The Rookie:The ‘New’ Breed Have it Too Easy

This article was featured in Bartender’s December issue
By Naren Young

I’m certainly not old enough to have this piece come across as a “back in my day, we had it so tough” gospel speech. And I try never to be cynical about our industry and remain positive about where it’s heading. We’re heading in a very positive direction, to be sure. This article was actually inspired by a piece that my friend Gary Regan wrote recently in the San Francisco Chronicle, stating that ‘Bar-Tweenies Need Lessons in Basic Mixology’. Many people commented on it and re-posted it (I did) and I believe this is a very important topic that needs addressing. Take from it what you will.

He went on to say: “Although the core chore of the bartender – to make people happy, welcome and cared for – will never vary, over the past decade the mixology side of the craft has changed completely.ย The cocktailian craft has been grossly mishandled of late, and it’s time to rein in a few newcomers who seem to have missed the point. Lack of experience is a growing concern.”

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Ironically, a few of the people that commented on his article were actually the people that it was directed at. And that’s the saddest part – that those that think they know it all, actually know very little about what it really means to tend bar. This had always been a craft that took years of training and experience to master, but now it’s becoming evident that most young rookies are being fast tracked into senior roles.

Job titles like ‘mentor’, ‘trainer’, ‘brand ambassador’ and ‘consultant’ are being thrown around far too frivolously, especially by those that have only a couple of years under their belt. To me these have become overused and somewhat dirty words, unless genuinely practiced by those that have done their tour of duty, so to speak. We’re breeding a generation of cocktail nerds who feel that academia is more important than human interaction and good old chit chat. Customers want your best joke, not who created the Blue Blazer.

“Customers want your best joke, not who created the Blue Blazer – the core chore of the bartender is to make people happy, welcome and cared for.”

As the cocktail scene continues to spread around the world, so too is it moving outside of the major cities, which is very exciting indeed. Social media has spread this network far and wide and there are more great bartenders than ever before. What this has propagated, however, is a cut throat industry built on a desire for fame and fortune. The celebrity chef phenomenon will soon make way for the celebrity bartender and the race is on.

Despite the over-saturation of budding mixologists, spiritual advisors, drink smiths or whatever other moniker you choose to separate yourself from the pack (I’ll take ‘bartender’ thanks), making a name for yourself in this industry is becoming easier and easier. Far too easy me thinks. The media and internet have made this possible. And so has the proliferation of cocktail competitions and their lucrative prizes.

This search for stardom is going to get worse (or better depending on your point of view). This newfound fame is not necessarily anyone’s fault. It’s a sign of the times, and often a good sign that we’re finally being recognized for our dedication and passion. But at what cost? The young crew really needs to step back for a moment and look at the industry and their role within it. Most young rookies want to be famous and now dammit!

People will notice your work if it’s good. Let me expose someone here who fits this ideal perfectly. Linden Pride, who runs the bar operations for Neil Perry’s empire, is someone who I’ve always thought way above his years. A polite, knowledgeable and supremely talented professional who oozes hospitality from every pore. His demeanour should be a lesson to us all. He doesn’t crave the limelight; he just does an amazing job.

“I’ve no wish for today’s bartenders to stop pushing the envelope,” continues Gary. “I’m pretty much insistent, though, that we take a hard look at the bartenders who have been trying to blind us with their mad-scientist-type potions while rendering cocktails reminiscent of an emperor’s new clothes.”

Always remember that what we do is not about the drink. We serve people first, above all else. Remembering 500 recipes, making your own bitters and foams, having your own blog and owning your own first edition of Jerry Thomas mean absolutely nothing unless you genuinely love serving other human beings. If you do, and do it with humility, then you are half way to being a great bartender already.

9 Comments
  1. Very nice, I missed Gary’s piece but thoroughly enjoyed that ! (please let me know if I am one of the culprits myself)

  2. I have been one of these bartenders and also come out the otherside once I secured a position under a mentor that saw fit to teach me the error of my ways. The problem lies not with these rookies, but with the employers (and customers) that tolerate and spread the problem. I cite Adi Ruiz’s article of same publication and similar theme stating that bartenders that came up in nightclubs have better chat and better understanding of how hustle behind the bar. I presume we are referring to 18-20 year olds who are highly impressionable and therefore the blame should rest solely with the ‘old guard’ that employ and teach them. If all they ever see is old guys talking ridiculous shop chat and criticizing each others equally specced negronis because the hoshizaki machine has been tortured due to a recent heatwave and caused an extra 2mls dilution in the final product then they have no chance to begin with.
    If they manage to keep a level head after learning the craft from these people then the industry might have a chance. Otherwise, let’s place the blame on owners, managers and trainers that turn these kids into banter assassins and smart arses. So let’s stop then gen y bashing and applaud these kids for their passion.

  3. Good luck to the newbies I say. Hopefully the ‘cult of celebrity’ in hospitality has the knock on effect of raising public awareness, and with luck government awareness to several generations of skilled workers. Skilled workers still classified as unskilled by UK authorities.
    While for those working at the best establishments will surely earn well, get good PR and become sleb-tenders/bloggers/authors/what-have-you, the scene there is minute compared to the tens of thousands of bartenders giving dedicated, knowledgeable and timely service to thirsty punters the length of my country. Yet these people even after many years of tireless service would still be classified as unskilled should they enter the job market again and as such are entitled to minimum wage. Not a higher rate as in other professions. Thanks to guys like Duane Shepherd and Bar Code this is slowly starting to change, with government recognised experience+training based qualifications.
    If it hasn’t changed by the time I’m old and grey (half of that statement has already happened!) Then it might be time to get political with an active union… I wonder how the British public would feel about not being able to get a pint at 5.30pm ’cause all the bar staff are on strike, haha. Seriously, strike is a last option for unions to employ (someone should tell the RMT’s Bob Crowe that). But a politically active union could be useful in arbitration, lobbying for fairer practice, lobbying for funding to create skilled jobs/employees and monitoring employee rights.As this industry matures there’s a more serious side to the ‘cult of celebrity’ and the exposure it brings and that’s waking up a nation to the fact that hospitality can be a career for life.
    I still get asked “where are you travelling after this job?” And, “what are you studying?” Even though the bar is now mine!
    So let’s raise a glass to the continued growing up of a long and well established skilled profession. Eating and drinking are time eternal and ritual.

  4. You forgot “Get off my lawn!”

    But seriously, for someone who claims to have mastered interpersonal skills, you sure do seem to have a chip on your shoulder.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this article because it hits the nail on head describing the status of the industry at the moment. In all honesty I went through a ‘Wank’ stage, to be fair i think we all do. I just wanted to do everything perfect and be like all the cool mentors i saw in the bar Mag’s. I think (lets roll with this) the “Wank stage” is just a Natural progression in the Development of a young Bartender, after a while you learn that Its not about the drinks but the social interaction. But this takes years to truly appreciate.
    When you see juniors people in senior rolls you can get annoyed but hey, you can’t fight it, its just the way things are. I just think to myself, “they are still trapped it the ‘wank stage’, they will learn one day”. instead of getting pissed of from their ignorance, i simple just embrace it, and enjoy being served with someone with passion for bartending. A smile grows across my face as remember all the memories of when it was me in their shoes and all the good times this Job has given me ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Dear Merlin,
    Read my 1900 Bartender’s Manual, for it was I who tried to kickstart a union movement for bartenders many moons ago, to no avail, all the best in your endeavour to pick up where I left off.

    Keep surging!

    Harry

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