How to keep your clientele engaged and coming back may be an inexact science, but the following precepts won’t steer you wrong.
• Slow Down—A bartender’s degree of professionalism is most apparent when the bar is slammed. Whether it’s that “calm under pressure” quality or their controlled, precise movements, really great bartenders are a genuine pleasure to watch. On the flip side, a bartender who loses his cool and makes guests bear the brunt of his anger is an affront.
While there is a natural tendency to rush behind the bar to keep up with rising demand, if your bartenders slowed down a few m.p.h. they’d likely make better drinks, waste less product, appear more professional and provide your guests more hospitable service. Even when people are standing at the bar waiting to order, bartenders need only smile, acknowledge them and say that they’ll be with them in a few moments. What’s the rush?
• Anticipate Guest Needs—Service excellence can be defined as anticipating a guest’s need well before they realize the need themselves. While bartending obviously involves preparing and serving drinks, it’s no more than a secondary aspect of the job. What’s important is treating guests to an evening they’ll remember and tell friends about.
• Price Fairly—Gouging people on the price of drinks is a thing of the past. Competition is such that it is better to ratchet down prices a quarter or two than squeeze them for every dollar possible. High perceived value is an essential aspect of getting quality patrons to return another night. Value is as powerful a force as gravity.
• Slam Dunk Drinks—Guests rarely return another night for lackluster cocktails. You need to offer guests drinks so intriguing that once smitten, they’ll have only one venue where they can get them. Don’t commit bad products to good liquor and hope for the best. Insistence on using only fresh, high quality ingredients in cocktails is becoming the norm, an excellent reason being that they make significantly better drinks.
• Avoid Stagnancy—There’s no room at the top for the complacent and uninspired. So, look to shake things up. Regularly change how your place looks. Move a mirror, paint a wall. Even subtle changes can make a difference in the feel of the place. Give your people a new look with new duds, which can lift morale and freshen up the establishment in the eyes of the guest.
• Adopt a Spirit—Spirits sales are soaring. Now is the time to jump on board and leverage their popularity for greater sales. Choose a spirit and become known as a great bourbon bar, tequilaria or single malt haven. Educate your staff and offer guests an interesting array of brands from which to choose. Tap into the guests’ sense of discovery and you’ll be guaranteed success.
• Be Unpredictable—What if you periodically bought guests in your restaurant their dinners? Or sent a bottle of wine to a table compliments of the management? Or bought a party a round of appetizers? Why, there’d be a massive outbreak of goodwill.
It’s difficult to overestimate the value of treating people like welcome guests. After all, who doesn’t want to go “where everybody knows your name?” It entails connecting with your guests in such a way that they feel at home at your bar, instead of being just another face among the throng. There’s nothing passé about making people feel appreciated. l
Robert Plotkin is the past president of the National Bar & Restaurant Association, author of numerous books and winner of the 2007 Cheers Raising the Bar Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Service and a friendly face matter as much as speed and mixology. When the bar is hopping, don’t forget the guest experience.