Bartender Tips & Hints

You don't have to hand make classic cocktails, flip bottles, or have extensive knowledge of spirits to be a good bartender. A good bartender makes people feel good. People don't go back to bars, they go back to bartenders. And bartenders should understand that they don't serve drinks, they serve people.

 

When people ask me what to write for their objective on their resumes, I always tell them to say, "To provide an excellent experience for guests at your establishment." This is the type of bartender a manager wants to hire because providing an excellent experience means return business. So, how does a bartender provide an excellent experience? It depends. If you’re working in a dive bar on the waterfront selling mostly beer and whiskey shots to oil riggers and you greet them with a smile, remember their names, what they drink, and they leave feeling good, then you have provided an excellent experience for those guests. 

 

Every bar is different and attracts a different clientele, so you have to figure out what works best for your personal bartending style and the establishment. What you do at a Honky Tonk will be totally different from a hotel bar down the street. 

 

I could make a long do and don’t list, but there’s no need because you only have to combine The Golden Rule with The Platinum Rule and everything will fall into place. 

The Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. 
The Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated.

This doesn’t just apply to guests; this goes for all your co-workers, your boss, and anyone else for that matter.

In this l
ine of business, you’re dealing with humans. To know what makes these creatures tick is to your advantage. Entire books have been written on the basics of human nature and they all boil down to one sentence: everybody, everywhere, always, wants to feel good about themselves.

Top Bartender Qualities

1. Personality.
2. Good grooming.
3. Great memory.
4. Knowledge of liquor, beer, wines, cocktails, and your local area.
5. Good money handling skills with average math skills. 
6. Responsible and dependable team player.
7. Fast and efficient.
8. Something unique. 
9. Physical strength. 
10. A people person with good eye contact and a firm handshake.

Top Things to Ask on Your First Day

Experienced bartenders can walk behind any bar and bartend. The first thing they will master is the POS and where the product is kept.

 

Start opening cabinets and coolers familiarizing yourself where things are kept and ask questions like, Do we stock at the end of the night? Where are the kegs kept? And anything else you think of as you are looking inside. All experienced bartenders will do this.

 

Where are the restrooms for the guests? Where are the restrooms for the employees? 

 

What bottled beers do we serve? Is there a beer list. The same for the wine.

 

Do we run tabs? If so then ask about the procedure. Do we hold guests' credit card? Do you have many walk-outs?

 

Where are the backup mixers kept? 

 

Can you run me through the glassware? Every bar uses slightly different glassware, so you have to go over it. You should ask something like, "What glass are we using for a highball?" Then encourage your bartender trainer to point to the rest of the glassware naming its use.

 

What do we charge for a double? Some bars just double the price, however many places add another price. It’s different everywhere, so that’s that‘s why you have to ask.

 

If there is no coffee machine at the bar ask about where you get the coffee for a coffee drink.

 

Do the servers or bar back cut the fruit or do we?

 

What are our well liquors and their price? How many ounces for rocks or neat pour? How many ounces for a Martini? 

 

Bring a pocket-sized spiral notebook and write down everything you need to know. You’ll be given a number. Write it down. You’ll use the # in the POS system. The system only identifies you as a #. Write down every step of the POS procedure shown to you. Just so you know, it will not seem weird or make you look like an inexperienced bartender by writing everything down. It’s actually smart. Experienced bartenders know that the cash register is the #1 thing behind the bar that will slow you down on a busy night. You must master it. Memorize where the keys are so that you can whiz through the screen. Find out where the backup button or delete button is right away. 

Top Things to Make You Look Like a Pro

These are qualities bartenders pick up naturally with years of experience. 

Check your stock so you are set up for a successful shift. Look at the ice level, juice levels, garnish levels, backups, etc. The last thing you want to do in the middle of a busy shift is to stop serving guests and fill up levels. 

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.

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. It’s like having eyes in the back of your head. Also, there will be new things for your ears to be aware of like the phone ringing, the receipt printing, a microwave buzzer, when the band needs the house music turned off, etc.

Do make several drinks at a time unless you have an order for only one drink. Line up all your glassware in your workstation. The different types of glassware lined up will help you remember what you are making. When you pick up bottles, you want to pick up bottles to use for all the drinks and start building all your drinks. The last thing will be garnishing all the drinks so they are all finished at the same time.


Don’t fill your drinks to the rim.  Always allow 1/4”-1/2” travel and melting room at the top. The exceptions are when you are using real whipped cream and when you shake a drink with sour or juice, the frothy part can go to the rim.

Know how to handle money. Experienced bartenders have excellent cash handling techniques. 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. 


To avoid issues with guests saying they gave you a larger bill then you remember, 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.


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 (my preference).


