Bartending Responsibilities

As stated before, a bartender is not a simple autonomous drink mixer; he/she is the most important figure in the establishment. He/she must make patrons of the establishment feel welcome, secure, and relaxed. To the patrons of a bar, the bartender is a very powerful figure. Bartenders must keep their work area clean. Counter tops and tables must be cleaned with disinfectant, soap and water. Outside furniture must also be wiped at the start of the day. Make sure people drink responsibly.

Another way to occupy the customers is to engage two strangers; a few words between two patrons new to each other can draw two strangers into a quick bond of friendship, which not only benefits them, but frees you, the bartender, up during the busy rush.

Always get your regulars something free once in a while. Make sure that you have the authority to give out a free drink occasionally, or Chips and Salsa. You’re a friend,you need to make sure you can get your best customers something free when they’re low on cash, stressed out, or just generally could use it. If a customer has been hanging at the bar continuously buying food and drinks for a while, you could mix them something cheap for free, perhaps something they haven’t tried before. Note that in many states the giving away of alcohol is illegal for various reasons. However, it is often worthwhile for a bartender to purchase a drink for his or her customer out of his or her pocket as the money is often returned with substantial interest at tip time.

It’s All About Service
Bartending is the art of providing excellent service to each guest that enters the bar. A good bartender is one who is always ready to greet a guest, accommodate to their needs and serve them with the utmost respect and professionalism. When providing service to a patron the bartender should always maintain a cheerful and upbeat attitude, be able to quickly take a guest’s order, prepare the order and complete the transaction in a collected manner that’s swift and precise. Make them as high as possible. Approach the guest as they enter the entry to your establishment and greet with a smile.

Service Behind the Bar
A bar can go from a sleepy slow to a bustling, jam-packed, out-of-control place in only the blink of an eye. The way of reducing this potentially dangerous situation is to have a set procedure of service behind your bar. Situations that cause a lot of grief among patrons, especially those who have been consuming alcohol, can cause conflicts between patrons, or even worse bar staff, and should be avoided at all cost!

  1. Greet your guest(s) and prepare them to order
  2. Offer service
  3. Prepare order(s)
  4. Complete transaction
  5. Check back on customer in a timely manner
  6. Say farewell to customer.

If these steps are consistently applied whilst behind the bar, your daily workload becomes much more manageable, and your work shifts can be a much more productive time (remember, bartenders are still there to make money!).

Greet Your Guests
Make your guests feel welcome in the same way you would make an old friend feel welcome at home. Smile when they arrive and make sure they know you have pleasingly recognized their presence. If possible, suggest a seat close to others sitting at the bar. The overall focus is to make guests feel as if they are not strangers and should not act as such.

Offer Services
Once the guest is obviously ready to order, smile and ask what he, she, or the group, would like to drink.

Here the skill of the bartender is often put to the test. Many patrons will deliberately try to confound the bartender by requesting a drink that the customer thinks the bartender has never heard of. In this instance it is best for a bartender to happily declare that the drink shall be made if the customer is glad to instruct in its creation. The bartender also must be avoid under-pouring and over-pouring….

Prepare Orders
All beverages should be created in the most expeditious fashion with a focus on cleanliness, precision, and presentation. If at any point the bartender runs into difficulty it is best for him or her to acknowledge the problem and attempt again. If the customer is unhappy with the result, the bartender should smilingly offer to remake the cocktail to the patron’s specifications free of charge, given the ingredients are not exceptional in cost or rarity.

Complete The Transaction
There is a common understanding in most “cash” bars that payment is due upon delivery of service. In these instances the bartender should declare the cost of the drink while presenting it and execute the transaction by taking the cash while looking the paying party in the eye and making change (if applicable) as quickly as possible so as to reduce the amount of time the bartender’s attention is away from the patron. Once change is made it should be placed in the hand of the customer with eye contact and the amount of change should be clearly communicated so as to avoid error.

In the instance that a customer wishes to keep a tab there are two ways of handling this. The first is to keep a cash tab for the patron. Usually this is done by recording each drink on a slip of paper by hand and making the transaction on an agreed upon time.

The second way is to run a patron’s credit card and charge each drink separately to the electronically stored card number.

In either case the burden lies on the bartender to make certain that all patrons are cognizant of the nature of a tab and that they are obligated to pay said tab at the agreed upon time.

Check Back On Customers
Checking on the customer is a tenet of bartender success. Many customers will require more than one instance of service and every good bartender knows this. Most bartenders use a “rounds” approach where they keep mental track of the succession of patrons they have served, and repeat that sequence in their follow-up.

The most useful technique is to simply look at the glasses on the bar. The patron with the least in his or her glass will probably require service first. Using this method requires more responsibility on the mixologist however as excessive drunkenness should be avoided at any honorable bar.

Farewell and Welcome Back
The farewell is one of the most important parts of bartending well. Just as every patron should be acknowledged on arrival, they should be acknowledged upon departure. The enthusiasm of the farewell should be independent of any tip amount left by the patron as the best patrons will know how to tip in a respectable manner and there is sufficient time during a bartending shift to treat special customers or “regulars”.

