Service With a Smile

archive photo courtesy Ken Wang, Creative Commons
archive photo courtesy Ken Wang, Creative Commons

It's not always easy to provide service with a smile, especially when the day has been long and you're in the weeds. Sometimes we have one of those days where all of the small annoyances just keep adding up or we have that one rude customer that puts us in a bad mood. It can be a little hard to distance ourselves from getting bogged down by negative thoughts and feelings. After all, until we've been replaced by robotic drinks dispensers in every bar, we're all a little human. We tend to get somewhat emotional from time to time. My motto when I catch myself getting a little moody is "Choose your attitude" and it really works. Because it is a choice, you can either let things get to you or you can brush it off and put the issues aside to deal with at a more appropriate time.

The key is to remember that you love what you do (most of the time!)

When someone comes to the bar you should always remember that they are a guest rather than a customer. The reason I say "guest" is because the word "customer" takes all of the hospitality out of it. You're more likely to go above and beyond to make someone feel special if you greet and serve them as you would in your own home. After all that's what the industry is all about or should be about. It's not just creating drinks and making money; it's about creating great experiences for the patrons of your bar. Here are some top tips to help you stay on top of your game whether it's five deep at the stick or an easy Sunday afternoon.

1: Acknowledgement goes a long way.

Every bar has a point in the night where everyone seems to appear from nowhere at the same time, and if speed of service is affected by this then it can be difficult for some people to be patient if they think you have no idea they're even there. At this point customers may start vying for your attention. The easiest way to avoid this is to let everyone know where you are in your service. It can be anything from a simple nod and eye contact to actually saying "I'm just finishing up this round and then I'll be straight with you" with a smile. Once people are reassured that they're not being ignored then they'll relax into the atmosphere of the bar.

2: Practice building rounds.

This is almost a follow up point to the last as I mentioned speed of service. This is where you need to know your bar inside and out. Where is the expensive wine kept? Are you making the drinks two or three at a time or standing there pouring a pint with a hand going spare? Practice pouring as fast as you can whilst also ensuring that the order in which you do things serves a purpose.

For example, I have an order for two large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, a pint of lager, a bottle of Diet Coke, a Last Word and a Margarita no salt. First thing I do is place beverage napkins on the service tray. Then I grab two shakers and line each ingredient of each cocktail on the bar next to the shaker it's going into. When I've poured that ingredient I put it back on the shelf as this helps me remember what I've put in the tin. I start making the cocktails using the least expensive ingredients first. This reduces the risk of accidents and if an accident does occur then it will only be lime juice and simple syrup that I've wasted. Both cocktail recipes call for a shot of fresh lime juice in them, so I do both at the same time then add simple syrup in the Margarita. Next I add the spirits and set the shakers aside. Now I set a glass top down under the beer tap, place a pint glass on that and pull the tap on. I remove a bottle of SB out of the fridge and pour into the 250ml jigger whilst grabbing two glasses from the shelf with the other. I turn around and flick off the beer tap whilst the pint is only 3/4 full. I finish pouring the wine and put the bottle back. I open the Coke and place it on the tray with the wine. Next I fill my shakers with ice and double shake. I snap off the top tins and quickly rinse them and place them back whilst grabbing two coupes from the fridge. I place a cherry in one of the coupes and proceed to pour both cocktails at the same time by attaching the Hawthorne strainer to the top and securing the fine strainers at the sides with my thumbs. I put the shakers to rinse in the sink whilst grabbing a glass for the Coke and topping up the pint. I put ice, a lime wedge and a straw in the glass with the Coke and set the final drinks on the tray. This round takes me no longer than 3 minutes and each drink is made in that order for a reason. The cocktails are the fussiest to make so it helps to set those up first, then comes the pint which I stop before it's full. If it's filled now it will be flat by the time you've finished the rest of the order. At the same time as that's pouring, do the wine. Most commercial fridges keep wine colder than its recommended temp. This is a good thing because when you put those on the tray first they warm by a degree or two and are at perfect temperature when they reach the customer. Next on the tray is the bottled Coke. Due to the shape of the bottle it will retain its effervescence until poured. Next shake and pour the cocktails. Cocktails deteriorate really quickly when they warm or if the ice melts so they should always be one of the last things to go on the tray. Then very last do the ice for the Coke so it isn't a glass of water when the guest receives it.

And I did all of this whilst cleaning up after myself, making it easier to fly into the next round. For busier shifts, make sure that you're fully prepped and maybe even implement a cheater system in which some drinks can be made extremely quickly since they been batched up beforehand.

3: If there is a problem with a customer's experience, apologise sincerely.

Cloud City, by Josh Powell
Cloud City, by Josh Powell

It may not be your personal fault but you should always apologise. What you shouldn't do is point fingers because it's unprofessional. An apology in this environment isn't you admitting blame but it's important the customer knows that you care. If you don't care, then you're in the wrong job. Sometimes it's hard not to take things personally when a customer is upset, but it's much better and easier to attempt to rectify the situation. Most customers will be happy with an apology and a free drink/dessert/coffee and most bars allow their staff to offer this. If there is nothing you feel that you can personally do then grab the manager. Management are there for a reason, trained to be able to deal with complaints and have the authority to compensate the customer in whichever way they feel is appropriate.

4: Get to know your customers and talk to them.

Treat your customers as if they were friends and get to know them as such. People are far more likely to be loyal to a bar or restaurant if the staff are happy to see them. If you recognise someone as having been in before say "hello again". People like that you pay attention to them. When you get to know patrons they'll put their trust in you. From here you can make drinks recommendations and educate them on good spirits, cocktails, beers and wine. Some people even drink the same thing every time. A good bartender/customer relationship is when they don't even need to ask.

5: Have fun!

Add to the atmosphere by enjoying yourself! Be happy and enthusiastic and have positive interactions with colleagues to keep morale up. Make the environment one that not the customers, but you enjoy being in. People like knowing that you like coming to work every day just as they enjoy coming to the bar. Happiness is infectious and if you can be happy and fun in a way that doesn't affect your service then it will spread and everyone will revel in it.

Editor's note: for more happy bartender related insights, please read Pamela Wizniter's Reasons Why I Love Bartending.