The bartender you hire can bring success to your restaurant or bar.
He or she also has the power to drive your business to the ground.
Hiring the right bartender is very important. Yet it is not easy.
In this guide, you are going to learn everything about how to hire a bartender, their roles, what to offer them in return, as well as the characteristics of a good bartender.
- 1 Roles
- 2 What Makes a Good Bartender?
- 3 Where to Find Candidates?
- 4 Interview
- 5 Offer
- 6 Share Your Experience
Bartenders’ roles go beyond preparing and mixing drinks for guests.
Before doing anything else, you need to first identify the roles that you need the bartender to perform.
This helps to determine the number of bartenders to hire and whether you need to hire a bar-back.
Prepare and Mix Drinks for Guests
You probably know this already. Bartenders prepare drinks for guests.
They serve the drinks themselves if the guests are seated at the bar. Else, they will need help from a server or waiter on your team.
In most restaurants and bars, the bartender is responsible for the preparation of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
They also need to ensure there is as little wastage as possible during the preparation process.
Interact with Guests at the Bar
Bartenders need to have a friendly and outgoing character because the job requires a lot of interaction with guests.
This includes initiating conversations with guests sitting at the bar and making sure that they are having a good time.
Different bartenders may have their own unique tricks to mesmerize guests.
Some bartenders go the extra mile by entertaining guests with eye-catching alcohol mixing techniques.
The others might be very good in helping customers pick a drink, or pair a drink they ordered with a certain food item on your menu.
Maintain Bar Supplies and Equipment
Beer towers, bottle openers and cocktail shakers are some of the bar supplies and equipment used by a bartender frequently.
After all the action is over, bartenders need to clean them up and store them properly for the next day.
Keep Track of Inventory
Some bar owners rely on their bartender to maintain their inventory of beer and liquor.
The reason is obvious. A bartender is the person using the inventory items, and they are taking orders from guests daily.
They should know which beer or liquor are in high demand and which of them are slow-moving.
Having this knowledge helps them decide when to restock and when to do a special for slow-moving items.
However, to ensure there is an oversight on usage and possible wastage, you might want to assign this role to a different person.
Brainstorm and Create Drink Specials
Bartenders whose remuneration package includes sales commission will need to think of ways to boost drinks sales.
One of them is to come up with drink specials or promotions.
These specials can be in line with occasions worth celebrating, happy hours, or they can be catered towards a category of customers.
Experienced bartenders will know what drinks to include in these promotions.
The factors to consider before making a decision always include the following:
- Customer demographics
- Customer demand
- Slow moving inventory items
- Profit margin (commission) for each item
What Makes a Good Bartender?
What are the traits to look for when you are interviewing a bartender?
We are going to answer the question in this section.
Keeping these pointers in mind will help you to separate good candidates from the bad ones.
As a result, you will be inching yourself closer to employing a good bartender.
Techniques and Knowledge
Bartenders must have comprehensive knowledge about drinks and their composition.
There are at least 50 drink recipes out there that people will order.
A good bartender does not need to have the experience of making all of them, but he or she should know of their existence and composition.
At the very least, they should know how to prepare the drinks listed on your menu.
Aside from the knowledge, a bartender needs to know all the basic mixing techniques, when to apply them and how.
These basic mixing techniques include:
Bartenders must also be able to prepare their drinks quickly while maintaining high accuracy.
The latter is very important. Diluted drinks may anger customers while pouring too much alcohol into a drink results in wastage.
Honesty and Trustworthiness
Just like what you would look for when you are hiring an accountant, a good bartender needs to be honest and trustworthy.
These characters are important because bartenders are often tasked with the following:
- Collecting cash from customers and putting them into the till.
- Doing the paperwork for daily cash collections.
- Clearing the tills and depositing them at the bank after business hours.
- Opening bottles of liquor and accounting for them in the point-of-sale (POS) system.
As you can see, a dishonest bartender can easily siphon off cash or intentionally overpour alcohol without your knowledge.
You can have all the security measures such as installing a closed-circuit television security monitoring system, but having a dishonest employee is like keeping a time bomb.
You will never know when he or she will find a loophole to exploit for personal benefits.
The best bartenders listen to their customers and try to build rapport with them.
