. Get good at banter. People pay
for booze, but they tip for your service.
15 Keep a clean bar. Turn bottles to face
forward. Wipe the bar-top. Straighten the stools.
If people think you don’t care, they won’t either.
16 Mise en place. It’s a fancy French phrase for
how you arrange your tools and ingredients. Set
your mise, and do the same thing every time.
You can’t be fast if you’re constantly searching
for what you need.
17 Don’t touch your face, hair, or any other part
of your body. Cough in to the crook of your arm.
Sneeze down. Always be seen washing your
hands. Don’t be disgusting.
18 Open your mouth. Talk to people. Say hello
when they walk up and goodbye when they
leave. Chat with your clientele, ask how they’re
doing, even if it’s just passing time. Often, that is
exactly what people want from you.
19 Keep your mouth shut. Don’t offer advice.
Don’t dominate conversations. Keep yourself to
20 Behind the bar, you are an illusion, a fantasy,
a servant, and an actual person all rolled in to
one. Choose wisely which side you choose to
present at any given moment.