21 Essential Bartender Training Ideas and Resources
By: AJ Beltis
Aug 17, 2018
There are more than 600,000 bartenders in this country alone, and in a workforce that large, there's a clear line that sets the stellar bartenders above the rest.
This is why bartender training is essential to turn those aspiring mixologists into genuine hospitality professionals.
Whether you're a bar manager looking to strengthen your team's skills or if you're a bartender looking to bulk up your resume, check out this exhaustive list of bartender training ideas and resources to step up your game behind the bar.
Training to learn and improve your skillset is a given for any role, but don't overlook the importance of training for the workplace with an employee handbookfor your bar, nightclub, or restaurant.
Most bar managers are quick to jump to teach the technical aspects of bartending to new hires, but they're not thinking of the bigger picture. The best way to keep quality bartenders around is to communicate expectations about their role and responsibilities in the restaurant clearly with a restaurant handbook.
This is where you can cover staff policies and procedures like:
Professionalism in the workplace.
Calling out and requesting time off.
How to handle conflict.
Your bar's anti-harassment policies.
2. Get Certified
While some might suggest going to full-fledged bartender school, certifications and courses are a lighter lift way for bartenders to be considered legitimate and reputable in the bartending world.
Here are the three most popular bartending certification courses:
These certifications are often legally required to tend bar; in areas where they are not, some bars still take the initiative to mandate all hires have at least one bartending certification before they hit the floor.
3. Start With Jiggers
A jigger is a double-sided measuring device bartenders use to cut out the guess work with regard to pour count; the jigger dispenses a perfect 1.5 oz or 1 oz pour, depending on which side the bartender uses.
The jigger is to a bartender as training wheels are to a four-year-old; unlike training wheels, jiggers aren't exclusively for newbs.
They are a huge help in controlling your bar's inventory management by preventing over-pouring – especially on a hectic Friday night when one too many free pours can really eat into your bottom line.
Jiggers are also useful for veteran bartenders who are new at your bar and learning the proper ratios for each of the cocktails on your menu. If you make your Long Island differently than the bar down the street, make sure the new hire uses that jigger instead of reverting to the way they made one at their old place.
4. Host In-House Tasting Classes and History Lessons
Think of the most renowned bars in the world. Chances are, they offer classes and lessons in-house about the history of certain beverages, as well as tasting classes where bartenders can speak knowledgeably about their craft and make accurate recommendations for their patrons.
Bars that offer the chance for employees to enrich their understanding about their job are investing in their employees and their business in a way many bars do not. Take the initiative to offer one of these classes to your staff, and if you're an employee rather than an employer, ask your boss if he or she would be willing to try the idea out.
5. Train for Health & Safety
Bartending can be a dirty and dangerous job, and the last thing you want is for a bartender or a patron to get sick or injured.
Make sure your bartenders know the health and safety best practices, and keep an eye out for common health mistakes like:
Scooping ice with a glass.
Touching the rim of a guest's glass.
Using dirty towels or reusing glasses.
Show new hires the ropes with a mentor, buddy, or shadow program between them and a veteran bartender whom you trust.
In Toast's 2018 Restaurant Success Report, it was found that 48% of restaurants that did not grow profits last year do not offer a shadow/mentor program, while 58% of restaurants that did grow profit offered server or bartender training through a mentor program.
7. Train Free Pouring Skills
Some bars prefer to have their staff free pour, believing that having jiggers visible to guests gives off the wrong impression about the bar staff's knowledge and expertise.
That's still not an excuse for over-pouring or waste, so if your bar allows free pours from bartenders, train for perfect and accurate free pours.
The most common method for accurate free pouring is the counting method. For those unfamiliar with this method, see it in action below:
8. Read a Book
No, I'm not talking about instruction manuals – I'm talking about actual books.
Dive into what the experts who have mastered the craft have to say about bartending – they'll be able to offer bartender training ideas that you may never have thought of.
Hold your staff accountable. Make sure they really want to advance their careers with monthly assessments or on-the-spot common knowledge questions.
Keep in mind, you should never try to stump your staff but do pay attention to how second-nature their responses are. Making these exams common practice in your bar will open your eyes to who's ready for that next step in his or her career.
