We all have our thresholds. Rankle our sensibilities, render lousy service and any one of us is capable of going ballistic. There are unwritten conventions governing professional bar conduct. You know most of them intuitively. Then why is it that so many bartenders consistently break these seemingly straightforward rules? And why do so many of those bar jockeys wait on me?
A bartender’s degree of professionalism is most apparent when the bar is slammed. Whether it’s that certain “calm under fire” quality or their precise bursts of movement, really great bartenders are a genuine pleasure to watch. On the flip side, a bartender who loses his cool, making guests bear the brunt of his anger is like a cold hard slap. People get kicked around plenty in their day-to-day lives without being subjected to it during “happy hour.”
Murphy’s Law — people get the worst service on those days when they can least afford it emotionally.
One such breach of convention is failing to acknowledge that customers exist. When people sit down at a bar, they will typically extend the bartender a grace period before he sidles over to take their order. Miss the grace period and he’ll nearly have to kill them with hospitality to overcome the snub. If a bartender is temporarily too busy to wait on guests, that grace period can be easily extended with a smile and an “I’ll be right with you.”
Another convention suggests that asking if a customer would like another drink when the person’s glass is still half-full (or empty) is pushy, and waiting until he is spinning the glass upside down on a length of sip sticks is inattentive. The most considerate time to ask is when the guest’s drink is about a quarter full.
Likewise, few things are more disturbing to gin & tonic drinkers than bartenders who drop lime wedges into a drink without first squeezing the juice out of them. Fishing a lime wedge out of a drink is low on most people’s list of fun things to do in public. The same holds true for Martini enthusiasts and lemon twists, so named because they are meant to be twisted – an action that expresses the lemon’s essential oils and fragrance into the cocktail.
Tacky, too, is a bartender who is conspicuous when counting his tips. Gratuities are a private matter between two people–the customer and bartender–played out in a public setting. Counting tips at the bar is indiscreet.
But perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe the tenets of great service aren’t intuitive; maybe they have to be learned like everything else. So what commandments should make the list? Here’s my take on it.
* SCATTERED PRIORITIES — Working a high-volume bar requires taking care of first things first; waiting on bar customers before washing glasses, or preparing drink orders for food servers before finishing a conversation with a regular. Prioritizing tasks according to their highest and best use of time is essential to rendering great service.
* PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT — While it’s natural to prefer serving some people, it’s a fundamental mistake to act upon those sentiments. Treating certain customers like second-class citizens is not part of the job description. Your attitude and demeanor can betray how you feel as clearly as inattentive service.
* FIXATING ON GRATUITIES — Making a decent living behind a bar is best achieved through rendering prompt, competent service. Concentrating on tips during a shift diverts your concentration from the job at hand. Take care of your guests and the tips will take care of themselves.
* IMPROVED SHORT-TERM MEMORY — People appreciate being referred to by their name. Whether it’s early on, or just before he or she departs, make a point of getting a guest’s name, work to remember it, and then use it. While people appreciate bartenders remembering their names, they fully expect bartenders to remember what they’re drinking.
* WARM SMILE AND FRIENDLY ATTITUDE — Gracious hospitality is the cornerstone of our business. Welcome people into your business as you would welcome guests into your home. There’s little difference. Hardware stores wait on customers. In this business we serve guests.
* ACCOMMODATE THE NEEDS OF ALL GUESTS — Conventional wisdom suggests that you should never say “no” to a customer. Within reason, all requests should be fulfilled, regardless of the degree of hassle. People appreciate being catered to; it’s at the core of being hospitable.
* TAKE THE LEAD — Guests will nearly always heed menu recommendations and suggestions on what to drink. But get rid of the canned delivery. Offer suggestions like you were giving guests insider information; they’ll love the personal attention. And don’t be reticent to ask your guests questions. The more you know about your guests” preferences, the better service you can render.
* ANTICIPATING GUESTS’ NEEDS — Service excellence can be defined as anticipating a guest”s need well before they realize the need themselves. Refill water glasses and replenish breadbaskets without being asked. Likewise, many cocktails should be served with a back of water. So after you serve a Martini or Scotch, neat, return moments later with a glass of water. It’s a classy thing to do.
* COOPERATING FULLY WITH FELLOW EMPLOYEES — Providing timely assistance to a fellow employee improves the
positive working environment and leads to a higher standard of service. That entails a cooperative effort, people helping each other to accomplish the stated objective, even when there may be no direct financial compensation pending. Teamwork will inevitably bail you out in a time of need. As you know, the better the service, the better the tip. Prima donnas should pick another trade.
* BE ENTERTAINING — Humor is the great equalizer and something that nearly everyone appreciates. If you can make someone smile, it may prove to be the best thing that happens to that
person that whole day.
ROBERT PLOTKIN is the past president of the National Bar & Restaurant Association and author of numerous books including Successful Beverage Management — Proven Strategies for the On-Premise Operator. He can be reached at BarMedia, 1-800-421-7179, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
THE COUNTRY COCKTAILIAN
RAISING THE DEAD
In which our man finds a new libation for Lazarus.
