Behind the Bar The Business of the Bar

How to Keep Bartending Fresh by Finding New Opportunities That Aren't Behind the Stick

Matt Boyle, left, and Jeffrey Van Horne

Matt Boyle and Jeffrey Van Horne, the duo behind Canadian cocktail consultancy and catering company The Clever Barkeep, know that in bartending, as in life, necessity is often the mother of invention.

“Just like for so many others, bartending started as a need for money,” says Boyle, a Canadian finalist for the Bacardí Legacy 2017 global competition. “I stumbled upon a bar in Halifax, started working and completely fell in love with the vibrancy and creativity of the profession.”

Soon, though, the late nights started to pile up.

“Flash-forward six years later,” says Boyle. “I got married and was getting older, and having a life outside of bartending became important to me.” “The 3 a.m. finish was getting rough. I wanted to get my life down to normal business hours.”

Enter their Nova Scotia–based business, The Clever Barkeep, which creates exceptional cocktail experiences of all kinds: from intimate, in-kitchen demos to massive brand-adjacent parties. Below, Boyle and Van Horne share their stories of seeking out and creating opportunities beyond the stick and tips on how to step out from behind the bar.

Van Horne, left, and Boyle.

DIY Your Dream Job

“It was pretty great coming up with our business, because we were coming from the same mind frame,” says Boyle. “We didn’t hate the late hours, but we wanted to bring a little bit more sustainable lifestyle back into our lives while still being a part of the cocktail community.”

Think Outside the Glass

“We’re a bartending company that offers beverage and luxury catering for any sort of occasion, but we’re very flexible with what kind of events we do,” says Boyle. “We have the catering, but we also do professional beverage consulting, and we’ve created some products, as well. Plus, being entrepreneurs also allows us a lot of time to educate ourselves while being up to date with our cocktails.”

Be Nimble

“One thing that helps with our success is that we want to be able to help anyone out with bar-related questions,” says Van Horne. “It’s just like that same bartender willingness to help and adapt to any kind of customer that comes up to the bar.”

Boyle, left, and Van Horne.

Be Your Own Boss

“You have to be disciplined when you’re looking beyond bartending, because you don’t have a bar manager or owner sitting over your shoulder,” says Van Horne. “When it’s summer and 30 degrees Celsius outside, you really have to be focused. At the end of the day, you’re eating what you kill.”

Find a Brain to Pick

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes,” says Boyle. “We had some help from a guy who does a similar thing in the U.S. and called him on a whim. He was an open book about clients and pricing. We’ve formed a relationship with him.”

Understand Branding Is Everything

“As a bartender, you think you’re pretty good at sales until you’re branching out and selling yourself outside of a bar,” says Van Horne. “When people go into a bar, they’re planning on spending money, but if someone calls you up with an event they’re hosting, you really have to sell it to them and tell them how amazing the evening is going to be. You have to let your passion come forward.”