How to Run a Bar: 4 Essential Bartender Qualities

By Ray Foley, Heather Dismore

What would a bar be without someone to lovingly tend it? Bartenders make or break bars, without question. Your bartenders are key employees. They must be good with customers. They must project the right image for your bar. And of course, they must be able to mix a good drink.

Bartenders become friends, counselors, and godparents to their patrons. They are the heart and soul of every bar. They can be gorgeous (as in the movie Coyote Ugly), they can be entertaining (like in Cocktail), and they can become like family (think Cheers). All the bartenders in these examples have charisma and charm. They draw people to them, keep them at the bar, and, more importantly, keep them coming back.

Here are a few things to look for when hiring your next bartender. A good bartender should be able to

  • Socialize while working. The best bartenders are those who make it look effortless. If an applicant can keep up a conversation with a customer at the bar and make cocktails for the party of ten that just walked in, hire him.

    You don’t want bartenders socializing at the expense of working. Drinks that are waiting to be made are drinks that are waiting to be drunk. Customers can’t order another until they’re finished with the first (and that’s the whole point, right?). So making drinks has to be the number-one priority.

  • Develop regular customers. Regular customers mean repeat business. (“Norm!”) Repeat business means more money for you (unless, of course, you let them run a tab that they don’t pay). Look for a bartender who connects with people. She should be able to read people and hold a conversation with anyone who may come into your place.

  • Handle difficult situations. Unfortunately, when alcohol is involved, life can get even more complicated than normal. Your bartender should know when to refuse service to an intoxicated patron, anticipate service problems, and be willing to get help from other staff members appropriately.

  • Make a good drink. Last but not least, your bartender should be schooled in the art of mixology. He may not know every cocktail ever mixed, but he should be able to make your signature drinks (or have a quick aptitude for learning).

    Consider whether you want or need creativity in the drink-making department. Some bars benefit from having a creative bartender who whips up nightly specials, while others do better with sticking to the basics.

If you run across a candidate who you think has the potential but not the experience to run your bar, consider the person for a barback position.

A barback helps a bartender stock and restock the bar, empty the trash, and wash glasses. He typically helps out with everything except making drinks during a shift. This experience can help a new bartender get familiar with the pace of your place before being thrown into the fire of running his own shift.