BY GARY REGAN
Quite a few students from Cocktails in the Country keep in touch with me after taking the course, and although the program is just entering its fourth year, I can say that I’ve trained people who now work at bars in bowling alleys, airports, malls, and in some of the hottest restaurants in the country. One of my first students, for instance, just got a gig behind the bar at Masa, the new Japanese restaurant on New York’s Columbus Circle where the lunch minimum is $175 per person, and that doesn’t include tax, tip, or drinks. I’ll try to visit him one of these days, but . . .
Another of my past students, a certain Steve Gilberg, taught me something about a Corpse Reviver that really opened my eyes to a whole range of possibilities when it comes to playing around with cocktail ingredients. What’s a Corpse Reviver? You might well ask.
Actually there’s more than one Corpse Reviver; it’s a whole category of drinks with only one thing in common – they’re all pretty high in alcohol. Corpse Revivers are what we might call Eye-Openers today. Or Hair of the Dog that Bit You, perhaps. They are drinks designed to take the edge off a hangover.
It used to be quite common, prior to the onset of Prohibition in 1920, for bars to open early in the morning. Albert Stevens Crockett, author of The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, indicated that the bar there opened at 8 o’clock in the morning, and went on to say, “As soon as the first bartender appeared in the morning, before even arranging the multitude of glasses of various sizes and shapes on the high stand that took up the central part of the rectangle [behind the bar], he must satisfy the demands of at least half a dozen accumulated patrons, either for breakfast appetizers, or for something to take away what was left of the jag of the night before.” What fun, huh?
Although these drinks date back to the nineteenth century, my favorite formulas for Corpse Revivers can be found in the 1930’s, in The Savoy Cocktail Book, a collection pulled together by Harry Craddock, head bartender at London’s Savoy Hotel at the time. Craddock was an American who plied his craft on the other side of the pond while leaving his fellow countrymen to suffer that greatest of indignities, Prohibition.
Two recipes for Corpse Revivers appear in Craddock’s tome, the first made with two parts brandy, and one part each apple brandy and sweet vermouth. Underneath the recipe Craddock noted, “To be taken before 11 a.m., or whenever steam and energy are needed.”
Craddock’s second hangover cure is a little more complicated, calling for equal parts gin, Cointreau, Lillet, and lemon juice, with just a dash of absinthe. And if that didn’t do the trick, I’m not sure what I’d prescribe next. The book advises that, “Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”
When Steve Gilberg walked behind the stick at Cocktails in the Country, I asked him to pour small samples of Hennessy Cognac, Laird’s Applejack, and Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth, the ingredients needed to make Craddock’s Corpse Reviver No. 1. He tasted each one, passing the glasses on so that everyone could dip a straw to capture a few drops and taste for themselves.
“Now use all three ingredients to make us a cocktail, Steve,” I asked him. He was a little nervous, but after a moment’s hesitation he swung into action and, using twice as much applejack as cognac or vermouth, he put together an incredibly wonderful drink. He’d just felt his way through it.
The somewhat obvious lesson I learned from Steve Gilberg that day was that if two spirits compliment each other, it’s okay to play around with
the ratios you use in the recipe – the drinks will taste different from one another, but you can still retain balance and harmony.
Regina Rose, my trusty assistant at class, had missed Steve’s performance behind the bar, returning from the kitchen where she’d been squeezing the juice from a few extra lemons just seconds after he’d returned to his barstool.
“You missed a wonderful Corpse Reviver,” I told her.
“No I didn’t,” she smiled. “My new fancy-man started work here as a line cook today – he’s been reviving my corpse while I was juicing the fruit, so to speak.”
Cocktails in the Country Corpse Reviver No. 3
1 1/2 ounces Laird’s Applejack
3/4 ounce Hennessy Cognac
3/4 ounce Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth
Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice and add the ingredients. Stir for approximately 30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Apply to attend Cocktails in the Country by visiting www.ardentspirits.com, and clicking on “Classes and Events.” Mention Cheers magazine in your application and receive a free signed copy of Gary Regan’s latest book, The Joy of Mixology, if you’re accepted into the program.
ALLIED DOMECQ — SUCCESS THROUGH INNOVATION
BY SIMON HUNT, MARKETING DIRECTOR, ALLIED DOMECQ SPIRITS
Just about anyone who has worked with Allied Domecq has heard us talk about being “First Choice.” In fact, for the past two years, the Company’s vision has been to be “the First Choice supplier, trademarks and employer in the hearts and minds of our customers, consumers and employees” a tall order we strive to achieve every single working day. As the new senior vice president of marketing for Allied Domecq Spirits, North America, I am particularly interested in the idea of having the “First Choice Trademarks.” One of the ways you do this is through innovation.
Innovation can be achieved in two ways: developing completely new brands, or extending existing ones. At Allied Domecq, we have been focused on the latter, building upon the consumer awareness and loyalty to brands such as Kahlua, Stolichnaya, Beefeater, and now, MALIBU.
