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How to Sharpen Your Skills Behind the Bar

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Bartending has swiftly become a legitimate career path in ways unknown before the 21st century. Not only have many bartenders become bar operators, the opportunities to become trainers, instructors, brand ambassadors and company representatives have multiplied, especially as spirit brands look to them to make their wares stand out.

But those jobs are built on a bedrock of skills, not just in drink creation but in the entirety of hospitality.

1. Itís the hospitality, stupid.

Successful bartenders are those who master not only catering to the cocktail-mad consumer base who have helped bring quality beverages to the forefront, but on the attitudes and approach that make any customer want to return over and over again. Glaring across the bar while a customer asks what vodkas are served might get one high marks from the cool kids, but itís a grudging attitude that will suppress sales at a time when there are no longer only a few options for customers looking for a great place to enjoy a beverage.

2. Keep it simple.

The broad knowledge many of todayís bartenders have about drink history is great, but most customers are only slightly interested in who made the first Negroni or why Martinis are better stirred rather than shaken. Nobody wants a lecture at the bar. What they want is at best a side order of information with their perfectly made cocktail, and of course attentive but unobtrusive service.

3. Beer and wine matter.

Great bartenders understand that sometimes a good beer is all thatís needed. Being proficient on beer trends is just as important today as spirit knowledge for a good bartender. And with so many countries sending unknown varietals of wines from undiscovered regions to the US, having a basic grasp on whatís trending in the vinous world and why can only help a bartender do his or her job. Knowing why Prosecco costs more than Cava, or why some wines do better as aperitifs than others, establishes a broader ability to manage customers and inventory.

4. Make the bar work.

Itís harder to engage with customers today when at most bars people are busy texting, swiping, and otherwise interacting with their phones rather than with the other customers in the bar. But thereís still something to be said for bartender as orchestrator, someone who greets the newbie and draws them out, introduces people around, makes connections, and otherwise treats the bar as his or her nightly party, one people like returning to for the sense that somethingís always happening. Screens large (TV) and small (cell phones) make it harder, but without some personal effort, bars become interchangeable.

5. Sharing is caring.

Inevitably, good bartenders are seen by staff as a source of knowledge and even wisdom. Helping transform them into better servers via some casual education is not only good karma, it provides an opportunity to discover how best to educate interested parties, something that is essential if a career as a brand rep or corporate trainer appeals. Bartenders are notorious know-it-alls, so why not take that seriously and share all of their knowledge?