These are qualities bartenders pick up naturally with years of experience.
1. Check your stock. That’s the first thing an experienced bartender does when they walk behind a bar. After all you can’t make anything if you don’t have anything. Look at the ice level, juice levels; if they are low then fill them. Do you have backups? You don’t want to stop in the middle of the night making backups. Every new bar I walk into I do this and bartenders will ask me, Have you worked this bar before?
2. Use both hands. Experienced bartenders are practically ambidextrous. They constantly use both hands at the same time all the time. Never have an arm dangling at your side while the other one is doing something.
3. Have scratched up tools. If you’re an experienced bartender, your tools should look used. Scratch up your wine tool, bottle opener, lighter, and anything else in your pocket if you’re a rookie.
4. Keep your head up as much as possible, ears open, and eyes constantly scanning drink levels, servers/guests, suspicious activity, etc. Bartenders tend to keep their heads down because they are always doing something. You have to be aware of everything going on around you, so get that head up as much as you can. If the bar has mirrors, use them to your advantage. You can check things out while you’re turned doing something else. It’s like having eyes in the back of your head. You need them. Also, there will be new things for your ears to listen for like the sound of the phone ringing or the little chit popping up out of a printer giving you the servers order.
5. Know how to make powdered sour mix properly. Most American bars have powdered sour mix and the proper way to make it is to fill a gallon container half with hot water. Dump in the powder, screw a lid on and shake for about 10 seconds dissolving the powder. Next add cold water very slowly (so it doesn’t foam up), put the lid on again and shake again. Refrigerate. You’re done. If you make it incorrectly the powder won’t dissolve and you’ll be busted. The directions are always on the bag if you forget.
6. Don’t make one drink at a time unless you have an order for only one drink. When making drinks, line up all your glassware on the bar mat then ice them down (ice them down means fill them with ice, if they require it). Let’s say, you have an order for a Piña Colada, Cosmopolitan, Vodka Tonic, Screwdriver, Corona, Bud Draft, and a Kahlúa & Coffee from a server. On the bar mat you will set the Piña Colada glass, then a martini glass, then two highballs, and a coffee mug. You will then add ice to the martini glass so it can chill while you are making the other drinks. Then you would continue to ice down the two highballs. From this point you will make the drinks in the order I listed (I listed them in making order to make it easier on you right now). Make the Piña Colada, pour it in the glass, grab a shaker tin and make the Cosmo, dump the ice out of the Martini glass and strain the Cosmo. Grab the well bottle of vodka in your left hand and a bottle of Kahlúa in your right and pour the Kahlúa in the coffee cup and the vodka in both of the highballs at the same time. Squirt the tonic, pour the OJ and add the coffee (top with whipped cream or let the server add it when she returns so that it doesn’t melt too quickly). Now grab the Corona, and pour the draft beer.
See, if you had poured the draft beer first then the head would’ve gone down by the time you finished making the order. If you had made the coffee first, it would’ve cooled. Also, when you set your glasses up like this, if you forget what you are making, 9 times out of 10, you can turn and glance at the type of glassware you’ve lined up and instantly remember what you are making.
7. Don’t fill your drinks to the rim. Inexperienced bartenders, lazy bartenders, and bartenders that have never learned properly fill their drinks to the brim. Don’t do this. Always allow 1/4”-1/2” breathing/travel/ and melting room at the top. If you’re still not convinced then walk into any bookstore and look at any drink recipe book with photos. The exceptions are if you are using real whipped cream and when you shake a drink with sour or juice, the frothy part can go to the rim.
8. Know how to handle money. Experienced bartenders have excellent cash handling techniques. They handle money probably as much as a bank teller. Watch the way bank tellers shuffle the bills from hand to hand. One hand is pulling and the other is pushing. Practice counting, stacking, and arranging bills and coins until it feels natural.
Also, let’s say that a guest orders a beer and hands you a $20 bill. When it’s handed to you, look at it, look back up at the guest and say, Out of twenty. This confirms the amount given to you. If you don’t say what the amount is then they can always say, Hey, I gave you a $50 bill. Trust me, they’ll try it. Every experienced bartender does this. Also if they give you a $100 to pay a tab that’s something small like $22.50, always count back their change in front of them as opposed to laying the whole thing down so they can’t yell at you a few minutes later that you shorted them $20. Again, trust me, they’ll try it. You can also fan it out pointing to the bills and then saying the amount of change.
Some bartenders like to keep all of their money facing one way all nice and orderly in their drawer. That’s cool, and if I’m sharing a drawer with a bartender that was on shift before me and likes the drawer neat, then I respect them and keep the drawer neat. But, personally, I couldn't care less about having all the bills facing the same way. Money is money. However, before I turn it all in at the end of the night it’s put in order.
