Imagine this scenario: An executive brings several clients she’s trying to impress to a nice restaurant around the corner from her office. They take a seat at the bar and are immediately greeted by a cheerful face who strikes up a conversation and helps set the mood.
The bartender is attentive, engaging, and builds a pleasant environment that ensures the executive and her clients have a great time. What happens next? That restaurant is now the executive’s go-to! Any time clients are in town, it’s her first stop. The restaurant has another loyal customer, all thanks to one great bartender.
That’s the impact a great bartender can have on your business business. But what traits actually make for a great bartender? Below, we’re going to outline 19 to look for.
1. People skills
This one is a no-brainer but should be noted regardless. Good people skills is a key indicator that a bartender will excel.
Because those skills can help turn your bar into a cool spot to hang out rather than just another place to grab a drink. Think about it. Customers can get a martini just about anywhere, but the atmosphere is what determines which bars they actually like. The bartender’s people skills are crucial to that. If they’re funny, nice, or able to maintain a conversation, patrons will feel more at home and come back again and again.
When interviewing candidates for a bartender position, employers should pay close attention to their social skills:
- Do they make eye contact when they talk?
- Do they have a sense of humor?
- Do they seem genuinely excited about having a conversation?
- Do they like to meet new people?
- Do they give off a good first impression?
These are the kinds of questions you need to answer before you make a bartender hire.
2. Ability to learn quickly
When a customer sits down and asks for a Manhattan, they’ll be put off if the bartender has to spend ten minutes looking up how to make one. That’s why you need someone who not only knows how to make the most popular drinks, but can quickly learn new ones as well.
No matter how knowledgeable a bartender is, there’s always a new drink on the horizon that someone is going to order. The bartender needs to be able to learn on the fly and make that drink in a timely fashion.
Curiosity comes in many forms. For instance, if a customer comes into your bar looking down in the dumps, will your bartender be curious enough to ask how they’re feeling? That willingness to ask can make a huge impression on the customer.
What about the economics of your restaurant? A curious bartender may want to learn more about all aspects of the business, which can lead to more opportunities for them to make an impact and potentially be promoted to manager.
Pay attention to how many questions a potential bartender asks during the interview process. If they’re naturally curious, they’ll probably have lots they want to learn about. If it’s a one-way conversation, they may not have the sense of curiosity they need to truly excel.
4. Team player
No matter how good someone is at mixing drinks, running a bar isn’t a one-person show. The barbacks, waiters, bouncers, and other bartenders all have important roles to play. You need to know that any bartender you hire is willing and able to work with the rest of the team, otherwise they’ll crash and burn.
During interviews, make sure to dive into their past experiences working in a team environment.
5. Wants to make money
Your instinct may be to say you want someone who’s motivated by more than just money. And it’s definitely important that you hire people who genuinely enjoy their job But at the end of the day, bars are cash businesses and tips are going to make up a big portion of a bartender’s income. Those tips are great motivation for bartenders to give it their all every shift, so hiring someone who cares about making money is a great way to get somebody who’s willing to work hard.
Imagine your restaurant is experiencing a heavy dinner rush when one of the bartenders calls out sick. The manager quickly grabs their phone and tries to get the shift filled by messaging the other bartenders. Who’s the bartender you can rely on to show up and save the day? That’s the person you want to hire.
A reliable bartender can act as a safety net in these situations. When interviewing, try to learn about times the candidate went above and beyond to keep their bar running smoothly.
We all have our bad days, and it’s understandable to not be in the best mood 24/7. Still, people don’t want to be greeted by a stand-offish bartender, and a frown can intimidate customers and deter them from buying a drink.
Interviewers should pay close attention to a candidate’s demeanor during the interview process. If they come off as a genuinely happy person, chances are they’ll make a great bartender.
8. High Emotional Intelligence
Knowing the difference between a customer who wants to talk and a customer who wants to be left alone can be the difference between a positive or negative Yelp review. A bartender with high emotional intelligence can tell whether or not someone’s in the mood for conversation the second they walk through the door.
