A bartender’s job is a balancing act. It requires juggling an assortment of drink orders and patron personalities, all while remaining calm, friendly and focused. It’s not a job for the easily frazzled.
Unfortunately, though, everyone has had that other kind of bartender—the one you have to strain to flag down for a cocktail, and even then, you wind up with a disappointing drink. We’ve rounded up a few sure-fire signs for figuring out whether your bartender is a master of their craft. If you see any of these traits the next time you belly up to the bar, trust that you’re in good hands.
1. They’re attentive but not too attentive
One of a bartender’s most important jobs is to be a welcoming host. That means acknowledging you when you sit down, perhaps with a greeting, water and menu, or if they’re busy, at least a head nod to let you know you’ll be helped soon. The worst thing bartenders can do is ignore you. If they’re attentive but don’t interrupt or try to interject into your conversation, they’ve likely been doing this for awhile.
2. They’re calm even under pressure
Bartenders get busy—very busy. Between taking orders from customers around the bar and handling the ones coming in from servers’ tables, amateurs can often find themselves stressed and show it. If the place is clearly hectic but your bartender remains cool, calm and collected, that’s a good sign.
3. They can confidently make a recommendation
A good bartender needs to be able to listen to what a customer likes, dislikes and is in the mood for and then take that information and make a solid recommendation or two. It’s obvious when someone is knowledgeable about the cocktails offered on and off the menu, based on their descriptions and enthusiasm. If a bartender sells you on a drink and gets you excited about it, they’re a winner.
4. They have a sharp memory
Bartenders don’t need to memorize every cocktail recipe in the world, but knowing how to mix a wide range of drinks is essential to the job. Most importantly, though, your bartender should remember what you ordered and get it right. If you’re a regular, they’ll remember your name.
5. They’ve mastered the classics
You can usually gauge a bartender’s chops by how they handle the classics. If you order a Manhattan, Old Fashioned or Martini, then suddenly hear the rhythmic rattle of an ice-filled shaker, you’ve stepped into the wrong bar. If your barman stirs smoothly and asks for your preference of spirit, they have it down.
6. Their bar is spotless
You can tell a lot about your bartender by the condition of their workspace. If the backbar is filthy and disorganized, with bottles strewn about and fruit spilling out of the containers, there’s a good chance your drink will be an unbalanced mess. Clean hands, clean bar tools and a clean countertop are usually signs that you’re being served by a pro.
7. They’ve made you a well-balanced cocktail
The best way to tell if your bartender knows what they’re doing? Take a sip of your drink. Happy? You have your answer.