Ask any bar patrons, and they will tell you this is one of the reasons why they will return.
A good bartender do not initiate a conversation the moment someone sits at the bar. Instead, he or she will spend time observing the person’s mood and body language.
If the person seems to prefer having some alone time, the bartender will just leave him or her alone. On the other hand, if it seems like the customer wants to have some attention or someone to talk to, the bartender will move in to lend an ear.
Bartenders who are also good listeners have the ability to remember customer names and the significant conversations that he or she had with them.
Jon Taffer, a bar consultant and host of the Bar Rescue show, said the following in a Q & A he did with Ali Trachta for L.A. Weekly:
If my employees do what they’re supposed to do, they’ll walk in and say wow that’s a really cool tie, those are killer shoes. My people are trained to look at what makes you feel good, and then mention it.
You know you have a bartender who is a good listener when customers return just because he or she is working the shift.
Bartenders need to know how to sell, and become very good at it.
As the owner, you should reward your bartenders by incorporating commissions into their remuneration package if they have this ability.
When a customer orders a drink, a bartender can recommend something that is slightly more expensive, or let him or her know about the latest specials.
If your restaurant has a full dining menu, the bartender needs to know the dishes in the menu. Also, he or she should hand it to customers when they take their seat at the bar.
Knowing the content of your menu allows the bartender to pair dishes with drinks, and many guests will appreciate such recommendations.
Nevertheless, any form of selling or upselling should not be too pushy.
Active and Healthy Lifestyle
One may think that a bartender should be drinking, smoking or even take drugs to mingle with their customers well.
Yet, capable bartenders do quite the contrary. They try to stay healthy and they will usually have an active lifestyle.
Apart from the lower likelihood of not showing up at work, staying healthy grants bartenders the strength to cope with work stress as well as to perform at their best.
Handles Stress Well
Bartending can become stressful during busy hours or when there is an extended shift.
Having to deal with drunk, rude or demanding customers can also elevate stress and fatigue levels.
Your bartender must learn to cope with high levels of stress. Having a positive attitude, a solution-focused mindset, and being able to stay cool when a problem arises will help.
Cleanliness and Personal Hygiene
Just like anybody who is working in the hospitality industry, bartenders need to be sensitive about cleanliness and personal hygiene.
Their uniform must be clean and tidy at all times. Their hair needs to be neat and and nails properly-clipped. When they are working, they need to wash their hands before switching from one task to another.
Aside from themselves, bartenders must also make sure their bar, glassware and other accessories are always clean and spotless.
Where to Find Candidates?
Although many individuals claim that they are good at mixing drinks, it is not easy to find a good bartender.
You need to look for them at the right places. Continue reading and we will point out where these places are.
Existing Staffs / Team Members
You might have a staff or a crew member who is ready to become your next bartender.
No, this is not surprising at all.
Talented individuals who are passionate about the restaurant industry will pick up relevant skills at their own expense to stay competitive.
These skills include serving, cooking, bartending and others that are relevant to the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Existing staffs already know your operations, team members, and the menu inside out. A new bartender will take weeks, if not months, to pick up and adapt to all these.
Best of all, if there is a person’s name that comes to your mind as you are reading this, that person probably has your trust.
For the team member, becoming a bartender presents an opportunity for career advancement.
He or she will be so excited to accept the role. The increase in responsibilities and challenges will allow him or her to learn so much more.
Word of Mouth
Do you have close friends who are also from the restaurant industry?
Let them know you are looking for a good bartender. Words will spread.
Your employees should also know that you are planning to hire a bartender. They may have friends to recommend.
Word of mouth is a great way to get high quality candidates because nobody will want to associate their name with a poor candidate.
Recruitment Websites / Classifieds
Recruitment websites and classifieds has become a popular destination for jobseekers and employers in recent years.
Some of them can deliver a lot of applicants, but it takes time to filter through them.
To get applicants from classifieds and recruitment websites that fit your criterias, write a job ad that:
- Spells out the roles and responsibilities expected clearly.
- Describes the personality of your ideal bartender and skills required.
- Includes a summary of the remuneration package and benefits you can offer.
There are also recruitment websites that only cater to the restaurant industry.
Posting an ad on these websites often requires a fee, but they tend to deliver higher quality applicants. Try them out if you need a good bartender urgently.
