Seven Hacks Every Bartender Needs to Know
Bartender is a position of both power and vulnerability. You run the show. You keep the spirits flowing. You keep the regulars happy and make the newbies feel welcome and maybe a little special.
But when the line outside stretches for half a block, they’re five deep at the bar, people keep shoving credit cards at you to pay for their beer, and someone wants to know the story behind the solid copper mugs used to make Moscow Mules, it’s easy to lose perspective, to stop feeling so powerful, and instead start feeling like a sacrificial lamb. Enter the bar hack.
Bar hacks enable you to do an end run around chaos, to maintain hegemony over the bar environment and elevate yourself in the eyes of your peers who just shake their heads in wonder over how easy you make it all look. Below are seven hacks every bartender needs to know.
ONE: Say My Name! Say My Name!
You work like a dog keeping that bar running like a top. But as adept as you are at the logistics of bartending and the handling of barware, logistics don’t pay the rent. You need (and deserve) tips. One of the best ways to ensure you get them is to know who you’re dealing with.
You’ll learn the names of the regulars pretty quick but we’re talking about the one-offs or the occasional visitors. But how do you get their names? Well, you can strike up some pleasant conversation, sneak a peek at the name on their credit card or just introduce yourself. “I’m Jack, what can I get you?” etc. Hopefully, they reciprocate with their name and you’re in business.
TWO: Stayin’ Alive
Homemade syrups in particular tend to have a pretty short shelf life. After just a month or so your homemade grenadine can go bad, leaving you in the lurch at the worst possible time. If only there was an easy way to extend the life of your syrups that didn’t include having to put them back in the refrigerator constantly. Fortunately, there is. Just add a dash of vodka to them. This will keep the microbes at bay and keep the syrups viable for a few extra weeks.
THREE: (Don’t) Hold the Salt
Every cook that has ever lived knows how to improve the flavor of even their blandest dishes. It’s called the miracle of sodium. Without sodium there would be no fast food industry, nor would those prepared meals that are becoming increasingly popular in convenience stores be palatable.
So if you have a drink that even the fanciest custom barware won't bring to life, do what the chefs do. Have salt at the ready in the form of a bottle of saline solution (1:10 salt/water) and put a few drops into your cocktails to give them some extra gravitas.
FOUR: Keep Cheat Sheets
The good news for customers is that there are hundreds of cocktails for them to choose from. The bad news for bartenders is that there are hundreds of cocktails for customers to choose from. And, of course, every customer expects you to know them all. So what’s a poor, besieged bartender to do?
Cheat sheets, that’s what. Keeping cheat sheets discreetly tucked away under the bar where the customers can’t see them will ensure that next time someone asks for a Horsefeather - rye whiskey, ginger beer, bitters, lemon juice - you’ll slap it together without skipping a beat.
FIVE: Barware Hacks
It's tough enough mastering scores of cocktail recipes and keeping up with orders on Super Bowl Sunday, the last thing you need is to be left flat-footed by tools of your trade. Maybe you run out of solid copper mugs, or your jigger goes missing. In such cases, you'll need to improvise.
Put that Mule in a highball glass (sacrilege yes, but you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes), or use a measuring spoon or tablespoon in place of your AWOL jigger.
SIX: Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies
Customers don’t mean to be a pain in the butt (okay, maybe some do), but it happens. You’re buzzing along on the busiest Friday night in 2 years, walking the wire between order and chaos when suddenly someone gets in your face: “Bro! 3 Basil Fawltys! Easy on the elderflower in one. Make sure you use Asian meadowsweet in the second, not European meadowsweet. Oh, and do you have anything other than Beefeater gin?”
At times like this you need to remove your new BFF from the queue ASAP in order to maintain order, so reach for the little white lie: “Sorry, dude. Just ran out of elderflower and meadowsweet. Next!”
SEVEN: Ye Olde Double Jigger
Bartenders routinely get orders for more than one of the same drink. If things are slow they can take their time crafting each cocktail with love and affection. But if it's Saturday night and the bar more closely resembles a soccer riot than a sophisticated watering hole, time-saving measures are of the essence. The old double jigger trick can really save your bacon when the hounds are at the door. Just make sure you practice a bit before going live with it.