Why Bar Training Just Isn’t Enough Anymore

bar training

Juan Pablo Hinojosa Orlandini tells us why he believes that bar training just isn’t enough anymore and what else we as bar tenders should learn to be the best that we can be. This is a Guest Post from Juan about Bar Training. Sit back and relax and drink it all up.

“Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I will learn” — the Xunzi Books, by Xun Kuang — Wrongfully attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I will learn Click To Tweet

So, what’s your first experience with Bar Training?

Working behind the bar is not easy, you are always exposed and every move you make is seen, which is tiresome and, even if we would like, we are not always up to our 100% mistakes will be made. This is more obvious when we are just starting our bar service life.

I remember my first job in a club at 18, a customer asked me for a capoeira, a well known drink in south america, is a frozen cocktail of 1 oz Vodka 2 oz Coffee liqueur and about 2 oz of condensed milk. I was nervous and i forgot to add the condensed milk to the mix, well the drink came out with a lot more bite than intended, and the customer politely declined to finish the drink, i didn’t realize the mistake until it was too late to be rectified, the customer was gone and I made one of the biggest mistakes a bartender can make, no not serving a wrong drink, but negatively affect the experience of the customer.

I felt really minuscule, and even worse unprepared for the job i had. I know most of you have had this feeling at one time in your job life, and if you haven’t well i can only say it WILL happen.

Hence the name of this article “ Why Bar Training Just Isn’t Enough Anymore” I believe that that bartending has gone past the title of trade job onto the title of profession.

It’s not like in past times where you would learn about bartending while working behind the bar in an empiric way. Nowadays the subject has become more serious devolving into a debate that excites. “Theory vs. Practice”. Which is has more use at the job?

should you hit the books and training videos or just dive straight into mixing cocktails and taking names.

Bar training programs should prepare you the best way possible for real world bar work (mouthful to say huh?), the reality of it when everything isn’t just pouring well is to engage your customers in an experience they won’t forget.

As said Bartending has evolved from a trade to a profession, from a guy with sleeves garters serving ales, cleaning cups and hearing the misfortunes of customers, to a well read man that guides the flavor trends of your local community and also hears the misfortunes of his customers. (somethings just don’t change), we used to look at the bartender as someone who was just doing a job to get by, who eventually would mature and get a proper job.

This happens less and less as bartenders nowadays have broken into the mainstream and can get well paid jobs and respect from the community. So what does it mean that now bartending is a profession?

well basically you are no longer a passive tool that the customer uses to get alcohol, but an active one that can foresee the needs of the customer before hand, also that you have a vast theoretical knowledge that supports what you are doing, such knowledge the customer doesn’t have and pays to be infused from it.

Now that last statement might get me in trouble, i’m basically saying the customer is not always right, even if this statement proves to be correct further down the road. it doesn’t mean that you can be a smug dick thanks to it.

Being a professional also means having a drive to know more or to innovate, it means not just to serve the customers until the shift ends and then go home in early morning, but to stay after shifts or come early to experiment with your service or the vast flavours and sensations different liqueurs and spirits can provide.

This is the primordial curiosity that good bartenders are known for and opened the way for it to became something bigger than a trade. We could say a professional bartender thanks to his innate curiosity values the advantages to be found by focussing in the theory of mixing alcoholic drinks.

This does not suggest that theory triumphs over practice, which lead us to our second point

“Theory vs. Practice”

an interesting debate, which could be an article by itself. Here is where traditional profession and trade clashes, normally trade focusses more on practice and profession on theory

It’s normal to hear bar courses advertising themselves as 60%, 80% or 100% pure practice, but giving practice more time in the course only gives as a result, what i like to call “Robot Bartenders” servers who are great at following orders, doing a fast and clean job, could pour 10 martinis under 5 min.

All the while keeping tabs on different customers, and when asked about why the stirring of a martini they can only answer “because that’s how you do it” i feel that right there, they are failing in the creation and management of experiences for the customer.

