The following article originally appeared in March, 2009
I recently got a letter from a guy who reads my San Fran Chron column and was looking for a bit of advice:
This was my reply:
“My very best advise to you is to ask the guys behind the bar at Bourbon and Branch. Bartenders know that you won’t go to their bar every single time you go out, and they like to be the ones to turn you on to somewhere else that’s cool. The bartenders at B&B know your taste, and I’m betting they’ll not only steer you in the right direction, but they might also give you the name of a bartender to ask for, and before you know it you’ll have new places to go and new bartenders to look after you. Remember to tell the new bartenders which bartender sent you”
This question made me hark back to 30+ years ago when I was tending bar on the Upper East Side of New York, and I started remembering all sorts of unwritten rules that bartenders followed back then. And not one of them had anything to do with mixing drinks. These were rules we followed in order to make our customers feel like they were being looked after.
I’m quite sure that you guys who tend 21st-century bars follow much the same formulas as we did back then, but it never does any harm to look at some sort of check-list and remind ourselves of the guidelines that lead to us being the best bartenders we can possibly be. Here are just a few thoughts, then. I’d love to see this list grow, so if you have suggestions, send ‘em on, and we can take a look at them.
Great Bartenders make sure that newcomers feel welcome. This can be done by merely introducing the newcomer to one of your regulars or, if someone is new to your neighborhood entirely, it’s great to tell them where they can get great Chinese food, which is the best specialty food store, the most reliable laundry, etc., and don’t forget to give them the number of a good taxi company, too–you never know when they’ll need someone to drive them home.
Great Bartenders assess situations using their eyes, ears, and their intuition, and if need be, they deal with said situations as soon as is appropriate. Never hesitate–your gut will tell you when to speak up.
Great Bartenders make sure that nobody insinuates themselves onto another customer if it’s apparent that the customer on the receiving end doesn’t want the attention.
Great Bartenders do their best to make sure all guests get home safely. This can mean taking car keys from some folk, of having a responsible person walk somebody home in some cases.
Great Bartenders teach bar etiquette to customers who might not know it. Stuff like, “No, you can’t send that guy a drink until I ask him if he wants a drink with you,” and “Don’t leave your bag on the barstool and expect me to look after it while you’re in the bathroom.”