Kitchen Confidential: Serve people, not drinks, says an award-winning bar manager

Our anonymous man behind the bar says customers care more about the experience than obscure drinks
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Kitchen confidential

Spoiler alert: I promise you that not a single person drinking in your bar actually cares in the slightest if you can name the five regions of Mexico that are legally allowed to produce tequila, or that you know how many grape varieties there are in Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape.

Of course I'm not saying that knowledge isn't important, but somewhere along the way the over-education on brands, production methods, and obscure cocktail history is replacing relationship and people skills. (Don't worry, I'll save my rant on moustaches, pine forest beard oils, and bar spoon/jigger tattoos for another day.)

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We need to remember that we're serving people, not drinks. Nobody goes to a bar for education, they go for a good time. Menus should be written for customers, not yourself or your peers. Sure, save 5% of your cocktail list for the fernet and chartreuse nonsense that bartenders pretend to like, but the rest needs to be super simple and accessible to the people paying our wages. Give them an idea what the drink is going to taste like and how it will look and guess what - the chances will vastly increase that they will love their drink, probably order a few more rounds, enjoy their evening, and tell a few of their friends. Happy days! Throw into that mix a bartender with a smile who can talk their guests through the menu in that same super simple and accessible way, grabbing some reference points on taste preference whilst avoiding banging on about how many botanicals the gin has or that it's a twist on a 'Death in the Afternoon', then basically it's job done!

(On that note, I beg of you all; stop reviving cocktails that were left to die. They were left to die for a reason. Nobody liked them and nobody ordered them. You're making them for yourself, not your customers. Grasshoppers excepted, obvs.)

Don't be offended if your guest spends 10 minutes reading the full menu you spent months lovingly and laboriously creating then orders a mojito anyway. The chances are that nothing on your menu tastes as good as a mojito anyway. That's why it's a classic. Just say 'always a great choice!' and make them the best mojito they've ever had. (If you don't like making mojitos, you're probably in the wrong game, and if your palate doesn't recognise that rum, lime, mint & sugar is probably the best combination of flavours that anybody has ever put in a glass, again you're probably in the wrong game.)

I say this not to offend or to take anybody down a peg or two, but to remind us that we're not our own customers. 'The industry' probably makes up maximum 5% of your bar revenue. I've been fortunate enough to have experienced some of the best bars in the world, and can honestly say that in a few of my favourites I genuinely can't remember what I drank. I remember the atmosphere, the staff, the service, the experience. I can fully enjoy an average drink in a bar with great atmosphere, great music, great lighting, and great service, but give me the best drink in the world in a bar which has focused solely on what's inside the glass and not outside the glass, and I'll struggle.

The bartender is the least important person in the room, so lower the lights, turn up the music and focus on what's happening outside the glass and not what's inside. Trust me, it's better out there.

If you have an opinion about the F&B industry you want to share anonymously with Caterer Middle East, email simon.ritchie@itp.com

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