9. Behind you. Behind. Behind. Behind you. Behind. Behind you. When working with another bartender and you step behind them to get something you always say softly, but loud enough for them to hear, Behind. Anytime you get in a bartenders space you have to let them know. I’ve seen people get bloody noses, knocked down and knocked out from an elbow because they didn’t warn the other person that they were in their space. You can also lightly touch them on the shoulder. You just must let them know you’re there.
10. Keep the half & half closed. Experienced bartenders will keep the pour flap closed when pouring half & half. Open the half and half carton then close it. When you make a White Russian for example, just squeeze the carton over the glass and you will have better control with its flow. It’s hard to control the flow of half & half when you try to pour with the flap open and will cause too many messes.
11. Know how to do a reverse grip pour. Once you get a good strong feel for holding spirit bottles, this is the next move you should learn to look like a pro.
12. Know the common verbiage when doing inventory. When you participate in inventory, all you need to know is that you measure the bottle in points. Each bottle has 10 points. Look at the bottle as if it’s divided up in 10 parts (this will help with the odd shaped bottles). So, if your manager asks you about the Bacardi bottle and it’s half full, then it’s called .5 (point five). If a bottle is full, you don’t say .10, you just say it’s one or a full bottle.
13.Clean as you go. All good bartenders clean as they go. If you make a Mudslide Martini, then understand that cleaning the shaker is part of making that drink. Personally, I don’t even take a guests money until after I rinse the shakers because they need to see that it’s part of what it takes to make the drink. Some cleaning behind the bar can wait until you catch up. Just know that the top priority is anything a guest can see.
14. Know the proper way to rim a drink. Most bartenders, dunk the rim of a glass into the spongy section of a rimmer, and then dunk into some sugar or salt. When the salt or sugar is on the rim, it falls into the drink. What you want is the salt or sugar to be on the outside edge of the rim. So you’ll have to tilt the glass and rotate it around. You can also wet the outside edge with a piece of lemon or lime wedge.
15. Know the brandy snifter tricks. When pouring into a snifter, lay a snifter on it’s side in the air then pour the spirit to the rim. This will give a proper pour. If the guest requests the spirit to be heated and your bar doesn’t carry a brandy warmers, then all you need is a rocks glass and hot water. Preheat the brandy snifter by filling it 1/4 of the way with hot water (the kind at a coffee station) then fill a rocks glass half with hot water as well. Dump out the hot water in the snifter and pour in the Cognac and set the bowl inside the rocks glass. It’s also nice to present it on a saucer with a cocktail napkin. You may have to experiment with the glassware at your bar to test which glass the snifter fits in best.
16. Know the juice container trick. You can make juice flow quickly out of a store-n-pour/juice container by sticking a drinking straw into the spout. It creates an air hole. It’s just science.
17. Know how to pronounce these words:
Amaretto Di Saronno (dee-sa-ROW-no)
Angostura Bitters (ang-uh-STOOR-uh)
Blue Curacao (CURE-uh-sow, sow rhymes with cow)
Cabernet Sauvignon (cab-er-NAY soh-vihn-YAWN)
Crème de cassis (ka-CEASE)
Crème de cocao (ka-KAY-o, or ka KAH-o)
Crème de noyeaux (noy-Yoh)
Dom Pérignon (dom-pay-ree-NYON)
Glenmorangie (glen-MORang-ee, rhymes with orangy)
Grand Marnier (GRAN mahr-nYAY)
Pinot Noir (PEE-no NWAR)
Rumple Minze (ROOM-pull MINTS)
18. Know how to bounce cut a bottle. Let’s say for example, that you have glasses lined up with ice and several of them need the same spirit from the same bottle you are holding. When you finish pouring in one, bounce the bottle down then up and the flow will stop, for 1-2 seconds. During this time aim the bottle over the next glass. So the order goes: pour, bounce, aim at the next glass, pour, bounce, aim at the next glass, etc. The old way is to pour, stop the flow by turning the bottle right side up, pour in the next glass, stop the flow by turning the bottle right side up, etc. Try it at home first. It works the best when using a reverse grip.
19. Know at least three ways to strain a drink. Experienced bartenders know many ways to strain a drink.
0. Know how to close the bar. Any experienced bartender can walk into a bar the next day and know instantly if the bartender the night before has experience tending bar based on how things look. A good sign is that many things are turned upside down. Basically, tools, juice containers, blender parts, draft beer trays, bar mats, soda gun nozzle & holder, fruit tray and any other items have been washed, rinsed and turned upside down in an orderly fashion in a drain area. The juice container holders are normally rinsed then turned over at a draining angle in the well where they normally sit at the well. Sometimes bars keep their fruit for two days so they might be covered in the cooler. Personally, I throw all fruit away every night. There is sometimes something soaking in water overnight like pourers that have been on liqueur bottles. The register area will be organized and nothing anywhere behind or in front of the bar should feel sticky. Also, if you ran out of something then good bartenders will leave a note on the register for the next bartender letting them know, so everyone can stay on the same page