Food & Drink

Things Bartenders Do Wrong, According to Bartenders

Published On 04/12/2016 Published On 04/12/2016
Bored Bartender
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Just like servers and baristas, bartenders make mistakes. But instead of acting like another entitled patron and telling them how to do their very demanding jobs (which really pisses them off), we thought the only way to get real insight into the pitfalls of the profession was to ask people who are actually in the weeds. Here's a list of the most common mistakes bartenders make, straight from bartenders' fernet-loving mouths.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Shake Manhattans

"There are a lot of things that bartenders do wrong every shift, but one of the  main ones that I've noticed is shaking Manhattans. Manhattans are delicate and should always be stirred to complement the bold flavors of the rye whiskey, never shaken. Another issue is flipping the small shaker tin upside down and dropping it into the large tin to strain, instead of using the correct strainer. Not only is this technique a sign of laziness, it's also extremely unsanitary and should never, ever be used by any bartender.” -- Kris Rizzato, bar manager at Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant (San Diego, CA)
 

Follow trends instead of instincts

"I see a lot of these lists of trends/predictions in cocktails for 2016. Suddenly every bar who reads the article is now making a barrel-aged low-abv cocktail that's on tap with nitro. What I'm trying to say is, don't follow the list! Stand out from the rest of the pack. Break the rules, Instead it should be a guide of what to not do for 2016, and that's how you set the trend for 2017." -- Ran Duan, 2014 North American winner of the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender Competition, The Baldwin Bar at Sichuan Garden (Woburn, MA)
 

Take the job way too seriously

"Nowadays bartenders are too busy trying to make the perfect drink and cocktails and they are losing the connection with people at their bar. I'm from Dublin, and where I come from you have a responsibility to your patrons to make them laugh and to have a good time. A lot of bartenders are just taking themselves too seriously and that kills the energy of the bar." -- John "JOD" O’Donnell, lead at CRUSH, La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway, and La Comida (Las Vegas, NV)

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Use a straw to sample from the glass

"There can be great joy in watching a bartender carefully measure out each ingredient, fill the mixing vessel with hand-cracked ice, go into an elaborate shake or elegant stir, and artfully pour their concoction into a cold glass for me. What ruins that experience? Watching said bartender stick a straw into the glass to taste it just before serving it to me.

"Don't get me wrong, I am all for straw-tasting drinks to ensure all the ingredients are in there and that the temperature and dilution levels are on point. But tasting the drink in the glass is like watching a chef plate a dish, then check if the sauce is seasoned correctly. Whaddya gonna do if it ain't? You already frickin' plated it! Straw-taste in the tin or the mixing glass, where you can still make any minute adjustments to ensure the $15 cocktail I am getting is worth every penny. Otherwise, you're just doing it for show." -- Joaquin Simo, Pouring Ribbons (New York, NY)
 

Lose their cool

"The mistakes I see bartenders make range from improper use of a jigger to making inappropriate remarks in front of guests. Our jobs can be so demanding, stressful, and fast, but sometimes you need to slow down and think about how it looks to a guest when you are yelling at a co-worker, or making rude comments. Even made in jest, an inside joke to you might lead to an uncomfortable situation for the guest. That guest will recall that feeling when making a recommendation or a return trip, and your bar may suffer for it.  -- Abigail Gullo, Compere Lapin (New Orleans, LA)
 

Assume customers are experts

"Many bartenders out there have become hyper-focused on using modern techniques to produce esoteric ingredients that will leave the consumer's mind blown with its almost surreal level of deliciousness. The reality is that these rockstar moments of jaw-dropping amazement are few and far between, and most guests don't know anything about gin, nor do they care. Bartenders need to place greater importance on striving to create a setting and mood in which every guest feels comfortable, welcome, and will enjoy themselves no matter what they are drinking.

"Although learning modern techniques to produce delicious craft libations is important, a cocktail drinker doesn’t know anything about the process of making gin... all they know is that they like it. I always tell new bartenders to reach for Danny Meyer's Setting the Table before they reach for Dave Wondrich's Imbibe!. That way they will understand that a great, awe-inspiring drink made to suit an individual's taste buds is but a small topping when serving guests warm and sating hospitality pie." -- Justin Lavenue, 2015 North American winner of the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender Competition, The Roosevelt Room (Austin, TX)

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Act disinterested in the drink and the customer

"There are two main things I notice. Cocktail-wise, many bartenders have a problem with balance. The misconception is that an overly strong drink makes a good drink. Service-wise, attitude is paramount. If I'm sitting in front of a lazy, uninterested bartender it is terrible." -- Merlin Mitchell, Green Russell (Denver, CO)
 

Complain about tips

"One egregious sin is complaining about tips. You don't have to tip me. Ever. I know that when I walk in the door to work, I am rolling the dice. The standard of my service generally assures a good tip, but sometimes people do not tip. Which is fine. Usually when I hear a complaint about a poor tip, my response is: 'Well, then why don't you be a better bartender?'" -- Robin Ozaki, bar manager at The Hightower (Austin, TX)
 

Forget to make eye contact

"Not making eye contact with their guests would be the biggest thing I could think of. Since we are all working so hard to create a welcoming environment and a flourishing business, it is easy to forget to look up from your station during the busier times. I know that I have been guilty of trying to be a few-too-many steps ahead by surveying the floor and the rest of the bar, forgetting to simply make eye contact with the guest I am taking an order from right in front of me. That simple action is one of the most important things that we can do, no matter how busy we get." -- Nicholas Bennett, Porchlight (New York, NY)

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Go full Tom Cruise

"The biggest mistake I see bartenders make is free-pouring specialty cocktails. These are the drinks the restaurant is hanging its hat on, and you run the risk of being inconsistent if they're not measured. Bartenders can ruin a great cocktail by not being precise enough. Oh, and stop juggling bottles. This isn't 1988 and you're not Tom Cruise." -- Cory Harwell, Simon Hospitality Group (Las Vegas, NV)
 

Party too hard

"Probably the biggest mistake I see my homies making in their lives and careers is being afraid of missing out on each and every party that pops up nearly daily in my town (not to mention the national and even international affairs). There's obviously nothing wrong with cutting loose once in a while, and it can be particularly nice to do on a brand's dime, but I see way too many of my contemporaries really struggling with work-life balance and the brands just keep pumping more and more money into the market to get everyone hammered. I'm afraid we're losing sight of all the reasons we decided to take this business seriously and truly be noble custodians of the food & beverage industry. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will watch the watchers?" -- JD Elliott, The Townsend (Austin, TX)
 

Treat guests rudely

"What gets my goat is when bartenders are just rude to guests. If you can't wipe your feet and check your shit at the door, you should not be behind the bar. People have off days; bartenders don't. We are always there for the guest, without the guest we do not have jobs. Why would you bite the hand that feeds you? If you want to be a prick, go be a meter maid." -- Billy Ray, 13-Stitches (Los Angeles, CA)
 

Contaminate drinks with dirty hands

"When you count out those three 20s, a 10, a five, and three ratty-looking $1 bills to the guy leaving the bar and then take my order, I would love it if your next stop was the hand-wash sink." -- Dale "King Cocktail" DeGroff

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Dan Gentile is a staff writer at Thrillist. The thing he thinks bars do wrong is keep a sloppy tray of ill-sliced lime wedges. Follow him to symmetrical citrus at @Dannosphere.

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