The reasoning behind a cocktail is as important as the taste itself, for example a Gin martini should be stirred because it provides better control of the ice dilution and so you can prevent the Gin from losing its aromatics, that kind of reasoning can only be achieved by a thoroughly understanding of the theory of mixing.

Yes some customers don’t want to be bothered about the subtleties of mixing cocktails, but many are intrigued and in knowing, you create a stronger bond with the customer which results with a new regular.

Now as much as there is “Robot Bartenders” you can get stuck in the theory of mixing you will devolve into a “Mixing Philosopher.”

Do you study infographics like this or do you jump right in and learn whilst making?

This is someone who knows everything there is to know about spirits and liqueurs but can’t serve a proper pint of beer, or takes about 5 min to mix a rum and coke. Clearly you see any extreme of the spectrum creates a bartender under qualified for proper bar work. So do we have to teach new bartenders to be the perfect mix?

More often than not i see whether in the internet or in my city, courses that advertise themselves as a practice focussed course, something like 80% practical 20% theory. I understand our profession is one where our faults are more evident in practice and for the theory you can dance your way around with a persuasive tongue.

But think it as a balancing act if you overload one side you are sure to fall, but if you manage both sides you create a better act.

So i would advise care when you are choosing a bar training course to take, if you are to take one, i know that you might only find the practice driven ones, but if you do you should enter with a mindset that you will have to learn you theory through other means.

The Theory/Practice relationship is not the kind where one of them must prevail over the other, it is a symbiotic one where they both feed from the other creating better service and experience for the customer.

So bartending is more than a trade, it requires a balance of theory and practice, But Bar Training programs must have a full experience (Beyond Theory and Practice) that prepares you to deal with actual bar work.

Bar Training programs must have a full experience (Beyond Theory and Practice) that prepares you… Click To Tweet

Even if your course is a well thought out one with an equal focus in theory and practice. I can assure you it will not prepare you 100% for your actual shift behind the bar, like we say in my country…

“otra cosa es, con guitarra” meaning “Is a whole different thing with the actual guitar”

What i mean is that the moment you are behind the bar in your first shift, you will get anxious and nervous, probably will forget even the most basic cocktails guides, like putting the condensed milk in your Capoeira. Just like i did all those years ago

So what else does a bartender need in their Bar Training?

Charm

So my hypothesis is that we should add a subtle third aspect to a bar training course: “Charm”.

You know bar work is not just making a good cocktail, teach your audience about the world of alcohol, getting to know your customers or getting the numbers of hot girls or guys. You have to asses the more tricky situations like how to deal with drunkards, obnoxious clients, disrespectful clients or people that think you because you are a server you are below them, that’s where charm enters normally you pick this up with sweat and tears after years of regular work.

But what if your bar training course prepares you at least a bit for that, now the question is how?

Well this shouldn’t be a subject you have to pass, charm is not easily taught, like i said it is a subtle aspect you must feed it seamlessly through group activities, small somewhat irrelevant dissertations and even yet some improvisation classes where people will relax and open themselves in a secure environment.

Conclusion

So to finish, Bartending is no longer a trade for it has developed into a well thought and complex matter where you must understand the making of the cocktail as much as the reasoning behind it.

A proper bar training course understands this

And so it prepares you in a balance of theory and practice, so you are able to perform with all the tools you need behind the bar.

But yet bar courses should go the extra mile and subtlety try to infuse you with that third elusive aspect that is charm, that way you will be truly prepared to face the vast types of people you will find seated opposite you at the bar top

A great place to start is The 20 Commandments Of Being A Bartender

So let me know: do you take Bartending as a proper profession, are you more theory or practice driven? And do you have that charm?

Hello! I’m Juan Pablo Hinojosa Orlandini — Professional Bartender with 10 years of experience, Internationally trained, started working in bars at 17 made head bartender at 18, started my own bar at 19 and currently teaching at my own Academy. All my years of experience have taught me that Bartending is not about cocktails per se but the art of making your guest’s experience an unforgivable one, as such i’m happy to be the E to your Vincent Chase. Cheers!

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Originally published at www.beabetterbartender.com on April 30, 2016.