The most successful bartenders learn the names of all of their patrons and are certain to use them when said patrons leave.

A sincere “thank you” is required on patron departure along with an indication that he or she is always welcome to come again.

Never display money to a well-tipping patron. The customer knows how much money was left as a tip. To wave cash before a person is classless and beneath good mixology.

There are many things a bartender needs. These include personality traits and skills as well as physical objects like a bottle opener.

A heavy bottle opener under the bar is a good thing to have. These bolt against the bar and allow the bartender to leverage the length of the bottle against the cap. Aside from this, a portable one may be kept on hand; don’t use a light one, they can break or snap the bottle neck off. Most bartenders favor a heavy steel “speed opener” about 7 inches long. These openers allow quick, sure opening of bottles and the additional leverage helps cut down on soreness during long busy shifts.

You’ll need pens to write up tabs, bills, phone numbers, phone orders, and the like. Ball point pens are best; gel pens that simply pour ink through a thin tube look very nice, but they can pool ink and leave trailing lines. You could enhance the display of the bar by keeping a novelty mug with writing utensils in it. It also might be a good idea to have a decorative tip jar, such as an oversized snifter, or ornate (but not expensive) vase close to these pens.

You’ll need a rag or bar towel to wipe down the bar and clean and polish glass. As a rule of thumb it is always a good idea to have a generous supply of these on hand, as the busier the bar gets, the more mess the people will make. A dry towel should be kept close at hand (often placed in a back pocket, or hung from the belt). The wet towels should be used to wipe down areas to prevent sugar in drinks from sticking, subsequently drying with the dry towel.

Bartenders need to clean things. Sticky speedpours, dirty glasses, etc.. While all glasses and utensils need proper cleaning, there are many cleaning uses for carbonated water. Speedpours, spoons that you used to mix something or spoon syrup are all candidates for seltzer water cleaning; just soak them in the stuff, especially sticky speedpours. Besides cleaning, seltzer water is an important component of some drinks.

A good bartender personality must be positive, welcoming, and just fun to be around! But also be strict if people get out of hand.

Bartenders need knowledge of a wide range of subjects, from sports to relationships to the local town. Travelers may ask general questions about Manhattan, corporate clients might ask about the subway lines, etc.. You should also know the fastest way to the airport, police station, or hospital; where other bars or clubs are, especially if you’re not in a club where patrons can dance; and where the social elites hang out.

A bartender needs a good sense of humour. Your customers will often need cheering up, or have funny stories at which you have to laugh. A good trait in a friend is a sense of humour; and a bartender’s number one job is to be a friend to his patrons.

You should also always have a good joke or two. Just remember, not all your patrons want to hear about when your fishing buddy got his balls caught in a window sneaking out of a college dorm after a one-night stand; as Cunningham put it, always have a joke you can tell your mother.

Just like any other service-oriented job, a good bartender has to make the best use of their time. It may be a slow hour between rushes – make sure your back-up well and bottle reach-in is stocked, your garnishes are ready for the next rush, your ice tubs are full, and your glassware is cleaned and racked (even if – no, ESPECIALLY if – you have a barback working with you!). Oh yeah – don’t forget to wipe down your bar, backbar, and worktrough under the bar once in a while. The cat who taught me told me, “If you’re not always moving, doing at least 2 things at once, you’re forgetting something”.

Somewhat related to this is if you have waitstaff as well as working behind the bar – make sure you take care of your runners. They’re your “force multiplier”, and will double or triple your effectiveness by taking care of patrons, but only if you take care of them. Little things – making sure their garnish trays are full, keeping patrons out of their launch pads, and pulling their pours on priority will both make you their hero AND keep more customers happy.

Drinking On The Job
A difficult subject which requires a direct conversation with bar owners and managers. A bartender must balance the need to maintain a `professional image’ and be in full control of their facilities with their obligations to appear fun-loving, and sell alcohol. Absolutely no drinking on duty! Sometimes the owners of small bars want to hang out with the customers and might ask you, as the bartender, to have a drink. If you need a reason to pacify the boss, simply tell him or her that you have to drive home after work.


  • Do not serve those who are already under the influence of alcohol
    • This obligation needs flexible interpretation, but if someone has clearly had too much to drink, then you are legally obliged to refuse to serve them
    • NEVER be afraid to refuse service. You may be saving yourself, the license owner, and the bar owner serious (and possibly legal) headaches. Trust your gut – if something doesn’t seem right – likely it’s not.
  • Ensure that those you are serving are of legal drinking age
    • If you are unsure of someone’s age, always ask for appropriate ID
    • You can be given a heavy personal fine for serving alcohol to minors
    • Know your state’s alcohol laws. Each state differs considerably. If you bartend in more than one state (common on the east coast or between California and Nevada), remember which state you’re ‘tending in. Something that’s allowed in one may be prohibited in the other – criminally so.
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