The Bartender: Hotel bars versus restaurant bars
Remember Sam Malone, the consummate bartender who owned TV's most famous pub, Cheers, "where everybody knows your name"? His patrons were treated like family, and he created an environment where locals made his bar their "local".
A successful bartender is no mere mixer of drinks or inventor of the next big cocktail. Whether in a hotel bar, restaurant (chain or independent), or pub/tavern, the bartender is an important focus of foodservice operations.
"It's very one-on-one," says Bill Leger, who runs the Frigate & Firkin, part of the North American Firkin Group chain, and who started in the hospitality industry when he was 13 and became a bartender at 21. "You have to put on your game face as soon as you get to work. All the customers at your bar don't care about your day. You have to be happy and cheerful, make them feel welcome and at ease, so they become regulars."
According to go2, a tourism industry human resources association, bartenders have the following key responsibilities:
- Provide customer service
- Prepare beverages using proper bartending technique
- Prepare common drinks, may also prepare drinks suggested by the patron
- Practice responsible alcohol service
- Clean and maintain bar area and wash glassware
- Maintain/control inventory of bar stock and supplies
Whether working in a restaurant or hotel, bartenders dispense drinks directly from their bars, but also supply the serving staff with orders for individual tables. Bartenders receive tips directly from drinkers at the bar and share gratuities (the arrangement differs according to establishment) with servers (and sometimes other staff).
What it takes to be a bartender
You can learn the basics of bartending - mixing drinks, the ins and outs of local legislation, setting up and maintaining a bar, being part of a restaurant or hotel team - through courses offered at bartending schools and hospitality institutions. But, as chef consultant Gary E. Miller points out, these are the technicalities. More importantly, good bartenders must possess a special personality.
"A bartender with any experience believes he or she can invent drinks," says Miller. "To a degree, they're creative and there's a flair to their job. It's not just knowing how to mix a drink, but a good bartender has to have the moves -- ballet behind a bar. They need to be able to mix the drinks while also carrying on a conversation with customers, and that part is imperative. I've been to bars where the bartender is good at mixing drinks and is good-looking, but doesn't know how to engage with the customers. Quite often customers are sitting at the bar and they're alone. They want some interaction."
Restaurant and hotel bars - the differences
"My assumption going into a hotel bar is that it is more professional, stricter, more outfitted and has more international knowledge as well as local information than a private bar in a restaurant or pub," says Michelle Hunt, partner in The Martini Club International, professional mixologists and caterers. "A hotel bar is a much more formal experience."
She notes other differences: in a hotel bar, often someone sets up your bar for you, while in a restaurant, you are responsible for your bar area. Most private bars open only in the evening; hotel bars open as early as 11 a.m. Hotel bars require a dress code, as do many restaurant chains, but dress code in many bars, especially in independent restaurants, can be "anything goes." And a very important difference is that a restaurant bartender bears much more responsibility for the sobriety of the patrons than a hotel bartender, many of whose customers are simply returning to their rooms after a few drinks during business trips.
Adds Bill Leger of the Frigate & Firkin, "A hotel bar is very different. In my experience (working at both restaurant and hotel bars), it's important to have restaurants and bars in a hotel to get your rating as a hotel vs. a motel. Without these or banquet rooms, you're not really a hotel. The restaurant is very important, but it's not a main concern. A lot of money is made through the hotel, but 80+% or more is made through the rooms."
In a restaurant, staff, including the bartender, are expected to upsell both food and drinks. The hotel experience is more relaxed, and staff are less focused on the "upsell."
How to decide which is for you
While bartending tends to be a young person's career, age is not as much a factor in hotel bartending because hotel bartenders tend to be less involved in running the bar. But bartending for both restaurants and hotels can be a rigorous job requiring lifting and reaching the bottles behind the bar.
A key factor to help you decide where you'd like to bartend is whether you enjoy the idea of developing a long-term, first-name relationship with the clientele. While some regulars do patronize hotel bars, the majority of guests are just passing through, so you don't get that "Cheers" experience, where "everybody knows your name."