Peter Dorelli, international ambassador for the UKBG, is an entertainer. He says a bartender's style should be defined by more than just drinks making
Everyone wants to be known for their creativity when the reality is that’s not the measure of a bartender. It’s a long time ago now, but when I was managing the American Bar, a great host or bartender could keep customers in their bar for hours and hours. It wasn’t the drinks that were keeping them there – back then they were probably just drinking Gin & Tonics, even in the American Bar – it was the bartenders. A bartender is part of the experience, the entertainment. In fact, the simplicity of the drinks that we mostly served back in the day actually heightened the experience. We had far more time to communicate.
Simplifying your offering goes against the direction we’re heading as an industry. Today, bartenders are trying to showcase their creativity, make a statement about the skills and scope of our industry, and prove their worth among peers who seem to value esoteric ingredients and complicated processes. Few bartenders brag about how consistently and effortlessly they can make a classic cocktail and how that frees up more time to chat to their guests. That’s not what’s valued right now, but it should be.
When people talk of a bartender’s style today, they mean their drinks. But what about their personality and hosting style? Perfect it, because everyone can improve here – think about your posture, your body language, your eye contact and your smile. Think about the words you use and the way you use them. The stories you have that can be dropped into conversation seamlessly. Work out what is just the right amount of interaction for your guests – this is a fine art.
But there are other reasons to fall behind more simple drinks and classics, making them well and efficiently. Not least because classics have made their name for good reason – people know them, like them and are likely to order more than one of them. You have to remember that, while some people are impressed by clever cocktail names and exotic ingredients, many are put off.
You have to ask yourself who you are creating these cocktails for – your peers or your customers? And importantly, are they really better than the tried and tested classics that have survived more than 100 years? In any business, it makes sense to sell products that have a market.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have signature drinks on your menu, but the ratio of signature to classics shouldn’t be four or five to one. Unless it’s in reverse. My days managing a bar may be behind me, but even as a guest I always look out for bartenders who can make conversation as well as drinks. So if you wonder why your bar isn’t busy, or why guests leave after one round, it’s because you’ve lost the art of entertaining. That is hospitality. It’s the magic of great bars and, sadly, it is missing in many.