Monday, October 27, 2014

The Next Big Thing in Cocktails? Service

Everybody wants to know what’s coming next.  And like half-drunk soothsayers, many bartenders will make their predictions.  Some say it’s tiki.  Others say that fresh fruit and vegetable juices are the rising stars.  The newer cocktail markets repeat the same things that New York, Chicago, and New Orleans have been saying for years -- Mezcal, American gin, and rye whiskey.  And honestly none of them are really wrong.  But they are missing one very important item; a trend so vital and often forgotten that just implementing this program in a cocktail bar can make it one of the best in the city overnight.  It is surprising that so many service industry professionals lack the one thing that gives their job description any waft of meaning: service.

Before the advent of modern craft cocktails, most bars were judged on atmosphere and service alone.  After all, it’s not hard to get a whiskey and coke right.  But when bartenders became local and then national celebrities in the bar world for their cocktails one very strange thing happened.  They started forgetting good service.  Convinced that everyone in the bar was there to see them, they assumed selfish “me-party” attitudes that, frankly, turned these bartenders into assholes.  I remember years ago when I was training under Chris Hannah at the French 75 Bar, I decided one day that I was going to have a fancy shake.  Out of nowhere I started doing this ridiculous up and down shake that I had seen bartenders do in New York.  But almost immediately Hannah pulled me aside and told me to cut it out.  He said, “No one came here to fucking watch you shake.”  And he was right.  In that brief moment I had forgotten what I was really there to do.  And that was to serve people.

Great service by a bar staff means turning the attention to the guest as much as possible.  Sure, a guest might ask questions about the bartender, but what people really want is to talk about themselves.  It’s a bartender's job to stay out of the spotlight so that the guest’s ego is the only thing being nurtured.  Great service also means making guests any drink the bar is equipped to make, happily, and without judgement.  National brand legend Chris Morales told me once, “If you want a Pappy Van Winkle and coke, I’ll only say ‘Would you like a single or a double?’”.  After all if the guests are paying for it, they get to do whatever they want with it.  That’s the magic of a bar.  At a salad bar, the staff would never dream of telling you what dressing to use, so why do bartenders think it’s okay to do it behind a cocktail bar?

     Across the country right now great bars like Maison Premiere in New York, Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago, and the French 75 Bar in New Orleans are all giving fantastic service to each and every guest that walks in the door.  That singular quality is making all the difference, and these bars deservedly getting a lot of attention for it.  Slowly other cocktail bars are noticing and are beginning to restructure how they view service.  Even the most famous bartenders in the world aren’t actually famous.  They are bar famous.  Chris Hannah is bar famous.  Brad Pitt is actually famous.  There’s a big difference.  So bartenders: the next time you think giving your guests the cold shoulder is going to launch you into superstardom, fix your attitude and serve the guests who came to your bar for a great experience.   -HK