Clean as you go. All good bartenders clean as they go. 

 

Know how to pronounce these words:
Apéritif (uh-pair-a-TEEF)
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)
Cachaca (ka-SHA-suh)
Caipirinha (ki-purr-REEN-ya)
Chambord (Sham-BOARD)
Chardonnay (shar-doh-NAY)
Cointreau (KWAN-trow)
Courvoisier (core-VAH-see-A)
Crème de cassis (ka-CEASE)
Crème de cocao (ka-COW)
Crème de noyeaux (noy-Yoh)
Dom Pérignon (dom-pay-ree-NYON)
Drambuie (dram-BOO-ee)
Galliano (gall-lee-YAH-no)
Glenfiddich (gle-FID-ickkkkkkk)
Glenlivit (glen-LIVE-it)
Glenmorangie (glen-MORang-ee, rhymes with orangy)
Grand Marnier (GRAN mahr-nYAY)
Maraschino (mare-es-SKEE-no)
Mescal (mehs-KAL)
Mojito (mo-HEE-toe)
Pinot Noir (PEE-no NWAR)
Riesling (REEZ-ling)
Rumple Minze (ROOM-pull MINTS)
Sambuca (sam-BOO-ka)
Sommelier (sum-ul-YAY)
Worcestershire (WOOS-tuhr-sheer)

For more, see my Pronunciation page.

Know how to bounce cut a bottle. Let’s say for example, that you have glasses lined up and several of them need the same spirit from the same bottle. When you finish pouring in one, bounce the bottle down then up and the flow will stop for one second. 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. 

Know how to close the bar. Any experienced bartender can walk into a bar the next day and instantly know if the bartender the night before has experience tending bar based on how the bar was closed. A good sign is that many things are cleaned and organized. 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. 

50 Handy Tips & Hints

In every bar that you work, you will learn something new about the bar. No one knows it all.

 

If you cannot remember if a guest ordered salt on the rim for their Margarita, simply rim half of the glass and they can drink from either side.

When a guest with a British accent orders lemonade, they mean lemon-lime soda like Sprite or 7up, but double check.

When a guest with a European accent orders whiskey, they mean Scotch whisky, but double check.

When serving beer to Europeans, know that they like more head on their beer than Americans.


Spotters/shoppers are hired to act like normal guests then report everything they see happening. 

Bottle pourers are used on bottles that are used a lot. Speed is their purpose.

When stocking beer, an easy way to rotate the stock is to move the current beer to the left (or right) of the cooler and the new beer on the empty side. 

All Cognac is brandy but not all brandy is Cognac. Cognac is made from grapes grown in the Cognac region of France. Brandy can be made from grapes and other fruit anywhere in the world. 

Sour mash means that part of the yeast mixture from one batch is used to start another batch. Like the way sourdough bread is made. People think Jack Daniel’s tastes the way it does because it’s a sour mash whiskey. Not true. Many whiskeys are made in the sour mash procedure. Jack Daniel’s tastes the way it does because before it’s put into charred barrels it drips through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal.

Champagne can only be called Champagne when it’s made in the Champagne region of France and all other bubbly wines must be labeled
and called sparkling wine. 

By Mexican law, tequila must be made from 51% of the blue agave plant and mescals can be made from any and many agave plants. 

When you have to tell the guest that you’re out of something, it’s much better to say, "I’m sorry, we’re sold out of that." When you just say you’re out of something it makes it sound like your bar is disorganized, but saying you’re "sold out" sounds like the item they ordered is popular.

All states in America can make bourbon, however, only bourbon made in Kentucky is allowed to say Kentucky Bourbon on their label. 

One thing sobers up the human body and that’s time. Coffee makes a wide awake drunk, food makes a full drunk, and a cold shower makes a wet drunk.

When you start working a new bar do not start moving things around or give advice on where things should be or how things should be done until you settle in after several weeks. And you never want to say, "Well at the last bar I worked we did it this way." No one wants to hear how you did it before, because it doesn’t matter. You’re going to do it the way they want you to do it. 


The classic Martini is made with gin, so, when someone asks you for a Martini and says nothing else the best thing to do is smile, and say, "Sure, do you want me to use your favorite gin?" This lets them know without preaching that a classic Martini is made with gin. 

Whenever you are slow, never just stand around. There’s always something to clean or organize.

You will burn out. Doing a job that is physically and mentally demanding catches up with you. You’ll know when you begin to get snippy with guests and co-workers. It’s okay. Many professions that deal with the public go through the same thing.  Just make sure you take a mini-vacation and recharge. Go out and let someone serve you.

When making drinks you want to strive for only picking up a spirit bottle or mixer once during an order. While you have product in your hand use it in all glasses you need it for instead of picking it up then setting it down.

