8 Things Every Bartender Should Know

Some people might believe that a bartender’s job is simple: pour a beer or squeeze a lime or let Tyler Durden fight in your basement. But it’s actually a demanding role that requires a serious skill set and a damn good ability to make small talk.

To lift the lid on what every bartender needs to know, we spoke to Patrick Williams, beverage director at Punch Bowl Social, a boozy bowling/entertainment center that's opening its fifth location -- this one in Cleveland -- this Summer. And it turns out that if you aren’t Fight Club’s Irvin, you’re going to need the people skills of a politician to step behind the bar.

bartender bartending
Flickr/Nathan Meijer

The bar is basically a stage

"As soon as you step behind the bar, all eyes are on you. Even people in the booths or people just passing by are interested in who's behind the bar: 'What're they feeling? What're they working on?' That can be at a cocktail bar or a dive bar. 

"It's about how you carry yourself. It's about knowing that everything [you do] is watched. It's about your facial expressions, the energy you're giving off. Your personality. Obviously things like cell phone use or eating behind the bar or picking your nose, they're all definitely taboo. But understand that you're being watched, so fold that into your movement and attitude."

The job is all about the customer

"You have a job because people want to come and sit at your bar; they want to drink. Your livelihood is based on your guest. Understand that simple fact about bartending, and all these other points will make sense. You're there for every guest in the establishment, and especially every guest at the bar."

Taking care of the guests is a huge responsibility

"Alcohol service is something that should be taken seriously. [Good bartenders are always paying attention to] how much guests are drinking, how quickly they're drinking it, what's in their drinks, how strong the drinks are, if they're eating or not."

bartender cutting ice
Andy Kryza/Thrillist

There's always something to do behind the bar

"Taking care of your guests is first. But cleaning the bar is something that always has to be happening. Organizing the bar. Stocking the bar. Getting set up for the next thing that's happening is huge. Bartenders that are standing around twiddling their thumbs, or leaning on the bartop, or on their phones, or whatever -- they're not doing their job. There's not one bar in the world that's ever finished. Continually clean and stock and organize your bar so it's better and better."

You never have just one task to do at a time

"You always need to do two to three things at a time, and you always need to know what's next to do. That can be at a high-volume time when you've got five guests in front of you and you've gotta remember what order they came to the bar.

"Or, let's say you're working at a cocktail bar and you've got three fancy cocktails to make. You've gotta get your glassware, your ingredients, and all your tools ready. You need to grab things, work with two hands. If you see a bartender working with one hand, they're not bartending efficiently. You always have to be moving with purpose and multitasking, and that's something that takes time. Moving behind a bar doesn't come overnight -- there's a kind of rhythm, a flow."

Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Counting is the rhythm of the job

The pour
"When you're picking up a spirit bottle and you're pouring it into a glass, that's going to have a certain pour speed based on what sort of pour spout you have and what kind of spirit it is. You definitely need to know how to count so you can be consistent on your pour. Some people say a three-count, some people say a four-count."

The cash
"Cash handling is huge behind the bar. You take a drink order of four or five drinks, and, at a busy time, you can't go back to the register and get those prices and run back. You need to be quick with your counting and math to be a good bartender."

The customers' drinks
"You need to be able to count how many drinks people have. When Barney and Rita are sitting there and they've had six or seven beers, it might be time to slow the pace down."

people at a bar
Dan Morris/Thrillist

Different customers require different service

"Your business lunch guys are drinking Arnold Palmers in ties and sitting at the bar. They want to get in and get out. Get the food in and get those guys out of there. The older couple having a drink wants to talk your ear off -- they want to know what you're doing, why you bartend. You've got girls in front of you who want to flirt and have fun. You've got a couple of buddies who just want to watch the game and talk sports.

"Basically, you have to adapt your bartending style for who you're taking care of."

It's the best job in the world

"Bartenders should enjoy their jobs. We're talking spirits, beer and wine, cocktails, and sports. There's a certain kind of demeanor that bartenders get afforded that other people don't. We get to curse and tell [guests] dirty jokes and talk about sex, and all these things that people in other fields don't really get to. Even in service, if you're working on tables, it's a different feeling. You don't have that shared communal feeling you have between a bartender and a guest at a bar."

Lee Breslouer is a senior editor for Thrillist and thinks his job is the best in the world. Follow him to more truisms: @LeeBreslouer.