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3 Tips for Hiring a Talented Bartender

By TryCake

Good bartenders can be hard to find, especially considering the amount of responsibility they have. They should be one of your most versatile staff members, meaning you need a new hire who’s ready to be put to the test. Hiring a bartender may take more time than filling other positions, but it’s essential to find someone who meets your needs or is willing to learn. With these bartender interview tips, you’ll be able to discern the promising candidates from the rest.

The Importance of Hiring a Good Bartender

Bartenders typically have a lot of responsibilities, behind the counter and beyond. They’re an essential asset to your business and should be as versatile as possible. You need to know you’re hiring someone you can rely on to make well-balanced drinks and who has the versatility to take on other roles in your restaurant.

People often underestimate the many duties a bartender has, reducing their position just to mixing drinks and taking money. While that may be their primary focus and what customers see, they’re far more involved than that. Typical responsibilities of bartenders can include:

  • Maintaining a friendly attitude and keeping guests happy.
  • Understanding and enforcing beverage laws. Such as checking for valid identification and pacing peoples’ intake.
  • Handling sensitive situations, including removing customers from the bar if they start acting unmannerly.
  • Memorizing and executing the recipes for mixed cocktails accurately and pouring tap beer and wine correctly.
  • Checking the inventory and ordering new supplies as necessary.
  • Keeping the bar clean throughout service hours and after closing.
  • Creating a drink menu that will appeal to your customers and refreshing it to remain exciting.
  • Work accurately and efficiently in high-pressure situations and busy environments.
  • Managing the bar area as well as other bar staff.
  • Considering and executing jobs that aren’t behind the bar.

Restaurants need to remember that bartenders generally expect to do a multitude of jobs while serving as the establishment’s mixologist.

Hiring a great bartender increases your opportunities to sell high-profit drinks. As long as you have talented staff behind the bar, mixed drinks will sell for significantly more than they cost to make. And the more exciting and varied your drink menu is, the more guests will order from it. A knowledgeable and experienced bartender will know how to create and serve specialty drinks that suit your establishment’s theme and customer base.

They should know the classics but should also be able to bring specialty drinks into the mix. If customers can get every drink you serve at another bar or restaurant, then you need to improve your menu offerings. A good bartender can create signature cocktails, as they should be well-versed in mixology and understand what flavors mix well. Specialty drinks can attract more traffic and revenue — especially if they’re photo-worthy.

Additionally, good bartenders are friendly with your guests. They should be able to make strangers feel comfortable, engage in cheerful conversation, and sound genuine. Some customers will return to specific bars for their favorite bartenders, so striking up relationships can be profitable in the long run. If your bartender is outgoing, their attitude will likely draw in the friendlier guests.

Whatever kind of operation you run, having the right bartender will help your business in many ways. To hire a good bartender, you’ll need to understand what signs to look for and how to go about the interviewing process.

1. Look for the Traits of a Good Bartender

When you’re considering bartending candidates, look for some characteristics that are essential to being a reliable bartender. While some traits are also critical for general staff, many are specific to bartending. The bar staff will have different responsibilities and interactions with guests.

Some of the characteristics of a good bartender include:

  • Listening skills: Whether it’s a drink order or friendly conversation, your bartender needs to be attentive and listen to the guests. They need to know what’s happening around the bar at all times. Customers will be trying to get their attention, and staff will need to place orders, so they constantly need to shift their attention. Bartenders may also have to deal with the sensitive issue of overly-intoxicated guests while keeping the rest of their guests happy. A good bartender can listen to customers while performing the rest of their job flawlessly, meaning that attentive mode needs to be almost second nature.
  • Outgoing personality: While personality factors into every restaurant job, bartenders have the most overlap with hospitality positions. Their jobs are very dependent on their dispositions, as no guest wants to interact with a standoffish or withdrawn bartender, especially if they’ve come for friendly conversation. Bartenders with an outgoing personality can draw in new guests and keep them coming around. Also, they’ll have an easier time selling specialty drinks and nudging guests to try something new. Having a confident person behind the bar can often convince customers to spend more or break out of the box.
  • Trustworthiness: You need to be able to trust your bartender since they will handle large amounts of alcohol and be responsible for pacing customers. It’s not unheard of for bartenders to give free shots to friends or pour a stronger drink than your serving measurements dictate. Ultimately, both of those are stealing, as they reduce the amount of potential profit. You need to know you can trust your bartender to be honest. They will also have to deal with stressful situations, such as rude or overly intoxicated guests. They should be able to handle the situation with grace or have established enough trust with you and the other staff where they can ask for help.
  • Upselling talent: Bartenders can make more money by upselling. But, they have to know how to do it correctly, without being abrasive or even direct about it. Many upselling methods are more about engaging the customer than anything else. Some of the best ways to upsell are by asking about a guest’s favorite liquor or whether they prefer sweet or bitter drinks. By engaging with the customer, your bartender can recommend something new based on guests’ tastes and encourage experimenting. If your guests discover a new favorite drink, they’re more likely to return or remember the experience. When guests order, your bartender should ask what brand of liquor they want in their drink and list the premium spirits first. Each tactic takes time to learn, so it’s essential your new hire already has real-world experience with it. Otherwise, they could come off as brash or pushy.
  • Prior experience: In an interview, a common question is regarding previous experience in the industry. For bartenders, this is no exception. You need to know how much experience they have and from where, including detailed accounts of how busy their nights were on average and what kinds of stressful situations they had to navigate. Avoid hiring a bartender fresh out of school with no experience with customers, especially if your busy nights bring in a lot of people.
  • Multitasking ability: Because bartenders have multiple responsibilities, they need to multitask without struggling. They’ll need to open and close tabs, exchange money, take orders from guests and servers, mix and serve drinks, keep the bar top clean, and engage in attentive conversation with customers. It can be overwhelming, but a natural multitasker should be able to handle even the busiest of nights.
  • Flexible schedule: Bars are busiest during the evenings and weekends. Since these are your high traffic hours, you’ll need a bartender who can work nights and weekends. If they want weekends off, then bartending might not be the right career for them.
  • Technical knowledge: Before ever stepping behind a bar, all bartenders should have a base knowledge about alcohol, liquors, and spirits. Including what qualifies as premium quality liquor, whether to stir or shake a drink, which spirits pair well with which mixers, and even how to properly pour wine or serve draft beer. Bartenders should also know their drink list by memory and have tasted every item. Otherwise, they can’t give accurate recommendations.
  • Legal practice: One crucial element of hiring a new bartender is knowing they understand and will abide by the law. They need to be diligent in checking each guest’s identification and ensuring the customers drink responsibly. Mistakes could result in legal troubles, which are bad for business.