10. Be Able to Carry
If your bartender is getting out from behind the bar and delivering drinks to tables, make sure they're capable of lifting, carrying, and balancing a tray full of drinks. Otherwise, things could get messy.
11. Food & Drink Pairing Lessons
A step up from the drink history lessons is pairing drinks with food. If your bar is also a restaurant, consider teaching bartenders how to suggest foods with certain dishes.
Send your bartenders to these resources to get started:
14. Know the Location of Liquors and Proper Glasses
It should go without saying, but one of the most crucial components of a well-trained bar staff is that they know their way around the bar. However, it's included on this list because every bar is different, so new hires should always be trained and quizzed about every alcohol's location behind the bar.
An extension of this is knowing which glasses to pair with which drinks. Bartender training for new hires should include explicit rules as to which glasses are used for which cocktails and beers. While an average bar may use a pint glass for any beer, a craft beer bar would scoff at that idea, so clarify in training.
15. Listen to Bar Podcasts
Listening to bartender training tips, bartending stories, and even hysterical bar-related rants is a way to keep the bartender mentality going after clocking out for the night. Some of the most recognized bar podcasts include:
Additionally, check out the bar episodes of The Garnish Podcast, including interviews with Jon Gillespie and award-winning bartender Sam Treadway (below).
16. Know When to Cut Someone Off
Over-serving can lead to a mess inside of or outside of your bar, plus potential for violence, DUIs, or even death.
Sloppy patrons make your bar lose its class in the eyes of some, but they are also a huge legal liability. Brush up on your state's Dram Shop Laws to see if your bar could be held liable for over-serving.
Whether or not your bar can be held liable, bartenders should be trained on your bar's policy for when to cut a patron off, how to handle the situation, and what to do if the situation escalates.
17. Continue Education
There is no shortage of bartending courses, schools, and classes. The challenge is finding out which ones are actually effective bar training programs and thus worth the time.
DrinkSkool is a nine-part online course for bartender education, that covers the basics all the way to advanced mixology. The free program was developed by BAR, an "independent organization whose mission is to propagate the healthy and responsible use of beverage alcohol products through innovative and comprehensive training programs and seminars." Check out one of their videos below.
Working at a highly curated bar might require more advanced courses. Keep in mind, these usually cost money, but to go from good bartender to great, they may be worth the investment.
The Spirit Merchant lays out five of the best courses for advanced bartender training in this post.
18. Don't Forget the Basics of Customer Interaction
The importance of soft skill training in a bar cannot be overstated, as bartenders will spend the majority – if not all – of their shift in front of patrons.
Instilling hospitality best practices – including carrying a conversation, greeting someone properly, and ensuring an outstanding dining experience – is a process that should never be overlooked in training
For example, make sure bartenders know to say "I'll be with you in a moment" rather than ignoring them – no matter how busy it gets. This is an essential skill to employ especially when multi-tasking, which takes all bartenders as victims at least once a shift.
Building off of soft skills, bartenders should have a few drinks ready to recommend when a patron walks in.
The suggestion could be that bartender's favorite or you could have them suggest your best-selling or most-profitable drink (which you've determined with certainty through menu engineering). One better: have your bartenders suggest a top-grossing drink, but market it to guests as one of their favorites as it personalizes the experience for the guest.
20. Join the United States Bartenders' Guild
Surround yourself with a network of like-minded and successful bartenders by joining the United States Bartenders' Guid. The USBG exists to "empower bartenders to take charge of their careers" and is currently in 50 cities.
If there's no USBG chapter near you, see if there's a local group or network of bartenders to join.
Connecting with these groups gives bartenders ample networking opportunities, events, and chances to make friends in their local bartending community.
21. Instill Financial Literacy
Speaking of empowering your bartenders, consider training your bartenders on more than just pouring drinks and entertaining bar chats.
There's an entire program around training your staff to be more financially-literate and business-savvy called open book management.As the name suggests, the process involves opening up the financial books of the business to all employees so they understand the impact of their role in the grand scheme of finance and operations.
Launching this program in your restaurant – either by yourself or with the help of a company like Rethink Restaurants – shows your bartenders you're eager to invest in them and train them to do more than just tend bar
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