By Kevin Brownlee
“Everyone in the Swiss Army owns a Swiss Army Knife. That’s why no one messes with Switzerland.”
Now this may seem like a silly, nonsensical statement from one of my most favourite television characters of all time, Cliff Clavin, of Cheers, but it’s truly just an example of the language that I strive to establish with each of my guests over the course of every shift I work behind the bar.
It may only take one glass of wine for the sassy older lady that comes around; or several cocktails for the man who decided to bring in his wife this time, and is out with her on their first date since having their second child; perhaps it’s on a third visit, after two bottles of Barolo, in combination with your witty contribution to the meaningful and intelligent dialogue that the dry, sarcastic couple whom you have come to enjoy are having – but what we’re constantly trying to establish in our industry are qualitative relationships.
Naturally, we’ll find that we love some much more than others, which is only human nature, and there are going to be days that are harder to put the charming hat on– but that’s just it – the theory behind this article is to do just that. Make your bar the place to be, and often, and take pride in the ability – the opportunity – to wear that hat, every shift.
Ensuring that the first impression is as good as the next is what keeps people coming back.
Consistency is key from one seat to the next. There is a broad spectrum of circumstance, and behavioral traits among them, plus all the cues to pick up on with every guest, but each individual should be given the same opportunity to establish that special relationship. Time is fleeting and very finite, especially on a busy bar, which is why it is all the more important to create as much enjoyment in your guest interactions as possible.
This ensures two things: One, it conserves your energy, which you’re going to need for a long night of service. Two, it lightens the atmosphere and helps both your staff and the guests they’re serving relax.
It should never be a chore to serve someone. If it is, you’re in the wrong business. Every individual we have the chance of meeting, in and away from work, provides us with an insightful opportunity to learn. It could be the intriguing social dynamic between you and your guest, your new recipe and drink you get to make for them, information you’ve never heard before, news from across the city, a tall tale, a perspective gained. The possibilities are endless. People are so unique, and I find that simplicity will always win their confidence, because it’s in the attention to detail that we are truly able to make our mark.
Get to know your guests on a first name basis. Immediately. Even if you forget, you’re confidently inviting them in to an environment that is welcoming and warm. Shake hands. Bump fists. However you choose to greet someone show them how much you appreciate that they have taken the time to come through that front door and spend their time with you.
Let’s say for example, that this is the second time you have a guest come in and you recall how much that guest loved his perfect Manhattan, which you served to him on the rocks, using the last two ounces of a single barrel bourbon you really loved. He’s back because of that drink and the time you took to make it for him, and what made it so special for you. Seems effortless, right? Perhaps you can even recall that he cut his food holding a knife in his left hand, and so, you set his cutlery the way he would hardly expect you to. Boom. Mind blown.
When time permits, one thing I love to do during service is to step out from behind the bar and walk cocktails over tables for a little more interaction with guests that aren’t with me at the bar. This frees up the server to focus on other tables while I am able to enjoy a few moments with the people who ordered these specific drinks. I would say that 90% of the time people are surprised to see the bartender coming over with their drinks, and that last 10% are happy to have me chat to them about it. It’s in those moments, just before they’re leaving, when one of their party pop by the bar to say thank you for their drink, that the seamlessness in time with which it took me to wander over for a brief chat, comes back ten fold and brings a smile to my face.
Don’t be afraid to tell your guests about your life, if they’re interested. When they are, you might find that they’ll remain loyal to you because you’ve made them feel like they belong in your life, in some small capacity. Remain honest, in all that you do. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. Crack a joke from time to time and chime in on conversation, when it’s appropriate.
People like to be known, and more importantly, want to be remembered and while what we put in the their glass and what kitchens cook to put on their plates are both equally important elements of the experience, what remains paramount to the longevity of any successful business is the relationship that we help to create and foster with the people that support us in what we do.
What should always remain consistent on your bar is the quality of care that you deliver with every drink you make, and guest you serve, because when your guests do come back, just remember that it’s because of you and the passion you have for all things in spirit.