The MALIBU brand was ripe for innovation. Having established itself as the top-selling flavored rum worldwide with MALIBU Coconut, it seemed natural to introduce new flavors to match the increasing consumer and trade demand for new, interesting taste profiles. Just in time for summer, we’re excited to introduce MALIBU Mango and MALIBU Pineapple. The new MALIBU flavors, along with popular Coconut, are the perfect way to enjoy a day at the beach or kick-start a night on the town.
For those looking for some added spice to their summer, Allied Domecq’s other rum innovation, Kuya™ Fusion Rum, might be just the ticket. Combining, or “fusing,” a unique blend of citrus and spice together, Kuya makes the perfect accompaniment to cola and even gives a refreshing twist to traditional cocktail favorites like the mojito and pina colada.
Another popular choice this time of the year is thirst-quenching gin. Beefeater, the original London Dry Gin, has introduced the perfect summer-time refresher with WET by Beefeater™. Infused with the essence of pear, WET by Beefeater is a lighter, more mixable gin that adds a surprising twist to the traditional gin and tonic.
With summer upon us, Allied Domecq has several new spirits to help make this season truly memorable for you and your customers. And we’re hard at work developing even more products, because we believe innovation is the key to building successful and profitable trademarks. So stay tuned for exciting brand news from us in the future.
(For more information on Allied Domecq products, please contact your local sales representative or call 1-866-467-8654.)
BY PEG WALLACE
Though long the home of wine sippers, micro-brews and tourists sipping Irish Coffees at the Buena Vista, San Francisco has developed a bit of an exotic sweet tooth. And while Chocolate Martinis may be on drink menus everywhere, San Francisco bars have taken the sweet cocktails a step further, by putting an organic, and exotic, spin on things.
Aziza, the city’s hippest Moroccan restaurant located in the Richmond District, is not only famous for its California-influenced Moroccan cuisine, but also for an eclectic twist on classic cocktails.
The drinks at Aziza are designed to compliment the exotic fare. Take the Orange Blossom Martini, which blends Grey Goose L’Orange, Blonde Lillet and orange blossom water for a drink that is bright and crisp, with a hint of sweetness. The Ginger and Pear Martini combines pear-infused gin with fresh ginger muddled with Frangelico and simple syrup. Just the right flavors to balance Middle Eastern spices and ingredients such as almonds, dates, olives and preserved lemons.
For those languidly enjoying Sunday brunch at Aziza, the Morocco Mary is a blend of organic tomato juice, fresh-squeezed lime juice, vodka and harissa, a Tunisian-style hot sauce made with hot chiles, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway and olive oil–not a beverage you’ll likely find on other drink menus. The wine list is also off the beaten California-heavy path, with selections from Alsace, Spain, Germany and Lebanon, and listed on the menu under categories such as “spicy racy,” “robust lavish,” and “crisp dry.”
LYCHEES AND MANGOES
In famed Union Square, Ian Schrager’s Redwood Room at the legendary Clift Hotel, offers a variety of tantalizing Martini-style drinks, like the Lychee-tini. Although Schrager (of Studio 54 fame) is known for hotels that are cutting-edge, the Redwood Room’s chic yet swanky décor is reminiscent of times gone by, with rich redwood walls and plasma screen televisions showcasing digital art. The art depicts faces of sophisticated people eerily peering over the crowd, and then suddenly moving. The clientele is as sophisticated as the drinks, with visiting celebs gracing the bar and locals trying to inconspicuously peer over their drinks to spot them.
In the flamboyant Castro district, where the stressed-out bankers, smartly dressed neighborhood locals and Banana Republic-clad types congregate post-work to blow off steam, Martuni’s on Valencia Street is a hip after-work hang out. The casually dressed clientele cluster around low-lit tables and listen to the pianist crooning a different style of music every night, while sipping drinks such as the Wet Collins, a pear-infused version of the Tom Collins.
While Chocolate Martinis still grace the drink menu, the crowd tends to lean toward more serious drinks, such as Metropolitans and the classic Martini. But be careful–the bartenders pour generously and Joseph the pianist allows patrons to sing along with him, which after a few of their famous Martinis can seem like a compelling idea. Best known may be the Mango Melon Martini, a blend of vodka, Midori and mango nectar.
Andalu in the Mission District is not just a hipster hangout riding the tapas craze, but a sleekly designed bar and restaurant with inventive fare and a generous and creative wine list. General manager Craig Demko has also put together one of the best wine lists in town and is usually on hand to recommend wine pairings with a customer”s meal. His friendly demeanor takes the pressure off guests trying to navigate the list. Popular are curly polenta fries with flights of wine, and more than 70 wines are sold by the glass. Sokol Blosser’s Evolution is a favorite.
With sidewalk and outdoor dining nearly year-round thanks to heat lamps, San Francisco offers not only cocktails al fresco and whimsical new creations, but also bars and restaurants that suit any mood.