The drier a Martini is ordered means the less and less dry vermouth they want. So if a guest orders a very dry/extra dry Martini then they usually want like a drop of vermouth or none at all. Some bartenders make jokes and just wave the dry vermouth bottle over the drink. 

When guests spill something on the bar, a lot of bartenders get irritated. The guest is already embarrassed and will say that they’re sorry many times. Just look at them, smile, and say, it’s ok, it happens. Their facial expression will instantly change and they’ll probably leave you a bigger tip.

If you are too busy to get to a guest at the moment, then make sure you acknowledge them in some way. When guests are acknowledged then they don’t mind waiting.

When you’re slammed, don’t get frustrated. You can only go as fast as you can. If your bar is well stocked then just keep going and keep smiling. Guests don’t mind waiting in line. Just make sure that you give each person you are dealing with direct attention. And never forget that if it weren't for these guests you wouldn’t have a job.


Hold spirit bottles firmly and don’t be careless with them. Most bottles have a profit value of $100-$300 each. 

You will spill something and you will break something. The most important thing is not to break glass near the ice well. Sometimes a small sliver can bounce into the well from a few feet away and that’s all it takes for a lawsuit. You simply can’t take any chances and must burn (melt) the ice get new ice.

 

When a guest breaks a glass, the first thing they tend do is start grabbing for the big shards of glass. You must tell them right away not to touch anything and that you will take care of it. For the extra tiny little pieces of glass, simply wet a bar towel or paper towel and lay on top the pieces then swipe up. The wetness picks them up.

Most bartenders do not like anyone to come behind the bar. They like their space, so if you’re a server, always ask.
 
There will always be good and bad with every bar you work. But this is true for every job in the world. For example, in a hotel bar you might have to walk very far to pick up appetizers in the kitchen, however, there’s a cleaning crew who cleans your floor mats and mops your floor. Or you make killer money at a restaurant; however constantly transferring tabs to servers when guest’s tables become available is a pain. It will always be something.


Have you ever been somewhere and overheard employees talking about their personal or work life? Better yet, did they continue their conversation in front of you? Don’t do this.

If you are a female bartender then you should be able to perform all bartender duties just like the males. You need to change kegs, carry cases of beer, and haul trash. These are part of a bartender’s duty and if you can’t do them then you’re not qualified to work behind the bar. With that said, if you prove that you can do these heavy dirty jobs then at some point you can trade off with the guys by offering to count the money, do end of the night cash out, and clean the bar while they do the grunt work. But it’s important for them to know that if needed you are a team player and are totally capable of doing these duties.

When you make the wrong drink and it’s not carbonated, always strain it into a glass and set to the side. You’ll be ready to use when it’s ordered again. If no one orders that drink again, then you’ll have to record it on the spill sheet. 

It’s a very good habit to never put the bar keys in your pocket. Buy a cheap little hook so it can hook to a belt loophole or something if needed. The reason is so you don't accidentally take them home.

 

When you turn something over to dry, you must always have it propped slightly in a way so that air can get up under it.

 

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Proper Bartending by Tobin Ellis

It is about your knowledge? How funny you are? Your presence behind the bar? Your energy? How many recipes you have memorized? How much money So just what is being a professional bartender all about? Where is the emphasis? It is all about how well you work your clientele?you make? How long you've been doing it? Who you've served? Where you work? The pride you take in polishing a martini glass? Your creative mixology skills? How fast you pour drinks? How well you spin, flip, balance, stack, throw, and catch drinks and bottles? How much you ring? How clean you keep your bar? 

 

The truth... the single most important trait a bartender has is surely going to be the strongest quality of the bartender who answers this question. Read that again. Isn't it true? Have you ever met a bartender who couldn't flip bottles but put a high importance on flair? Do you know any bartenders under the age of 25 who agree that decades of experience is the only true measure of a great bartender? When's the last time you met a meticulous barkeep who agreed that working messy is a sure sign of a high-ringing, hard-worker? What makes a bartender great? 

 

The best barkeeps seem to share a balance of most traits; but most obvious are their passion, humor, and humility. Rare as the last may seem in a barkeep, perhaps that is also the secret of greatness. Finding a barkeep who tells you (and everyone else) his or her story is easy- finding one who listens to your story is a rare treasure. Perhaps, as in all professions, those who are the best never need to point out their greatness- it is so painfully obvious to anyone watching them work, even for just a few moments. So sell, uncap, cork, scoop, draw, flip, pour, stir, muddle, blend, roll, shake, spin, layer, float, splash, top, twist, squeeze, present, laugh, listen, watch, learn, respect, teach, and enjoy. And then ... pssst ... pass it on.

- Tobin Ellis of Barmagic.com

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