Saturday, January 31, 2009

Technology Changes Everything!

GPS navigation systems are to cabbies as cellphones are to people. How did one ever function without the other before? With cellphones, people no longer have to memorize phone numbers. With GPS navigation systems, cabbies no longer need to know their way around the city by heart.

Call me old fashioned. Call me old school, but I think technology takes the spark out of things. It kind of bums me out sometimes.

The 86 Rules of Boozing

I literally stumbled upon Modern Drunkard Magazine this morning and found a hilarious article titled, "The 86 Rules of Boozing." I read through all 86 rules and they ALL ring true. For example, "Number 15: If you offer to buy a woman a drink and she accepts, she still might not like you." This is very true fellas! "Number 28: If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to drink in a bar. Go to the liquor store." Amen! You know how many customers I wish I could tell this rule to? Check out this awesome article and many more equally entertaining articles at

I Just Want To Know.....

Why do some people put ice in their glass of Chardonnay? Why? It just doesn't make any sense to me. And I'm not talking about wine spritzers or wine coolers. I am talking about glasses of chilled Chardonnay, straight from the bottle, in a wine glass with nothing added to it Can anyone explain this?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Who's Next?

If you ever find yourself working behind a bar full of people waiting for drinks, how do you know who to help first? If you scream out to the crowd "Who's next?", I guarantee you that everyone who is waiting will yell that they are. Chaos will ensue.

Last Halloween, we had one of these nights behind the bar. One minute there were only a couple of people at the bar having drinks. The next thing I knew, the whole bar was packed and people were desperately trying to get my attention so I could help them next. It's situations like these where you as the bartender need to be organized and create a system and/or some sort of flow for yourself. If you start helping people at random, the people waiting on the other side of the bar are going to get antsy while waiting for their turn.

On this particular night, I just started with the person standing directly in front of my well and took multiple orders with the people waiting to the right of that person. I went all the way down the bar until I got to the very end of the bar or reached the next bartender's well. Then I came back and started helping the next person who was standing in front of my well again. After going down the line in this fashion a couple of times, the crowd caught on that I was organized and helping people standing along the bar in a orderly fashion. It was amazing. Once people saw how organized I was, they were a whole lot more patient and even complimented me on my speed and my ability to handle such an overwhelming crowd. The tips kept getting bigger too.

Every now and then someone would slip through the cracks and "cut in line". Hey, I am just the bartender. I'm not a line monitor. Usually when someone would cut ahead, people who had been waiting on the other side of the bar would quickly regulate that person. The line cutter would always be outnumbered and either wait their turn or fade back into the crowd. I never had to get involved which left me more time to make more drinks.

Think of this concept like eating corn on the cobb. You go down the cobb in a line then as soon as you reach the end, you come all the way back and start a new line. Staying relaxed, calm and organized behind the bar are key on super busy nights. Your customers and your tip jar will love you for it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bartender Training

Training in the bartending world is like no other in any other industry. When you train at a new bar, as a bartender, you get paid your hourly wage, but you don't receive any piece of the tipping pie. New bartenders can train anywhere from one shift, up to four. It's just the small price bartenders pay for receiving shifts at a new bar. It's an industry standard. Anyone who works in the industry knows how training as a new bartender works.

If you work at a restaurant, training shifts might entitle you to free employee meals. I say might. So ask first before you assume that you will be eating for free.

Once you know how to bartend, you know how to bartend. So what's up with the training shifts for bartenders? When a bartender trains a new hire, they have to take time away from their normally scheduled program of making drinks for their bar customers and servers. They have to show the new bartender how to set up the bar and close it down, how to properly make the drinks that are served (especially with specialty cocktails if there are any), paperwork/cash drawer closing procedures, show them where things are located behind the bar and in the storage room, how to use the POS system or cash drawer, etc. The new bartender is basically shadowing the old bartender until they get the hang of how things operate behind that bar.

Tonight is my last offical training shift at my new place. Yay! I am so excited. I am a little nervous because the bar is so small and the way things are done behind the bar have to be done in a certain way or else there is NO flow. I have been making all the drinks myself up until this point and doing most of the opening and closing procedures. The only night I shadowed the current bartender was my first night of training.

