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Bar Life, Salt Lake City, Utah

Letter To A New Bartender

Welcome aboard!

Congratulations on your new position. I’m sure that the interview process was tough and thorough but your resume and interviewing abilities made the difference in getting the job. Earning a bartending job in Utah is tough. There are not nearly enough positions for every talented candidate. With most people earning a job by a friend of a friend or word of mouth, getting a chance to pour drinks at a busy night club must be exciting.

I sure hope you think so.

Before you set out to working your Friday and Saturday shifts, I thought I’d extend a couple of thoughts before you man your well and get to the task of slinging drinks for some very thirsty customers.

Utah bartenders are built. Because the state has some laws that can only be described as goofy and a little backwards, keep in mind that you might be asked to do some things that you didn’t do in other states. Just because you learned how to make a certain drink in New York, Florida, Nevada or Europe, doesn’t mean that it will actually fly here in the Beehive State. Utah has very strict regulations on how liquor is dispensed and you are required to know all of the nooks and crannies of the booze laws.

For example, you can’t pour doubles. Sidecars are illegal and people trying to circumnavigate the laws need to be told they can’t have what they want. It is tough in a job that you are dependent upon gratuities to tell people “No!” instead of “Yes!” That means you need to be tough and strong and willing to do the right thing over what feels normal in other states. Just remember everything you learned in your Serve-Safe class or Sips-n-Tips.

Remember: if you don’t, the state will crack down on you as well as the club. Utah has the power to levy very heavy fines for those that break the law as well as their employer.

Because club bartenders have to pour drinks for the cocktail waitresses, keep in mind that your best customers are your co-workers. Always focus on getting the girls their drinks first because they are the work horses that power a night club. With 3-5 waitresses, you sure are going to have your hands full keeping up on all of their drink orders. They aren’t there for the company. These waitresses are there for the money and they are doing their best on the floor to get as many orders as possible. Cocktailing is a tough job because they have so many obstacles to give the best service. Their guests might be rude, touchy, cheap or out-and-out mean. The time they spend at the cocktail waitress station is their only break from the chaos on the floor. So, a little empathy is important when they make mistakes.

Just like you, they are trying to do the best job possible.

Learn from those that have been at the bar longer than you. For example, forget the fact that the senior bartender has been pouring drinks professionally for 16 years—just keep in mind that he might have been there for four years. Trust him that he has the temperature of the club and know what works. Night clubs are not five star restaurants but rather drink factories trying to push out the most booze as possible. If he says certain drinks, say tall, strong and fruity, are the baseline for most guests, trust him that he is not leading you astray. He’s invested enough time in the club to know what works. If he has more effective ways of pouring drinks, try doing it his way if only you want to try and fit in. If there are things the bartending staff has been doing since the beginning of time, try doing it their way. What can hurt trying to fit in? Maybe in the end you can learn new techniques that can make you an even better bartender.

Show don’t tell. Do what is asked and don’t make excuses why you want to do it a different way. If the people you work with care an ounce about the work they do, they’ll follow your suit and adopt your technique if it is better but wait awhile. Let people learn to trust you before you tell them why they are wrong. Bartenders are like any other profession where they want to improve their efficiency and performance. Instead of making excuses why some things escape you, try working harder to get it right the first time.

Always remember: it’s not our booze. It’s our employer’s alcohol and we have been trusted with selling it. Mistakes cost the boss money and at the end of the day we are all there to make money. If you choose not to be efficient and conscience of our boss’s investment in the property and we’ll all be on the street looking for our next gig.

If you need any reference, watch Cocktail and Road House. These are essentially the roadmaps to how any successful bar is run.

Always be on time. Always be in uniform. Always know what we have on our backbar and always know what things cost. Smoke breaks are a privilege and get used to eating on the run. Always wear comfortable shoes. Stay hydrated and learn that stretching is not a bad idea. Learn the chain of command and make a concerted effort to block out the baloney of your personal life when you clock in. People don’t come to bars to listen to your problems. They come to night clubs to relax and party and get drunk. It’s our responsibility that they have the best time ever and they can’t do that if simple things like learning to use the computer or memorize drink prices become too challenging for you.

Because Utah is such a unique place, it’s important to embrace what makes this state so unique and not badmouth it to our guests. Sure, Las Vegas has a better pour but we’re not in southern Nevada. We are in Salt Lake City—the best God damn city in the country and every one of our guests gets the chance too have the best time at the best God damn night club in the state.

Remember that.

You wanted the job and worked hard to get it. Now that you have it, show your supervisors that your were the best candidate for the gig. There might be better ways to earn money but there is nothing better than knowing that you can earn a living getting people housed and take their money.

Don’t like doing that? Try selling insurance.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Podcast coming. He comes from the Tony Gwynn school of bartending.

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About Ben Raskin

Born in El Cajon, raised in Las Vegas, educated in Reno and living in Salt Lake City. I bartend, write, box and live in Sugarhouse UT.

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