Five Tips To Simplify The Daily Grind Of A Bartender

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If you’re a bartender looking to simplify your daily grind, it’s time to get back to the old fashioned basics. Here are five simple and inexpensive things you can do today to make that behind the bar job shine!

1. Cut with a knife and not with a peeler

Warren Bobrow

As my friend Gary Regan teaches in his “Cocktails in the Country” bartender training – when an orange is presented for use as a garnish, cut with a knife and not with a peeler. You would think that a peeler is faster because on a busy night and you have that orange in your hand and you want to go faster.  A conundrum when you are slammed- at the very least.  But one that is easily solved. Ditch the quick peeler in favor of your trusty companion. What is it? The basic item, your paring knife. It’s an elegant tool and it connects you with the past, the mastery taking your time.  Of conscious bartending. You will learn over time not to let this knife out of your sight, lest it come back with a broken tip, or you see it being used to open thick cardboard boxes. Use this paring knife when you cut all of your citrus.  It’s a bit slower on the peel, but far more rewarding to your guest when you take your time and connect with the zest.  It smells better too for some reason.    

2. Ice is nice.  Pretty simple, right?  

I’m convinced in my time working in the liquor industry that there is good ice, but more often than not, there is lousy ice.  I think that the use of quarter cubes is taking advantage of the guest by diluting their drink.  The quarter cube should only be used in a water glass.  Cocktails just look and taste better with a larger cube of ice, preferably a round or a square shape instead of a slice.  I am an intellect with ice- it’s important to me.  Ice is the most important ingredient in a craft cocktail.  Ice can make or break that event of dining out so don’t give your guests a glass of diluted top shelf liquor for their hard earned money.  Encourage your bar-back to use silicone trays to make large ice cubes to show off your expensive, top shelf whiskies.  The guest remembers how impressive this looks in their glass and will tell everyone about their ice experience.  If the sky is the limit, consider having Glace Ice in your bar.  They make perfect rounds and cubes.  I’ve rarely seen anything like them.  If you are in NYC, I’m told that Hundredweight is the way to go.  Out here on the perimeter we have ice companies, I’d ask for a 50-pound block and ask (nicely) if they would consider cutting 1 pound chunks out of the block.  You can train your staff to hand cut ice for a drink.  It’s a class act to be seen cutting your own ice.

3. Natural and Organic

Now more than ever with the utter explosion of natural and organic foods, the attention is poised towards the liquor industry.  How do you make a product that tastes delicious and captures the consumer’s interest in eating (and drinking) more healthfully?  Fortunately, there is a green colored label that appears on the liquor bottle that shows that the product is certified Organic.  It reads USDA Certified Organic.  To drum up sales, side by side tastings can be organized for your guests.  Organic vs. non-Organic liquors (and beers) will drive sales, it’s well proven. Certainly the conversation that includes craft liquors made from organically grown ingredients couldn’t hurt from the standpoint of more sales.  Your guests are already doing their shopping at Whole Foods, so you know they are eating better, why not drink better too?   An organic liquor like a vodka may start an entire pathway of liquid driven education for your guest.  Then you can start juicing all your citrus fresh. (We can always hope).  And that’s not even scratching the surface of Biodynamic and Organic wine production.  There is a lifetime of spirits education available to your guests that costs absolutely nothing and makes your bar staff the go/to for learning of all kinds.  Which of course adds to sales and your bottom line.  Make it fun!   

4. Bartenders need something to do, everyone should have some sort of side-work

Bar staff should be always cleaning glasses, doing something with their hands, instead of tapping at their phones.  If you are like me, having started in the food industry as a lowly pot-scrubber/dish washer back in the mid-1980’s (way before cell-phones), I’m pretty particular about caring for fine glassware. Certainly the modern equipment is more sophisticated now in this era of fast and casual dining. The new mechanized technology certainly does a better job with clarity due to modern chemicals and judicious applications of heat.  I like to offer an old-fashioned approach that is very effective for putting an extra shine on the glassware.  Add a few capfuls of regular white vinegar to a spray bottle with plain tap water.  Spray inside the glasses with this mixture and wipe with a lint free cloth.  The finish will be sparkling and the white vinegar neutralizes any remaining odors that sometimes linger inside the dish machine.  Clean all the liquor and the wine bottles that are around the bar with this mixture.  I like to use a colorful French style kitchen towel.  It’s fun. 

5. Punch!

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Make a punch of the day.  It’s easy and inexpensive.  One of the great ways to get rid of products that are at the bottom of the bottle is by making a punch of the day.  And since this is the end of many bottles, you should always use the very best juices available.  This makes the use of the end of the bottle impossible to detect.     

There is nothing wrong with doing things simply and with love. A smile goes a long way.  Remember the guest is coming to see you, it’s just not the other way around. Don’t ever forget that!