Everyone gets nervous working at a new place. Even a bartending veteran like me, believe it or not. This Sunday will be my first real night on my own behind the bar. I am really looking forward to my share of the tipping pie. You can't live on a bartender's hourly wage alone here in San Francisco!!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cocktail Recipe: RoxyCoXXX

A couple of months ago, I came up with a cocktail called the "RoxyCoXXX" which was eventually added to the specialty cocktail menu at work. Check the link to see where I got the idea:

Patron Frescas

I did make same changes to the drink such as adding a couple dashes of peach bitters, using a different tequila, fine straining the fruit instead of just straining it and got a little bit more creative and involved in the garnish.

Yummy drink. No wonder why it was one of the best sellers off of the menu. A little bit involved with making the cocktail, but well worth the effort.

PS: Most bartenders borrow and share recipes. Whenever I am out and experience a really special and delicious cocktail, I always, always note the recipe so I can try to recreate the drink later.

What makes a cocktail truly special is when you put your own special twist on it. I always add lots of love to the cocktails I make.

A Shitty Shift

I broke two glasses in my well. I shattered a martini glass with my hand and ripped open one of my fingers. I ran out of glassware. I ran out of change. And this was all within the first hour of clocking in for my shift on a Saturday night.

Sometimes it doesn't matter many years of experience you have behind the bar, shitty nights happen to everyone.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Let's Talk About Martinis

When most people think of martinis, they think of James Bond ordering a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred. What most people don't realize is that a traditional martini is made with gin, not vodka and is stirred, not shaken. With that in mind, let's talk about martinis.

If a person comes into the bar and says they want a martini, I know right off the bat that they either really don't know what they want or have no idea what it is that they are ordering. Well-versed martini drinkers will tell you exactly what they want and how they want it. You wont have to ask. So when I get the customer who just asks for a martini, I have to ask them a series of questions before I can make their drink:

Gin or vodka?
Up or on the rocks?
Shaken or stirred?
Olive or twist?

If a customer orders a Gibson, that just means they want a martini with a cocktail onion instead of an olive or a twist. This was actually a question I was asked during an interview once and I passed with flying colors.

If a customer wants a "dry martini", that just means they want little or no dry vermouth. This is kind of a confusing concept because when you hear "dry", you would think that would mean "dry vermouth", but really it's the opposite. When it comes to dry vermouth, you can always add more to the drink, but once you put it in the drink, you can't take it out. So I always opt for less dry vermouth than more. I will always give a martini glass a dry vermouth wash instead of just adding the vermouth directly into the drink. That way if they want more, I can always add more without having to remake the drink.

If a customer asks for a "strong martini", I want to laugh in their face. Martinis are all alcohol: gin and dry vermouth or vodka and dry vermouth. There are no mixers added to martinis which is why asking for a "strong martini" is ridiculous. If you want it any stronger, then just ask me for a double.

From time to time, a customer may want their martini shaken. The whole idea behind a shaken martini is that the ice is "bruised". That just means the ice is broken up into little pieces of ice from the shaking motion which in turn make the drink colder and dilute the drink.

When a customer orders a "dirty martini", it just means they want olive juice/pickled brine added to their drink. I get more in detail on what olive juice is exactly in a previous blog entry titled, "Busting Bar Myths #2: Olive Juice" so be sure to check it out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Tequila Loving Customer

I had a customer come into the bar tonight who announced as soon as he sat down that he had had a rough day. Oh oh. This is a big red flag for all the bartenders out there. Anytime a customer announces that they have had a bad day, it means you have to step up your game or things can get ugly quick. I started things off on the right foot by introducing myself and offering him a drink right away. He told me that he was a tequila lover and asked me what kind of tequila I had. Unfortunately the bar I was working at tonight only had three kinds/brands of tequila. Not an ample selection for a self-proclaimed tequila lover such as this gentleman.

After I broke the news to him, he needed a moment to rethink about what kind of drink he wanted since it wasn't going to be tequila. Just as I walked away to help another customer, I overheard the tequila lover ask the other bartender (who is also my manager) what different types of tequila there were. She started to stumble as she thought about the answer. Before she could even mutter any sort of answer, I turned around and said "Blanco, Reposado and Anjeo". Then I flashed her a big smile. I had her back and she knew it. This seemed to be just what Mr. Tequila Lover wanted to hear because he then looked at me with a big smile on his face and asked me what the differences between the three types of tequila were.

