Column: Bringing Back Service With A Smile

By Matt Sorrell
In Food

It’s a heady time in the bar world, both locally and across the globe. Enthusiastic entrepreneurs are opening up new and exciting venues left and right, hoping to catch the public’s attention and carve out a niche for themselves, while established places are refining, and in some cases rethinking, what they do in an attempt to maintain their place in the milieu.

Meanwhile, bartenders and other beverage professionals are flexing their creative muscles and coming up with drink offerings that challenge all of the senses. With so much going on, it’s a foregone conclusion that competition among bars for the drinker’s dollar is keen. As a result, there’s a constant struggle to scramble to the top of the heap, or as high as you’re able to, and then at the very least maintain your position there.

Photo by Kate Millet/ Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Kate Millet/ Flickr Creative Commons

Sure, it’s exciting, but all too often, though, it seems that something gets lost in this whirl of activity: hospitality. Don’t get me wrong, stretching the boundaries creatively and constantly working to perfect what you do is crucial. Pushing forward like this keeps your edge sharp and ensures the public (and the media) remains interested in what you do.

But it’s also imperative to remember that the overall experience is what’s most important at the end of the day. Solid drinks, good design and the right ambience are components of this, crucial components for sure, but not the only ones to consider. A welcoming attitude and a focus on service are also needed to complete the picture.

I frequently have guests tell me about experiences they’ve had at other places, and when they have a complaint, it more often than not has nothing to do with the quality of the drinks they were served but with the way they were treated.
In recent years, the cocktail scene has taken off. Forgotten recipes and techniques once lost to time have been rediscovered by a new generation of talented bartenders and reintroduced to the modern bar. Likewise, bartenders have begun experimenting and developing their own twists and takes on these classics as well as coming up with brand new libations and the requisite creative techniques to bring them to life. They’re justifiably proud of what they do and want to share the results of their labors.

But sometimes bartenders get too caught up in the craft of it all and lose sight of their main responsibility, which is to ensure that the guest sitting across the bar from them has the best experience possible. This means that sometimes they’ll need to put their ego and personal preferences aside and serve up something that might not be what they consider interesting. I’ve had many folks tell me about going to a cocktail bar and feeling intimidated by the unfamiliar ingredients listed on the menu and then getting attitude from the bartender when they ask questions about them, or ordering a favorite drink and having some shade thrown their way because that vodka tonic just doesn’t have the requisite cache of a Manhattan.

I’ve specifically been calling out craft cocktail bars here, but this issue isn’t limited to those types of places by any means. It applies to any joint that serves drinks to a thirsty public. Even if your bar only offers shots and bottles of beer, put those drinks across the wood with a smile and engage the guest. Look them in the eye and let them know you’re glad they’re there.

My position is, I make the drink that will make the guest happy, whatever it may be, and I make it in the best way I possibly can. If they have a question, I try and answer it to the best of my ability. Because I want that person to come back, and tell his or her friends about us and get them to darken our doorstep as well. I am not behind the stick to be an arbiter of taste. I’m there to serve. It is called the hospitality industry after all.

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