Sunday, October 25, 2009

When did bartending get so serious?

San Francisco has a unique cocktail culture. We have a rich history with our bars and cocktails. We are also currently considered to be one of the forefront cities when it comes to cocktail trends (right up there with New York). This is a blessing for some San Francisco bartenders. For others, this can also be a big pain in the ass.

Unfortunately being considered a forefront city for cocktail culture takes a lot of fun out of bartending for some of us bartenders. I admit, when I first started bartending, I didn't know the 25 classic cocktails according to BarSmarts. I didn't know whether to stir or shake my Martinis and Manhattans. There wasn't a bottle of bitters to be found at my bar. The freshest ingredients I used were the lemon and lime wedges cut fresh that night. That was also six years ago and when I lived/worked in San Jose.

Nowadays, I reside and work in San Francisco. I have been formally introduced to the mixology side of bartending and I love it. I am a fact nerd when it comes to things I am interested in. So it makes sense that I am always reading about the history of cocktails and bar culture, learning classic and new techniques for crafting cocktails and experimenting with all things alcohol. The quest for knowledge is fun and IF my customers are interested, I love sharing my knowledge with them as well.

This sort of thing stops being fun when customers feel like bartenders are too big-for-their-britches and shove their knowledge down their throat. People get it. San Francisco is really cool and cutting edge. Sometimes though, people just want what they want because they want it, not because an old cocktail recipe book or celebrity bartender told them so. There is nothing wrong with that. I respect bartenders/mixologists quest for knowledge and their desire to educate the masses, but in the end it really all comes down to the customer and making the customer happy. Some customers don't care about the science behind why there might be a taste difference between a stirred Manhattan and a shaken Manhattan. If that customer wants their Manhattan shaken, then the bartender should shake that Manhattan and serve it to the customer with a smile.

After all it is the customer who is leaving the tip and its the tips that constitute a bartender's living.

Smooth Sailing Saturday

Every now and then you are blessed with a night that is extremely busy, and yet it runs smoothly. People come in at a constant pace instead of all at once. People are nice. People tip well. The drinks for the server tickets are being made as fast as the orders come in. Customers are happy. Tonight, I was blessed with one of these nights.

I only had one guy who threatened to disrupt the smoothness of the night. He ordered his drink and while watching me make the drink he ordered, decided that he wanted to change his order to a whole other drink completely. I laid down the law with him and told him that he had already ordered the one drink and that he couldn't change his mind AFTER I made the drink he ordered, unless he wanted to buy both drinks (which he didn't). I thought he was going to give me a hard time. Maybe it was the smile I flashed him when I told him that I wouldn't take his nonsense that won him over? Whatever it was, he agreed with me, accepted his drink and paid for it.

At the end of the night, the same guy came up to me and asked me if he could have a free shot. My policy on when people ask me for free stuff? If you have to ask, you don't deserve it in the first place. The answer will always be a firm NO. The guy told me that I was strict. I told him that I was the bar manager and that it was my job to be strict. I gave him this whole schpeal about having to lead by example, yadda yadda yadda. I was just happy to tell him no and when he whined about it, I was more than happy to play my manager card. He felt like a schmuck asking the manager for a free drink. Whoopsie!

You play, you pay buddy.

Other than that, tonight was smooth sailing. I wish every busy Saturday night could run as smoothly as tonight did.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My little black book

I was cleaning out my closet today and found my old, little black book from when I first started bartending. It's just a little black address book where I would hand write in drink recipes that I learned to make in my early days of bartending. I would make these drinks on a regular basis at the bars I was working at the time. My little, old book contains recipes for drinks like the AMF, Apple Martini, Cosmo, Fuzzy Navel, Kamikaze, Key Lime shot, Lemon Drop, Melon Ball, Oatmeal Cookie shot, Purple Hooter, Red Headed Slut, Scoobie Snack and the Woo Woo.

Nowadays, my little black book is a bit more evolved. I have graduated to a fancier moleskin. My drink recipes are a bit more extensive and sophisticated, requiring fresh ingredients and muddling.