Duh. Blanco is considered "unaged" and is generally aged for less than 2 months which is why it is clear. A Reposado is aged anywhere from 6 months to a year, giving it a golden color. And the Anjeo is the cognac of all tequilas. It's the "sipping" tequila because it's been aged for over a year, sometimes more which gives it the flavor and dark color.

The tequila lover told me that he was impressed and later reflected it in his generous tip. My bar manager looked at me and Mr. Tequila Lover, smiled and said, "That's why I hired her".

Knowledge is always power kids.

Monday, January 12, 2009

How Do You Remember All of Those Drinks?

People ask me all the time how I am able to remember the drink recipes for all of the drinks I make. At the bartender school, I teach my students over a hundred different drink recipes in two weeks. Those are just basic recipes. Then once a bartender gets out in the real bar world, they might have to work with a specialty cocktail menu that would require them to memorize even more drink recipes. And if that bar changes their drink menu with each season, then that's more drink recipes to memorize. A new bartender could easily become overwhelmed with all of those recipes.

Repetition is key. The more you do something over and over, the greater the chance you will have of remembering it. When I first started bartending, I got an address book that had a tab for each letter in the alphabet and wrote all of the drink recipes I learned on each of my shifts into my book. The address book proved to be an excellent resource whenever someone would order a drink and I couldn't remember the recipe. I would just look up the recipe in my book. If I stumbled upon a drink I had never made before, then I would ask the bartender I was working with how to make it. Sometimes I would even ask the customer.

Some new bartenders are too embarrassed to ask the customer how to make a drink they don't know the recipe for. Put yourself in the customer's shoes. If you ordered a drink that the bartender didn't know how to make, wouldn't you rather tell them how you would like your drink made rather than have the bartender just guess and make the drink all wrong? Why waste the time and alcohol?

I have found in my years behind the bar that customers love it when you ask them for their input on making drinks. Granted, if you are working a busy Saturday night in a nightclub and ask the customer what's in a Long Island Iced Tea, you probably wont get a very positive reaction. But if you are working a dinner shift and a customer orders something out of the ordinary, use the situation as a learning opportunity. With bartending, there is always something new to learn, no matter how long you have been working behind the bar.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What Kind of Bar Should I Work In?

As a bartender school instructor, the question my students ask me most is:

"What kind of bar should I work in?"

There are so many types of bars out there to work in: nightclubs, dive bars, sports bars, hotels or restaurants, just to name a few. Living here in the city by the bay, you could even bartend on a party boat if you wanted to. There are so many options out there for a bartender. Whenever my students ask me what type of bar they should work in, I always tell them that it really is up to them. What kind of bar would make them happy? What kind of environment do they want to work in? What time of the day do they want to work? What type of crowd do they want to be around? What kind of cocktails do they want to make?

Your first bartending job is rarely going to be your ideal place to work. I have been bartending for five plus years and I am STILL learning what my perfect bar to work in might be. I have a pretty good idea nowadays, but with each job, you are always learning what you like and what you absolutely wont tolerate.

In my younger days, I worked late nights in a busy nightclub. I worked in a busy college bar right by where I was going to school. I worked in a uber sexy lounge located smack in the middle of a highly populated tourist area, surrounded by stripclubs. I have worked in small lounges and I have worked in restaurants. I have even worked in a live music venue. I think it's safe to assume that I have a pretty good idea of all the different types of bars one can work in. What I have grown to love over my years of bartending might not work for the next person. But we all want to make money and have fun while doing it. So if you find yourself asking this question, look inside and ask yourself what kind of environment would make you happy and then seek out those type of places.

Bartending isn't rocket science. It's a little bit of who you know, being at the right place at the right time, having a good attitude, being flexible and always having fun no matter where you are. Just remember, your customers are there to have fun and so should you.

Ready, Set, Go!

If someone has the nerve to wave me down at the bar, then I expect them to be ready to order as soon as I approach them. I don't know how many times a night I get waved down by an impatient customer only to have to wait for them to have a discussion amongst themselves about what they want to drink. When this happens, I give said impatient customer a short amount of time before I move on to the next customer.