If you are based in the United States (US), you can start with the following websites:
Once you have a list of shortlisted candidates, call them up to schedule for an interview.
Now, let’s look at the right questions to ask and the tests to give when interviewing a candidate.
Questions to Ask
Take a pen and paper with you to every interview session.
Jot down the answers given by each of the candidate. When the interviews are over, you can compare the answers given by each candidate using the notes.
The following are questions you need to ask during the interviews:
Can you describe your previous job and your roles over there?
This question gives you a quick idea on whether the place where the candidate worked at previously is similar to yours.
A bartender who is used to working at a nightclub might find working at a fine dining restaurant’s service bar boring.
Make sure the question leads to the bartender’s experience in mixology. Ask about the cocktail that he or she has the most confidence in preparing.
Find out what are the most ordered drinks at his or her previous workplace. They say a lot about the type of drinks that the bartender is good at preparing.
How do you tell if a guest drank too much? How would you deal with a drunk customer?
These two questions will show you how much ‘situations’ that the bartender has dealt with in the past.
Some candidates may kill the fun by going into crisis control mode too soon while some may go in a little too late, when things has already gone way out of hand.
The answer for these questions may come from experience or what a candidate learned from his or her alcohol training program.
Bartenders featured in Ask a Bartender: How Do You Cut Someone Off? share their tips on handling drunk customers. Most of the tips circle around the following points:
- Stay calm, be professional and avoid confrontation.
- Tell the customer’s friends about it and let them advise the customer to stop drinking.
- Delay the time it takes for you to serve the customer with more alcohol.
- Serve the guest with a lot of water or non-alcoholic drinks, either directly or indirectly.
- Do not embarrass the guest.
How do you handle a packed bar during peak hours?
This is an important question if you run an established bar or restaurant with a lot of patrons during peak hours.
It will reveal how a bartender cope with multiple incoming orders at once without compromising the quality of drinks that he or she is preparing.
Look for a calm answer or even better, a solid description of a method that the candidate uses to manage customer orders during peak hours.
Is the answer convincing? Will it work for your bar or restaurant?
If the candidate is answering anxiously or in a nervous tone, he or she may not have a good way to handle a crowded bar.
How would you handle an angry customer?
Although similar, dealing with an irate customer at a bar or a restaurant is much more difficult than handling an angry customer over the phone, especially when the customer is intoxicated.
In general, a bartender should always calm the customer down as soon as possible with help from the team.
Again, there is no correct answer. Look for an answer that you are comfortable with.
How would you deal with a problem you have with another staff?
Any misunderstanding between team members or a bad feeling towards another person on the team causes frictions.
These frictions will then lead to low productivity, unnecessary stress, and they almost always have an adverse impact on operations as well as customer service.
Look for an answer that portrays the candidate as a solution-driven individual. The way he or she deals with the problem should be in line with the culture of your business.
You may get an uncertain answer if the candidate has not been involved in any serious interpersonal issues at work, and they are clueless about handling such conflicts.
Ask open-ended questions that are a little personal.
Personal and open-ended questions open candidates up and make them share more about themselves.
Here are some open questions you can ask a candidate:
- When did you realize you like bartending?
- If you were not a bartender, what would you be?
- What is the worst thing your previous employer might say about you?
- What do you love most about bartending?
- How would you describe a bartender’s worst nightmare?
There are no right answers to the questions above. Their purpose is to help you understand how the candidate is like as a person.
From there, you can tell how well he or she can work with you and other team members.
Do you have any alcohol training certification?
Both of them teach bartenders, bar-backs, servers, waiters and alcohol sellers to recognize potential alcohol-related problems and interfere before alcohol-related tragedies happen.
Hiring a bartender with either of these certifications reduces the risks of alcohol-related tragedies happening at your establishments.
Some insurance companies make it compulsory for alcohol sellers to have an employee with certified alcohol training in order to become their customer.
There are also insurers that offer a discount on premiums if you have an employee who has undergone certified alcohol training.
Insurance companies favor these certifications because they can be used to form a “reasonable effort defense” in court.
What is your personal schedule and routine like?
Many bartenders have a few jobs to make ends meet. Embrace this and try to be understanding.