Going through my book instantly brought me back to when I started working behind a bar. I was so nervous and yet so excited to learn everything I could about bartending. From day one, I always wanted to be a really good bartender. Who knew that the part-time job I had while getting my undergraduate degree from college would actually turn into a full-fledged career?

I still have the same passion for bartending as the very first day I started.

Attitude is a direct reflection of where you work

I strongly believe that the type of bar a person works in greatly effects their attitude at work. When I worked in a nightclub, I had to deal with stupid, ignorant, drunk, young bastards all night long looking for freebies and fights and complaining about the prices of the drinks, the actual alcohol content within the drinks (usually whining about how they couldn't taste the alcohol and wanted more without paying for it) and having to wait to place their drink order.

Since I made the switch to restaurants, my customers don't seem to be as aggressive and cheap as the nightclub crowd was. I typically serve older, more mature crowds now. These people are somewhat knowledgeable about their booze and overall are better tippers. Don't get me wrong. Occasionally, I'll get a customer in a restaurant who makes me fight to keep "bitter bartender" buried deep, down inside. But in the big picture sense, the crowds are like night and day. So is my attitude. I am so much happier working behind the bar in a restaurant.

I work at a bar that features specialty cocktails. We use a lot of fresh ingredients to make those cocktails. The drinks are labors of love and take a bit longer to make than a vodka cran or a rum & coke. I have a lot of pride in the cocktails I make these days because they are creations and actually take some sort of skill to create them. Working as a nightclub bartender, I didn't have much pride in the drinks I made. At the end of the night, it was all about how much I had rang in my register.

I even enjoy talking to my customers nowadays. I enjoy making their labor intensive cocktails. My positive attitude is directly reflected onto my customers. I don't have as many colorful stories to write about on a nightly basis because for the most part, my customers get it.

Every now and then, I will get a customer that either makes me scratch my head or really pisses me off. It's these situations that really inspire me to keep a blog like this in the first place. Since I can't tell those customers how I really feel, I need some place to vent.

When I was an instructor at the bartending school, I would always tell my students that there was a different bar for every type of personality. The challenge was to find the right bar for them. Finding their perfect bar would result in being a happy bartender. Working in a bar that really makes me happy and knocks my socks off may not be the same bar for the next person. That's ok. Everyone is different.

I am just so happy that I have finally found the type of bar that makes me really happy. Even on my shittiest nights behind the bar, I am still happy to be a bartender and satisfied that I am in the right career for me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don't be afraid to show your appreciation

It's really satisfying and rewarding whenever customers tell me how much they love my drinks. Not that I make shitty drinks on a regular basis, but hearing someone tell me how happy they are with something I've created is an ultimate compliment as a bartender. These sort of things really put a huge smile on my face.

So when you're out drinking and stumble upon a really tasty, beautifully crafted and balanced cocktail that you enjoy and find amazing, don't be afraid to tell your bartender. We love stuff like that.

Friday, October 16, 2009

BarSmarts Wired

In most states, there currently aren't any prerequisites for becoming a bartender. There aren’t any classes required for someone to take that teach about all of the spirits and cocktails that are served behind a bar. There isn’t a license or certification that one must receive before they can work behind a bar. Bartending school is always an option as long as there is a good, reputable school located close by, but it’s not required. Many people who work behind a bar have never had any sort of formal training. Traditionally, bartending has always been a profession where a person learns the hard way, by good old trial and error, in front of their customers.

What is BarSmarts Wired?

A good bouncer is a bartenders best friend

A really good bouncer can either be a bartender’s best friend or their worse nightmare. The bouncer is the “face” of the bar or club because this is the first person a customer sees when they come inside the business. The first interaction between the bouncer and the customer is important. This interaction sets the mood of the night for the customer. A really good bouncer will set a positive vibe for the customer, providing a pleasant introduction to the bar or club. Bartenders benefit from this by having happy customers to serve.

So what makes a really good bouncer?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pay Your Dues

Another option to consider when trying to become a bartender is by paying your dues. Paying your dues simply means that you are hired on with a restaurant, (corporate or not) usually as a server and work your way up within the company to become a bartender. By paying your dues you will learn important skills like what it means to provide good customer service, the ability to multitask and think ahead and have the opportunity to work under pressure. All of these skills are a required necessity as a bartender.

