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Your Bartender is Your Top Ambassador

As technology takes over, customer face time is ever more critical. Your bartender is a great customer service pro, use them!

Monday, August 10, 2015
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“Hey bartender pour ‘em hot tonight
'Til the party and music and the truth collide’’ – Lady Antebellum

Aside from a front desk employee or perhaps a concierge, the most interaction a guest might have with a hotel staff member is the property’s head bartender or member of the bar staff. After all, many guests – for better or worse – spend more time bellying up to the bar than any other place in a hotel.

That kind of guest interaction takes a special kind of employee who, with a combination of personality and talent, can significantly add to an F&B department’s bottom line.

“Head bartenders are the ‘face’ of their bars and set the tone for the guests’ beverage experience,’’ said Rose Butler, restaurant and bar assistant manager at the Hotel Bel-Air in Beverly Hills, Calif. “By sharing their knowledge and passion for wines and mixology, they can ‘wow’ our guests and most importantly, build strong relationships. This ultimately leads to guests returning and visiting the bar on a regular basis.’’

To that end, The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch near Vail, Colo., this year has a class that it offers guests to showcase the talents of its bar staff.

“These classes are taught by our bartenders, our hotel sommelier, and servers who have received their sommelier certification,’’ said Luis Caicedo, the hotel’s director of food and beverage. “Each lady or gentlemen that leads the class is passionate about the product they are discussing, from craft beers, to new world wine, or libations and mixers. It truly makes for a personal and memorable experience for our guests.

“We also strive for employees to showcase their creativity. The bartender in our casual dining restaurant takes his passion beyond just creating libations. He can enhance the typical bar experience by explain the process of the drink he is creating, from the layers of ingredients when muddling, to the aromas of the drink; which leads to guests ordering more drinks to taste the different techniques.

Caicedo encourages employees to take an interactive approach when learning and developing their skills.

“We recently had one of our certified sommeliers spend several months at a vineyard in Washington to learn first-hand the winemaking process. She has brought back a wealth of knowledge that she instilled onto the rest of the staff,’’ Caicedo said.

Head bartenders, said Justin Leo, F&B director and Chef at B Resort & Spa in Orlando, tend to gather reputations among the local crowd.

“If you have a head bartender who has this reputation, business naturally follows and will continue as long as the creativity continues to flow,’’ Leo said. “The head bartender has to be constantly developing the next cocktail to get ahead of everyone else.”

A head bartender, Leo said, must have classical drink training, the ability to create new drinks and create recipes that are easy to follow, understand how to control costs and maintain the “show.’’

“Bartending,’’ Leo said, “is as much about showmanship as it is flavor.’’

Amy Mulvihill, general manager at 3030 Restaurant at Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., calls it “balance.’’

“You want somebody who is able to handle a couple of projects thrown their way but doesn’t take away from their day-to-day duties behind the bar,’’ Mulvilhill said.

Unlike many hotel restaurants, 3030 Restaurant does not employ an “official’’ head bartender.

“I have an unofficial head bartender,’’ Mulvihill said. “What I’ve found over the years is you don’t necessarily have to designate or hire a head bartender, because typically someone on the team wants to step up and take more responsibility.’’

A head bartender, said Martein van Wagenberg, managing director of Le Guanahani resort in St. Barth, greatly increases the chances of the bar program gathering press, popularity, and increased profit in a full-service restaurant or hotel.

“He ensures the quality and consistency of drinks and service, keeps the selection of spirits fresh and interesting, educates the other bartenders about the program and about cocktails and spirits in general, and changes the drink menu seasonally or as needed,’’ van Wagenberg said. “There is no real cocktail bar without a soul. All great known bars, all have their own identity which is been carrying first by their head bartenders. ‘’

So overall, what skill sets should a head bartender possess? Leslie Weil, general manager of the new Aloft South Beach hotel, believes It’s attitude, organization and perhaps most of all, the ability to communicate.

“Respond promptly and don’t promise anything you can’t deliver,’’ Weil said. “The behavior of the staff and the customer service initiatives must be monitored and evaluated consistently. This allows the property to prevent problems and theft from employees.

“Train the team - make notes on weaknesses and strengths and assist in development and empowerment; give valuable advice and compliments. A successful team makes cheerful employees, in turn, makes happy guests and a full bar dominated by happy people leads to increased revenues.’’
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