Back To Basics Please

Around 15 years ago bartenders were taught be mixologists – maybe it’s time mixologists were taught to be bartenders.

Cocktails and cocktail making has been around for a long, long time. Indeed, cocktails and the balancing of mixed drinks were pretty much perfected over 100 years ago by (mainly) gentlemen who used their skill and imagination to produce palatable and creative drinks using ingredients of a substantially lower quality than we have today.

The explosion of US cocktail culture during prohibition in the 1920’s coincided with an abundance of questionable (and sometimes dangerous) illegal liquor which needed the deft hand of an expert to enjoy.

Thankfully, those days are long gone. Most liquor stores now stock spirits, liqueurs and mixers of such a high quality that any home enthusiast can knock up an excellent cocktail from a recipe found in scores of books available at your local bookstore. Google a Mojito for example and you will get ingredients, instructions and video tutorials galore to help you on your way within seconds. Though be careful what you search for, too many bar schools can’t even get that right.

With that in mind, why go to a bar and pay $15-$20 for a product you can make at home for a fraction of the price? Besides the obvious advantage of not having to buy the ingredients yourself and getting out of the house to be social, the main attraction of a cocktail bar is the atmosphere, service and all round special experience a great venue provides. Bricks and mortar and décor aside, this is provided by the staff.

Mixing an excellent cocktail is only a small part of being an excellent cocktail bartender. With that in mind, here’s a plea to cocktail bar staff everywhere;

Dear Mixologist, before the sipping stage is reached, please could the following be adhered to? –

  • When I walk in to your establishment, please acknowledge my existence – A nod or a wink will do but a smile would be great!
  • Hand me a menu and point me to a seat if you have one – This simple gesture will allow you all the time in the world to make drinks for others, check your phone, chat to your colleagues etc. 
  • Ask me questions about my tastes – Do I like sweet / sour / fruity concoctions? Do I like strong tasting drinks or masked with mixers? Do I like Rum, Tequila, Gin etc. 
  • Recommend a drink – Make it the easiest, quickest drink to make on the menu for yourself if it’s busy if you like! – If I’m at the bar, please educate me.
  • Talk me through what your doing and why – you’re on stage not working in an office! – If there are four of us, try to get all four drinks up at the same time – you know how annoying it is in a restaurant to receive staggered orders – if you haven’t got enough shakers, please buy some! 
  • If I ask for a Pina Colada, don’t look at me like I just murdered your cat. Either make me the best Pina Colada you can or offer me something else of a similar nature. I seem to like cream – would a perfect Brandy Alexander make me happy? Sell it to me! 
  • Pop over and ask me if the drinks you served are ok? Feel free to recommend something else from the menu for my next drink – This is your opportunity to either up-sell me or start me on a journey of discovery which leads me to four drinks rather than just one! 
  • Thank me for my custom and whet my appetite for my next visit. 
  • Enjoy your rather large tip.

We in the industry know that there is (shhhh) very little mystery in making great drinks. Service is the key to a great customer experience.

Mixologists are everywhere in Sydney. Great bartenders are fewer and further between. If you can’t tell the difference you should probably be an Uber driver instead.

I can’t be alone in seeing this all over the Australian hospitality scene. What’s the worst example you can think of?



Secret Bartender

Over 10 years as a bartender across 3 countries with a mind full of secrets