The most basic description is that a bartender serves drinks to patrons over the counter. But, in fact, the bartender does much more than that — he engages customers in entertaining conversation; he gives them the occasional surprise cocktail instead of sticking to the tried and tested stuff; he may even throw in some bar tool jugglery, which is called ‘flair bartending’. A great bartender can bring customers back again and again. A trained person can work in hotel bars, standalone bars, restaurants, nightclubs, resorts and cruise ships or just freelance, especially in the party season
What do they do?
Most of us do not think much about it yet, but the guy who whips up a cocktail and pushes it across the counter is the star of the bar… or he could be.
“This is the one character that makes the true experience of a drink in a bar,” says Yangdup Lama, a veteran of the profession who now runs his own bar school, Cocktails and Dreams, in Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi, and also in Mumbai. “This starts from the character of the bartender, his promptness, smartness, intelligence, knowledge, skills, body language and ability to perform based on the patrons’ requirement to add that extra bit of something.”
What separates the great from the merely good in this business is how much respect a bartender gives himself. “A bartender needs to be confident when dealing with patrons,” says Vikram Achanta of Tulleeho Portals, a company that has set up a training centre in Shahpur Jat, New Delhi, and has been into wine and beverage education for some time.
That means shaking off the feeling that one is little more than a waiter, and bringing on the showmanship and the knowledge that would enhance the quality of a patron’s evening.
The rise of bartending as a profession has a lot to do with the change in social outlook towards ‘having a drink’. The bar nowadays is far from the older shady joints where a man would down a quick few before heading home. New-age bars are focal points of urban nightlife and the bartender is an integral part of it.
That accounts for the increasing popularity of flair bartending, which has the bartender juggling bar tools and conjuring up a big flame or two to make people gasp.
However, Lama, who trained at the Spanish party town of Majorca, points out, “Most schools, including ours, do teach flair bartending, but what we emphasise on is adding the flair to the real skills of a professional bartender, rather than ending up being a ‘showtender’.”
For a reality check, just recall the scene from Cocktail — Tom Cruise wringing out the sweat from his socks after a hard evening’s work at the bar.
Hard work it is, not just in terms of the hours spent on the job, but also the amount of learning involved. “The average bartender masters five or six popular or signature cocktails and thinks, ‘That’s it’,” says Achanta. An MBA by training, he is the business brain of Tulleeho, while partner Aneesh Talukdar, who is from the hospitality industry, maps out the courses. But a bartender must surprise the customer as well as serve him.
A hindrance to this is a rookie bartender’s unfamiliarity with drinks.
An aspiring bartender may graduate from an Indian hospitality management institute without having tasted most or any of the alcohol offered in a bar. How, then, does one discover one’s inner bartender? “There is no way as such to find out whether one can make a good bartender or not,” says Lama, “but I’d say that anyone who has watched a bartender at work and loves to be a people’s man, who believes that he can relate to what the job means, can opt for the profession.”
With that knowledge, a ready smile and a steady hand, you are good to go.
Source: HT Horizons
- Ability to converse well, as lone drinkers may want to talk
- Friendly, confident body language
- Good reflex (for flair bartending)
- A keen interest in beverages to progress in career
How do I get there?
One can get into training right after school but without graduation, it is almost impossible to become a manager in a top hotel.
Bartending courses tend to be short, spread only over a few months, after which you can study and work simultaneously. A graduate from a hotel management institute will not have adequate exposure to the spirits commonly used in cocktails.
However, a good bar school with focus on familiarisation with wine and spirits and mixology can plug this gap. Courses cost from Rs 20,000-25,000 to Rs 40,000 (for two to three months). Cocktails and Dreams and Tulleeho both supply the bar kit and all the alcohol required for the training. The latter also has a one-month beverage masters course. Bar schools cannot guarantee jobs but help students find their feet in the industry