The more qualities of a good bartender your candidates possess, the better. With the right attitude, experience, and knowledge, your bartender should flourish without much supervision. Regardless of their character, though, you should still observe the way they work in their early weeks and see if they’re a good fit.

2. Ask Candidates Relevant Bartender Interview Questions

Interviews are typically very telling of a candidate’s character and abilities. However, you have to ask the right questions if you expect to get the answers you need. Some of the top questions to ask a bartender in an interview process are:

  • How do you tell if someone has had too much to drink? Being able to identify when a customer needs to be cut off for their safety and the safety of your other guests is a crucial skill. Your bartender should be able to prevent any incidents wherever possible.
  • How do you handle intoxicated customers? If customers do become overly inebriated, your bartender should have a plan of action. In some cases, drunk guests will make the other people at the bar feel uncomfortable, and removal may be necessary.
  • How do you handle a busy bar? Your bartender should know how to deal with a rush and so should you. Their reply will be telling as to how much experience they’ve had on busy nights.
  • How do you deal with an unhappy customer? Sometimes, regardless of your bartender’s or other staff members’ service, customers will become disgruntled. Offering to remediate the circumstances and being polite, even if the customer is rude, is the right way to go. Ask about their experiences dealing with unhappy customers.
  • What do you do if you have a problem with another staff member? As hard as you may try to hire compatible staff members, it’s not a guarantee that everyone will get along. A story of having dealt with a prior issue with a coworker can show your candidate’s level of maturity and may foreshadow how they’ll fit into your team.
  • Which safety certifications do you have? While this is a more fundamental question, you need to know whether your candidate has the proper certifications for the state. Additionally, it’s a great sign if they’ve gone above and beyond to earn more certifications than the required minimum.
  • Have you had the opportunity to run a full bar or only a service bar? While experience in a service bar does count for their ability to make drinks, it doesn’t hold the same weight as having the experience of working at a full bar. Many factors are missing, like the fast pace and pressure, need for conversational skills, forced multitasking, and other skills that make a bartender great.
  • What was the working environment like in your previous bartending position? Pay attention to how your candidate describes their prior working experience and job position. Complaining can indicate their character. If they cite rough patches as valuable lessons or learning experiences, it shows they are ready to tackle problems and can handle situations with a positive outlook.
  • Perform a simple order test. Once you’ve gotten through questions, we recommend that you perform a short order test to see how your candidate thinks on the fly. The test can be as simple as repeating an order back or identifying the ingredients of popular cocktails from memory. If you give them an order test, be sure to include at least seven items. You need to see how they perform when the bar is at its busiest. Also add in a few special orders, such as no-ice or coffee drinks. Customers won’t always want the simple, familiar items. Throwing candidates a curveball in the test gives them more realistic circumstances.

By asking relevant questions, you can get a good idea of your candidate’s experience, ability levels, how they work in groups, and their general characteristics. Remember that while each bartender interview is important, you should try to keep it as light as possible to get an accurate picture.

3. Prepare Questions for Your Candidate’s References

As important as it is to interview every candidate, it’s just as important to talk to their references. Sometimes, prior employers will give you a better idea of how your potential hires work under pressure or collaboratively than they can themselves. If the candidate doesn’t provide previous employers as references, it’s either a sign of inexperience or a red flag. At the minimum, you should ask references these questions:

  • Did the candidate work alongside other bartenders and servers? If so, how did they get along? While you can guess at how a prospective bartender might get along with the rest of your staff, the best insight might be how they’ve worked with others in the past.
  • Did the bartender bring in friends or have returning regulars? You need to know whether your bartender is going to bring in new customers or keep the regulars coming back. By inviting friends, they’re bringing more excitement and attention to the bar, which can attract others as well. Those who can encourage a busy bar are good for business.
  • Did they adhere to health codes and keep a clean bar? Cleanliness is essential to running a full bar successfully. Since customers can see the crafting process, you have to make sure the bartender cleans as they go, rather than leaving dirty shakers and glasses all over. They also should be responsible for cleaning up after their shift and making sure everything is ready for the next day. An unclean bar can deter customers from returning.
  • What did an average Friday and Monday night look like? Friday might be the busiest night at a bar, while Monday is generally the opposite. By asking for an account of the two ends of the spectrum, the reference contact can tell you how the candidate performs under pressure and in slow periods. They should be focused and collected in rushes, but more attentive and upselling during quieter nights.

References are invaluable sources of information when it comes to hiring a new bartender. They can give you accurate insight into the way a candidate behaves and whether they abide by the rules and regulations. If a reference has only shining reviews to give, it can help you trust the potential hire. On the other hand, if they have negative things to say, they may help you avoid future problems.

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