Ask candidates what their schedule is like on a typical day and how they commute to work.
First of all, this will help to align the expectation of both parties.
It will also allow you to gauge whether his or her availability is sufficient to carry out the roles that you need help with.
Secondly, a bartender needs to stay alert to deliver the best service to customers.
You simply cannot afford to have an exhausted bartender who may lose his or her concentration anytime while preparing drinks and servicing customers.
The best bartenders are the ones who have years of experience under their belt.
As you may have noticed from the list of roles above, tending a bar requires a lot of practical skills. One cannot master them by attending courses or reading books.
There are many mixology and bartending schools cropping up all over the world as of late.
They may give a good introduction to bartending, but do not expect graduates to be at par as experienced bartenders because the former lacks hands-on experience.
Recent graduates from these schools are best placed in a bar-back position to learn from an experienced bartender. Alternatively, you can let them stand in during off-peak hours.
Just like every other job interview, some candidates will have the ability to impress you so much that you feel like hiring them on the spot.
A bartender is a key hire for the front of your bar or restaurant. Do not hire one without asking for references or testimonials.
A reliable testimonial is one that comes from a previous employer, an ex-colleague or a fellow member of an association related to the restaurant or bartending industry like the National Restaurant Association or the Nightlife Association.
Call up the individuals behind the testimonials, and ask for their thoughts about the candidate. Of course, you must obtain the candidate’s permission before doing so.
Can They Fit In?
In many restaurants and bars, the bartender is the center of your customer-facing staffs.
He or she must have the ability to work coherently with the entire team.
To evaluate this, you can get a couple of members from your team to join the interview.
They are there to observe the candidate, ask questions and provide their feedback to you after the interview.
More often than not, your team members will have better foresight on how well a candidate will blend into the team.
Tests are optional. Some restaurant or bar owners keep them for the second interview.
There are a couple of tests you can give to a candidate. They will reveal if the candidate has the prerequisites to become an outstanding bartender.
Repeat your order.
Good bartenders take orders with minimal mistakes. You need excellent memory power to do that.
Here are the steps for the test:
- Prepare an order of 6 to 8 drinks with occasional special requests such as “on the rocks”, “make it dirty” and other similar requests.
- Ask the candidate to repeat your order.
- Time the test.
- Observe whether the candidate has a method to memorize your order.
- Count how many orders did he or she get correctly.
This test is important because you want your future bartender to have the ability to memorize customer orders correctly, especially during busy hours.
Calculate my bill.
This test is less important today because most bill calculations are performed by point-of-sale (POS) systems.
However, a bartender who is good at math will be faster at billing customers and performing inventory counts.
Here are the steps for this test:
- After the test above, hand the candidate your price list.
- Ask how much will he or she charge for what you have ordered.
- Time the test.
- Find out if the candidate is able to give a correct answer.
The next thing to worry about once you found your ideal bartender is to come up with a job offer.
How can you make sure your offer is irresistible?
The following data are taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics under the United States Department of Labor.
According to Occupational Employment and Wages in May 2014 for Bartenders, the median hourly wage for a bartender is $9.16 including tips while the median annual wage is $19,050.
The salary you offer a candidate needs to be around the industry median wage. Of course, the rate varies from one industry to another.
The majority of bartenders are hired by restaurants. These bartenders earn a median hourly wage of $11.26 including tips. Their median annual wage stands at $23,410.
On the other hand, bartenders working in alcoholic drinking places such as bars and pubs, earn a median hourly wage of $10.13 including tips. Their median annual wage stands at $21,070.
Bartenders who are working for travelers accommodation like hotels get paid the most. Their median hourly wage is $13.44 including tips while their median annual wage stands at $27,950.
You stand an advantage if you run one of the few popular bars or restaurants in a town where tipping is part of the culture.
The bartenders in these towns know that a large part of their earnings will come from tips.
Leverage this advantage if you have it. Impress the candidate by sharing how many customers do you serve per day on average.
That’s it. You should be able to start looking for a bartender after reading this guide.
Do you have questions on how to hire a bartender?
Feel free to post them in the comment section below.
Are you a restaurant or bar owner who has the experience of hiring a bartender?
You can share your experience in the comment section too. I am sure other restaurant and bar owners will find it interesting.