In any restaurant, the bartending position is usually the most sought out position. Just like in any other bar or restaurant (corporate or not), the bar is the social epicenter of the house. A few customers may choose to dine at the bar, but a majority of the bar business comes from making drinks for the customers waiting for their tables and making the drinks servers order for their tables. Bartenders generally make more money out of all of the other restaurant positions because they are able to sell more volume and don’t have to travel far in order to take care of their customers like servers do.

Corporate restaurants primarily promote their bartenders from within.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Know Someone on the Inside

Part 2 in the "How to Become A Bartender" series: Know Someone on the Inside

Once a person truly understands all of the different responsibilities of being a bartender and decides that they have what it takes for the profession, then its time to consider the different options of becoming a bartender. One way is to know someone on the inside who will give you a chance.

Sometimes, it’s not about what you know, but whom you know. Networking is an important element in any career, no matter what the profession might be. Read More...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

How to Become a Bartender

Part 1 in the "How to Become A Bartender" series: The Responsibilities

One question customers and friends of friends seem to ask me over and over again is “If I wanted to be a bartender, how would I even start?” There are many different ways one can become a bartender, but the first question people should ask himself or herself before making the decision to become a bartender is, “Am I the type of person that is cut out to be a bartender?” From the customer’s side of the bar, bartending might look like it’s nothing but making tasty cocktails and flirting with the clientele. What many people don’t realize is that with bartending comes a lot of responsibility. Read More...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Complaining about a free drink is poor bar etiquette

Receiving a comp drink, free drink or a drink on the house is a luxury, not a right. It’s annoying to bartenders everywhere when someone complains about their free drink. It’s understandable if the quality of the drink is not up to par or maybe the glass of wine that was ordered didn’t taste right, but complaining about the amount of alcohol in (or not in) the drink is poor bar etiquette.

For example...Read More

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Featured on SF Gate today, i live here: SF

Remember back in May of this year when I was featured on the i live here: SF blog? Well, my friend Julie who runs the project got a really nice feature on SF Gate today talking about her project. It's nice to see friends getting some healthy media coverage. I really love her project and its obvious that other people do too.

Check out the SF Gate feature: Julie Michelle develops photo hobby into career.

So Stevie Wonder Walks Into The Bar...

This past Saturday night was easily the most amazing night of my bartending career.

Saturday night was a crazy night at the bar I was working at. First of all, the musical guests, Jazz Mafia were off the hook. The place was packed. People were drinking. It seemed like all of us behind the bar had been going full speed ahead as soon as we opened up for business that night. Around 1 in the morning, Stevie Wonder walked into our bar. Stevie Wonder!! Mr Wonderful himself!!! No one knows why or how he found out about our place. It was completely unplanned. No one knew he was coming. I'm just going to chalk it up as being magical.

Stevie sat down at one of our tables. The owner had me bring him a bottle of champagne. I was so nervous, I was shaking. I mean, how many times do you get the chance to open a bottle a champagne for Stevie Wonder and serve him personally? Maybe once in a lifetime? So I wanted to make sure I didn't make an ass of myself. I played it cool and kept calm.

Apparently Stevie was feeling the Jazz Mafia kids to the point of having him make his way towards the stage. Once he started heading for the stage, the whole place went into an uproar. How was it that our little club was being graced with having musical royalty such as Stevie Wonder perform on our stage? Again, chalking it up to being magical.

Once Stevie got up onstage, he gave the band props. I can't imagine what THEY must have been feeling. I think they pulled it off really well. They were playing amazing and made jamming with Stevie Wonder look like it was no sweat. Stevie sang two songs: "All Day Sucker" and "I Can't Help It". Everyone in the house was on their feet, cheering and besides themselves.

I couldn't help but have tears in my eyes. To hear that man sing live is really earth moving. I have always told myself that Stevie Wonder is one of those artists who I had to hear perform live before I die. On Saturday night, my quest was filled.

Check out the video footage here of the magical, unplanned, unannounced and impromptu performance on Saturday night by the one and only Stevie Wonder.