FRIDAY HAPPY HOUR: What Makes a Good Bartender

Posted: February 5, 2010 in FRIDAY HAPPY HOUR, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

What makes a good bartender?

How hard can it be? You pour drinks, you take money and you put in in the register, right?

That’s like saying “Brain surgeon? you cut into cranium, you cut out tumor, you sew the head back up. How hard can it be?”

No, good bartenders are harder to find than left overs at Oprah’s house.

Here’s what good bartenders do and don’t do:

1. No matter how busy the place is they get you a drink within minutes.

2. If the place is empty they engage you in conversation, if you want it. They don’t talk a lot in these cases but they pay attention to you.

3. They know that the TV is to be on sports or the news only. If the joint was empty and they were watching a movie they switch it when you sit down.

4. They handle drunks, loud mouths and trouble makers quickly and elegantly in ways that go almost unnoticed. A guy gets a little loud and drops and F-Bomb, they get a look, then they get a whisper and then they get told to leave.

5. They know how to break up a fight efficiently. They don’t hurdle the bar and start slamming people around. Like a hockey ref, they wait for their opportunity, intervene and get the fighters out the door. It’s all about getting them out the door.

6. They stay out of conversations they aren’t involved in. If they are in the conversation they can get as involved as they want, as long as no one has to wait for a drink. They don’t intrude.

7. When the phone rings they don’t say anyone is there. They say they’ll look. If you’re there but don’t want others to know, the bartender says “I haven’t seen ’em.”

8. They don’t spin bottles and juggle glasses. They have a complete economy of motion and don’t look hurried.

9. They tip you off when the food isn’t good. “Stay away from the turkey salad.” “The wings look small this week.” or “i didn’t care for the chili myself.” Trust what they say. They eat there.

10. They don’t primp. Their hygiene is good and they’re presentable. Over concern about hair, too much attention to fashion, trendy looks, slick approaches to female customers are out. If they want to do that on their free time, fine. But this isn’t a stage to score chicks.

There’s far too much serious work to be done.

  1. Jen Forbus says:

    Holy Wow! That was a heck of a shot at Oprah! And I have some questions because obviously I don’t get around to enough bars after reading this.

    First and foremost – what if the tender’s a woman? This post seems a bit sexist…

    And sports or news only? no wonder I don’t frequent the bars…if you want to deprive me of my BONES, NCIS or PSYCH, I’m outta there.

    No spinning bottles or juggling glasses? Damn, what a let-down. That is sexy.

    When was the last time you asked for turkey salad, wings OR chili?

  2. B. Noonan says:

    But I LOVE hair gel and spinning bottles is the only way I’ll ever become Tom Cruise from Cocktail.

    Cocktails and dreams, Tom, cocktails and dreams.

  3. Pasquale Palumbo says:

    Based on your criteria, for my money, the two best bartenders from the time I was in Albany were Rob Tolliver and Mike Graney.

  4. Just a Girl says:

    i obviously do not spend enough time in a bar..i MAYBE got to one five times a year….BUT there is a place in san francisco called Philz Coffee. You step up to the bar, order your type of bean. They grind it fresh – pour a single cup there in front of you and make it up to order much like a bar tender – i wish they had a bar stool and a place to sit and chat with the barista…i think it would be a big hit too…The smell of Philzs is intoxicating and amazing. They remember your name, what you drink and whats going on in your life. Of course I am pretty sure that MOST of the guys there are gay…but they do fit your criteria above pretty damn well.

    • tjs9261 says:

      not quite a Schlitz drinking joint, huh?

      • Just a Girl says:

        no but the coffee is amazing – of course it costs 5 bucks for a cup of coffee (10 if you want the jamican blue mountain)…but coffee is my Schlitz since I no longer drink…of course when i DID drink – i was a german beer girl – thick, dark and rich – something that requires a fork…

  5. Paula Matter says:

    Good job, Tom. If I may…

    1. If not a few minutes, at least acknowledge the customer: “Hi, I’ll be right with you!”
    2. Yep.
    3. Once I had a full bar and one TV. “Paula, we want to watch the race.” “But, Paula, the game’s on in a few minutes.” I turned off the damned TV. Didn’t lose a single customer.
    4. My customers knew my look. Most times all I had to do was say their name.
    5. Out the door and off the property.
    6. Spot on.
    7. That’s lying and may come back to bite you in the ass. My customers knew I wouldn’t lie. I got around that by turning my back to them, answer the phone and truthfully say, “I don’t see him.”
    8. Yep.
    9. A very discreet head shake will do it too.
    10. Okay.

    • tjs9261 says:

      Ahhh…a true pro in our midst…

      BTW–nice addition to #7…

      • shawn in miami says:

        lying..well sorry babe..but that is lying with a bit more effort…and sillyness added..

        literal words strung in a sentence with an appearance of truth…. is still a “lie”..

        a) u could be honest and say … “hey buy a cell phone for your friend”

        b) say “to be honest, they are here, but i do not want to “lie” to you…

        c) say its busy and they should stop by…

        either way …. your other points had merit but since you critiqued him on that aspect…(which means u guys clearly work in small local bars)..

        who the hell calls people at a social popular Bar…..? sounds a bit 80s to me ..;)O

        if u feel better “lying” in a comedic dramatic fashion instead of owning your words tied down to their intent..

        be a comedian 😉

  6. Pasquale Palumbo says:

    I’m gonna have a lot of trouble with your f-bomb rule. Although as far as I know, I’ve never been 86’d from a bar, and I’m pretty foul-mouthed.

    • tjs9261 says:

      An oversight for years, my friend. And a reflection of wear you used to hang.

      • Pasquale Palumbo says:

        Well, my crew and I have the run of our local watering hole whenever we get together, and we usually get pretty blue. No one seems to care and management has never complained or chastised us. It’s a fine Irish Pub, too.

      • tjs9261 says:

        The crew…I’m scared.

        Pasquale has a “crew” in Westchester.

        Never ask a man about his work.

      • Pasquale Palumbo says:

        Nothing to sweat about–it’s multi-ethnic. But we are all ex-football players. Anyway, as agreed before, next time you’re in Westchester, I’ll take you there. You’ll like it.

  7. shawn in miami says:


    guys, swearing does not matter..and it is more important to do it when others want to control u with their “offense”

    heck, i could be offended that we have multiple war fronts going on, have robbed the nations with banking and credit fraud, have made the global community fat with “globesity”

    but i find people offended by cussing… (cursing, swear words) only a trite (jeje) bit better than people offended for people who may be offended…

    curse words are simply words… and what about the cuss words in other languages…

    so, i can come to your bar.. and cuss in spanish, and portuguese, and french?

    do not be so culturally bound in your bartending advice…

    curse words, are simply a silly pre ocupation by “US” americans…

    luckily i lived 8 years in europe and few months in argentina…

    and im from west va !

    the point it… it is simple ethnocentrism to focus on f bomb…

    i mean u cant even write it!

    when you try to enter the gates of heaven, and God says…”get the F** in….” are u going to self righteously walk urself to hell..


    just screwing with u..taking the piss..(or F*ing with u)

    but…cussing means nothing…watch the south park episode it..its funny…

    if u feel u are proof texting ur life from the bible ..old test was in hebrew, new in greek..

    so simply steer from the greek and hebrew cuss words and u should do fine while emborrachando the masses..

  8. Sprada says:


    […]FRIDAY HAPPY HOUR: What Makes a Good Bartender « Tom Schreck[…]…

  9. tjs9261 says:

    Excellent points! Thanks for chiming in…

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