If I see someone come up to the bar with cash in hand, ready to order, you bet your ass I am leaving the impatient customer momentarily to help the customer who is actually ready to order and pay.

Don't wave me down unless you are truly ready to order and pay or else I will leave you for someone who is. Wavers end up waiting longer for their drinks than usual because they are so impatient.

Be patient and be ready. You'll get faster and friendly service, guaranteed.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Heart Busy Nights

I love working a busy night. Busy nights are a lot of fun. Busy nights allow you to challenge yourself to take multiple orders at a time. Busy nights force you to speed up your pace. It's a fight or flight situation. When you have hundreds of thirsty people looking at you, it's up to you to step up to the plate and get them served as quickly as possible.

I always know when I am making money when I can't stop making drinks and people are actually tipping. This is enough encouragement for me to go even faster. The more drinks I make, the more money I make. It's amazing how fast the shift can fly by. I want more nights like that.

Tonight perhaps?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Just Say No To Bitter Bartending

Bitter bartending makes a bitter bartender. A number of things can make a bartender bitter like crappy customers, lack of customers, non-tipping customers, getting sick or just having a plain old bad attitude in general. At one time or another, evey bartender is guilty of bitter bartending. Some more than others.

One of my new year resolutions for 2009?
No more bitter bartending.

That's right people. It's time to put the game face on and kill them with kindness. So all of you non-tipping, high maintenance, whiny peeps who want to order one drink at a time and whistle in my face just to get my attention, bring it!

After all, isn't that why Fernet is a bartender's best friend?

Hello 2009!

Busting Bar Myths #2: Olive Juice

Time to bust another bar myth....

When someone orders a "dirty" martini, that means that they want olive juice added to their drink.

But let's think about this for a second. If you crush up olives, you don't get olive juice. You get olive oil. So what is that stuff they call olive juice?

The liquid you find inside jars of olives is considered olive juice, but it's technically pickled brine.

That's right, pickled brine.

Pickled brine is just a salt and water solution and has an olive flavor because this is the liquid that comes in the jars that olives are stored in.

So when someone orders a dirty martini, what they really want is a little pickled brine added to their gin or vodka, dry vermouth, shaken or stirred and served up in a martini glass, garnished with an olive.

Therefore, technically it's pickled brine that makes a martini dirty, not olive juice.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cutting People Off

When it comes to bartending, there are so many more aspects to the job than just making drinks. If you are a bartender, you are the ring leader for that party. It's your duty to make sure everyone is having a good time. Sometimes you have to be a matchmaker. Sometimes you have to be a therapist. Sometimes you just have to smile, nod and pretend like you care. Bartenders are also responsible for maintaining their customers. If you come into my bar already drunk, I legally cannot serve you. Sorry. If you become intoxicated while in my care to the point where you start acting a fool, I have to regulate you. That means no more drinks for you Lushface.

I want to share a funny story about how I had to cut off a drunk before in the past. It's such a good story, I use it in my lecture at the bartending school when I talk about having to cut people off.

A few years ago, I was bartending at a really busy nightclub here in the city. I had this group of guys who had been standing in front of my well all night, drinking. I was cool with it because they were not only a lot of fun, but they were tipping me really well with each round they ordered. Later in the night, one of the guys in the group wanted to order another shot, but clearly was in no state to take another shot. Call me crazy, but if your eyes are cross-eyed and you are slurring your words, I'm not going to serve you anymore alcohol.

So what do I do? I didn't want to single this guy out in front of all of his friends and point out that he was unable to handle his alcohol as well as his friends could. With my quick bartending thinking, I told the guy I would make him a "special shot". Hell, I would even take one with him. I grabbed my tin, put some ice in it and mixed up a special shot consisting of 7-up, cranberry juice, a splash of pineapple and a little bit of oj. I gave the tin a good shake and poured us two shots. The guy went to grab his wallet and I quickly told him that this round was on me.

Drunk Dude took the shot and LOVED IT! He even tipped me. Dude was so drunk, he never even noticed that there wasn't a lick of liquor in his shot.

It's times like these that make me really, really love my job.