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Successful Bartending Tip #1
KNOW YOUR CLIENTELE
Working in a bar or pub environment is often challenging for a bartender, particularly in a smaller establishment. A local pub tends to see many regular faces, frequently. In most cases, businesses like these employ only a handful of staff at any given time and each staff member will probably have the responsibility of the entire place during most of their work hours if not during every shift.
Know your customers. Make a point of arriving for your scheduled shift a half hour or so earlier than necessary and spend roughly half of this time casually taking in the bar's atmosphere. Walk around; start light conversations with the patrons (This will prove helpful when your shift starts. Should it be quiet, or you find yourself with just a few people to tend to you'll have discussion threads already in the works). Find something to occupy yourself with while nonchalantly taking stock of your surroundings. It's always a good idea to know as much as possible about the patrons you will be serving shortly. No harm can come from knowing how inebriated someone is BEFORE you begin serving them. You beginning your shift at the bar should have nothing to do with when a patron began theirs. It's possible that you'll have to refuse to serve someone right off the bat, in which case it will be in your best interest to have a few moments before having to do so, just to get your thoughts organized and come up with your game plan.
Listen for things like excessive volume or heated words; look for things like congestion at the bar and how many tables are in use. Scan the area for spilled drinks, garbage piling up or clusters of money lying around. Obnoxious or loud discussions, untidiness around a customer and a lack of concern for where one's money is or how much they're spending can all be sure signs of high alcohol consumption, which can lead to problems later on.
Typically, overly loud or confrontational conversations have the highest potential of becoming unwelcome events. Especially if the time is later in the day or evening (The sprinkling of retired pensioners that often spend their mornings and perhaps afternoons at the bar are generally docile and drink responsibly). You have to remember, those partaking in the discussions have almost always been drinking alcohol and enough alcohol can make even the most peaceable of friends turn on each other in no time at all.
Congestion at the bar can mean several things. The customer load might by higher than usual or expected but it could also simply be the result of poor service. It's important to know what staff member you are relieving when starting your shift (and we'll go into that in Tip #2).
Spend a few minutes surveying the parking lot if possible (or applicable). A good bartender is responsible for their clientele's welfare even after they have vacated the premises. You should know who has driven to the bar, who car pooled, who walked and who plans to drive home. Any vehicular accident that happens outside of your bar, even down the street or across town, can be directly linked back to you and your establishment causing poor reputations, loss of licensing or even legal consequences.
Make a point of knowing if any special events will be taking place that day/night. If so, know whether or not you will be working alone or if you'll have help behind the bar, with the kitchen or even just with stocking inventory as you need it. Typically, a special event, for example a birthday party, will have been planned for at least a few days in advance so try to keep your ears open if you aren't personally involved in the preparations. It will be beneficial for you to know the expected number of guests, what food will be laid out, timeframes for arrivals and departures, etc.
The most important thing to remember is this: You are solely responsible for your patrons' alcohol consumption. Even should they drink elsewhere before entering your bar, or leave to drink elsewhere after being served by you; even should they be under the influence of narcotics (prescription or other); even should they SEEM sober enough, once you serve someone a single drink you have taken on the responsibility of an entire evening in the life of that person. Good times or bad, celebratory or tragic, the life of the bar party should be directed by a bartender who is at all times alert, efficient, thoughtful and most importantly accountable for their service.
[To follow: Successful Bartending Tip #2 ~ KNOW YOUR FELLOW BARKEEP]