By Stuart Morrow
Stuart is a Sydney-based bartender and bar manager. You can find him going the extra mile at The Baxter Inn.
It’s a weekday night and I’m out having dinner and drinks with my partner. We go to a local bar for an after dinner drink. We take a seat at the bar, where the bartender is stood down the far end, laughing and joking with some friends. We sit for five minutes, with no menu and no more than a glance in our direction before he finally makes his way over. “What ya having?” We ask to see a menu. He rolls his eyes and hands us one, before returning to his friends at the end of the bar. We look through the list for a while; to order we have to call him back over. We stick with wine and order two glasses of sangiovese. “22 bucks mate,” he says. We hand over the money and receive the change, slopped down on the wet drink mats in front of him.
We only stayed for one drink.
Ok, so that’s an extreme example of bad service. But what constantly surprises me is how even the most award-winning bars and the most celebrated bartenders, are at times at fault of not giving the guest 100 per cent. Do you think that Jerry Thomas would roll his eyes at a guest ordering that drink with the fire?!
A read of the first few pages of Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual will give you this advice: “The first rule to be observed by any man acting as a bartender is to treat all customers with the utmost politeness and respect.” I think there’s a few bartenders out there today that should perhaps spend a little more time revising these first few pages, instead of the ratios and ingredients of the drinks found deeper within.
We need to bear in mind that if it weren’t for the patrons coming to our establishments rather than drinking at home, then none of us would even have a job. After all, they do pay our wages. No patrons means no money and no business can operate without income. And let’s face it, we are selling our drinks at a premium. A gin and tonic in a bar is around $9, I can buy a bottle of gin for $30 and drink at home. So why do people pay these rates to drink in our bars? There is the social aspect, the angle that we have the tools and ingredients to make their drink to a higher standard than they can muster, but service plays a massive part too. I will always go back time and time again to a venue that gives me warm service and a friendly smile, even if I’m just drinking beer.
I’m not saying that we must put up with obnoxious, rude or angry people. I do think there is always a way to deal with different situations, but getting antsy because somebody is taking too long to select a drink or orders something that you deem yourself too good to mix up? That is bad service. Bad manners breeds bad manners. So if somebody orders a drink that I don’t want to be making all night, I will make that drink the best I possibly can, then make a point of asking “how was your drink?” They (of course) will answer that it’s fantastic, at which point I’ll say “if you like that then you should really try this other drink”. I have their confidence and now they will drink whatever I tell them.
An early employer pulled me up one time for talking about one of the customers in the bar. He stopped me mid-sentence and said, “they are not customers, they are guests. If you think of them as customers then you will always see dollar signs. Treat them as guests and they will always come back.” This is something that I have always tried to remember. The customer may not always be right, but we must try to give the best service where possible. Let’s talk to our guests, interact with them and do everything in our power to leave them feeling that they are the most important person in our business. After all, everyone likes to go “where everybody knows your name”…
Stuart’s 5 pointers on service
- Anticipate your guests’ needs; offer them the same again when their drinks are low, or a box of matches if you see them reach for the cigarettes.
- Acknowledge them when they come to the bar; I was always taught that a guest should be acknowledged within 30 seconds of being at the bar. If it’s busy, just tell them that you will be with them in a minute.
- Be polite and friendly; talk to your guests, ask them how their day was and have some banter. Anybody can just take a drink order.
- Remember your guests’ names and drinks; everybody loves familiarity and to feel valued.
- Go the extra mile: It is one thing to meet expectations but a completely different ballgame when they are exceeded. This can be recommending drinks or, time permitting, walking them through the differences between a lowland malt and an Islay.