9. Natural sales skills
People come to a bar knowing they want a drink but may not know exactly which one. Sometimes, they just want to have something new. Either way, having a bartender that can advise them on drinks is invaluable. In fact, if your bartender can recommend a drink quickly and confidently, there’s a good chance the customer will decide to try it.
10. Situational awareness
Is a customer making someone else at the bar feel uncomfortable? Is there an argument happening that has the chance of escalating to a fight? Does somebody want to order a drink but feels intimidated? A bartender with high situational awareness can diffuse difficult situations before they get out of hand.
There’s never “nothing to do” in food service and hospitality. Even when business is slow, there’s always something to clean or another task that needs doing. The bartenders you hire should have the initiative to take on those tasks the bar isn’t busy — it’ll make your whole restaurant run smoother.
12. Good memory
When your bar is busy, there are going to be long lines of thirty patrons shouting their drink orders and looking to get served quickly. Bartenders need great short-term memory to keep track of everyone’s order and get them out quickly. Things can get especially confusing if they’re taking multiple orders at a time.
When you’re interviewing a potential bartender, ask them about their experience taking multiple drink orders or dealing with a big crowd. Better yet, you can even work some kind of memory test into the interview itself.
13. Time management skills
No employer (or customer) has time for a bartender who takes 10 minutes to make a drink. A good bartender knows how to work fast and understands that the quicker they can make drinks, the more money both they and the bar will make.
Hectic lines, loud arguments, fights, and spilled drinks are just a few examples of what a bartender has to deal with on a typical night. In other words, this job isn’t right for people who can’t keep their cool.
No matter how trendy or upscale a bar may be, there’s always the possibility of something going wrong when alcohol is involved. That’s why every bartender needs to know how to stay calm in high-stress situations. If not, they’ll either burn out or cause solvable problems to escalate.
15. Strong work ethic
Most bars, whether they’re a standalone establishment, part of a restaurant, or set up on the fly for an event, tend to close pretty late. That’s why it’s important that you hire bartenders with a strong work ethic — trust me, you don’t want someone who’s going to lose motivation or try and duck out early when it’s 2 AM and the bar doesn’t close for another two hours. Ask your bartender candidates how they’ve handled long hours and stressful environments in the past.
A group of college students walk in and you can already tell they’re new to drinking. They wait in line and when it gets to their turn, they hesitate, look confused, and take their time ordering drinks.
While most bartenders would consider them to be annoying, a great bartender will have the patience to work with them or make drink recommendations so that the line can keep moving and everyone walks away happy. Remember, not everyone is going to be an alcohol connoisseur — you need to hire bartenders who are willing to work with those people.
Confidence is a plus in any role, but it’s especially important in bartending where customers are constantly trying to get discounts, free drinks, etc. The bartender has to have the wherewithal to stop those requests in their tracks so the business isn’t taken advantage of.
Confident bartenders also come in handy when engaging with customers, because people are more comfortable trusting a bartender who speaks like they know what they’re talking about.
Having a bar littered with dirty cups and other trash will not only stop people from ordering drinks, but even from visiting the business entirely. Bars are inherently messy places, so you need to hire people who care about cleanliness and will keep everything looking nice. Try quizzing candidates on how to clean a bar, and be sure to emphasize how it’s done during training.
19. Math skills
Bartenders have to handle lots of cash in a given night, so it’s important they’re able to do math quickly in their heads. Someone ordering a drink won’t like a bartender who gives them incorrect change, while business owners won’t like one who under or overcharges customers. Be sure to note this as a requirement in any bartender job postings, as that should weed out people who know they don’t have the math skills for the job.
Find the perfect bartender in no time!
By searching for the 19 traits above, employers will be able to tell the difference between an okay bartender and a great one! This way, they’ll be able to perform at a high level and handle anything thrown at them, all while enforcing the brand.