Be ‘Set for Success’ on your next bartender shift.

Are you a bartender who arrives at work hung over, in a creased shirt wearing an apron which you can identify every drink you made last night from, borrowing a pen from the customer and cracking beers off the bar top edge? Or do you arrive at the bar before your shift to make sure everything is ready for your shift with everything you need?

I think you can guess which one I encourage.

During my days at TGI Friday’s this was called your ‘Hamburger Stand’, and was accompanied (as many Friday’s theories are) by a charming story about a man setting up a burger stand and how successful it was when he was prepared with everything he needed vs the day he had a few stale buns, frozen burgers and no cheese. I call it common sense.

What should you bring to work:

This will vary based on what kind of bar you work – but there are a few basics that you should carry regardless.

3 Pens:

The idea behind this is one to lend, one to use and one to lose. Find yourself a good supply of low cost but decent quality pens, as you will be buying these often. I recommend getting ‘clicky pens’ where the writing nib pops in and out as opposed to anything with a removable lid (quicker to use and you’ll never lose the lid) and preferably with one of those little pocket grabbing arms on them (I don’t know what they’re called, but I’m sure you know what I mean). There is nothing worse than hunting around when a customer asks for a pen – you might be stopping them getting a number (they’ll really hate you) or making them wait to sign off their tab which will destroy your tips.

2 Cigarette lighters:

Again, look for some cheap ones. While smoking is becoming less and less common at the bar (when I started the mark of an attentive bartender was lighting a customer’s cigarette before they had the chance) your guests will still include smokers and they will often ask for a light. Again go for cheap disposable ones as you will lose a lot, but where possible try to buy the electronic ignition ones rather than the ones with a flint wheel to make the spark. Electronic lighters are far more reliable with damp hands if you’re trying to flame an orange peel garnish for example. While Zippos are awesome lighters, I’d make sure you have cheap ones to lend, as they’re a bit too pricey to risk loosing, though there are plenty of tricks to learn with zippos that are great fun.

1 Waiter’s friend:

You can spend a fortune or just a few bucks on a waiter’s friend bottle opener, but just make sure its of solid construction. If you’re unsure, the waiter’s friend is the one arm wine opener corkscrew which levers out the cork and usually has a small knife built in for cutting the foil at the top of the bottle. I personally prefer the two step models which make opening bottles of wine in bulk (for receptions etc) a breeze.

1 Bar Blade type bottle opener:

There are thousands of different designs of bar blade opener available from many different sources across the internet and in catering suppliers, and its really a case of personal preference. I’ve used the same blade for years, so these can be invested in as you shouldn’t lose them (my personal one is a Quest 2007 commemorative design, quite beat up now, but I feel it makes me look like a veteran bartender so I’m ok with it). Some of the better ones to look out for now have cut outs from the finger end which allows you to pop out pour spouts really easily from liquor bottles (I’ve just picked up one of these and will post a review soon) and the Wrench which looks badass and doubles as a hawthorne strainer. I personally have a belt pouch to hold my blade and a lighter, I know some people prefer the back pocket option but I like knowing exactly where it is!

Advanced Equipment:

This section is for items that you might need depending on the style of your bar and what your guests need.

Cigar Cutter:

If you’re working in a high end bar, especially if you sell cigars and regardless of whether you allow smoking inside, you should be carrying a cigar cutter. They don’t have to be too fancy but make sure the blades are sharp and educate yourself on how to use them properly so you don’t destroy an expensive Cuban!

Deck of Playing Cards:

Learn a few magic tricks and you can entertain your customers in the quieter periods at work – even better, learn some organic magic tricks with every day items like napkins or a cups and balls routine to perform with your shaker tins and you’ll have a reputation in no time.

Your own shaker tins and tools:

Certain bars will require you to bring your own shaker tins, bar spoons, muddlers etc with you for your shift – its certainly not a bad thing to invest in either as almost all event bars will need you to have your own equipment and event bartending is a great way to gain more knowledge and get your name known in the bartending world.