Friday, May 15, 2015

:: highlights from cocktails in the country ::

Earlier in the week, I attended Gary Regan's Cocktails in the Country 2015, the first of a series of events he last did in 2007. From meeting up at noon on Monday until being dropped back off in Manhattan at 7pm on Tuesday, I was in the company of 9 other bartenders in various stages of their careers as well as a few industry guests. We all made the pilgrimage to Cornwall, NY, where Gary lives about 60 miles north of Manhattan, and the event from bar to overnight accommodations were held at Painters Inn. The two days were filled with classes, interactive sessions, Negroni drinking, and bartending time, and here are some of the gems that were discussed.
One of the books that Gary reads over and over again is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. These four rules are quite pertinent for a bartender to get along well with both your guests and your coworkers:
1. Be impeccable with your word (i.e.: do not lie).
2. Do not take anything personally (criticism often is not about you but about them and their insecurities).
3. Do not make assumptions.
4. Always do your best (your best today might not be as your best yesterday, and do not beat yourself up as long as you are doing your best).
Gary spoke a lot about mindful bartending -- the total awareness of everything around you from what your customers, your fellow staff, and even the kitchen are doing. Set your intentions for the evening; "I want to make a lot of money tonight" is not as important as "I want to be of service to my guest" because that will set things up such that the money will come naturally. Mindfulness can start with focusing on communication. Whether you are at work or running errands in town, ask "How are you today?" and wait for a response along with eye contact. Perhaps not when you are in the weeds at the bar, but start when it is slower. And not just the guests, but consider the dishwasher, the barback, and others who may not get noticed in life. Communication is a two way street but stop and listen to what people have to say.
Part of the event was a library hour. The book I selected was the 1901 The New Police Gazette Bartenders Guide that had the above gem about politeness and affability costing nothing. This rare gem was a privilege to read; such century-old paperbacks are so fragile that few are left in such great condition and the ones that I have seen for sale have been well out of my price range.

Phrasing is an important part of communication.
• Avoid the tyranny of "shoulds" and avoid the use of should at all costs. Instead use the phrase "you might want to think about."
• "I need your help." Whether it is a coworker or the ringleader of a rowdy group of patrons, singling them out so they feel special makes them more amenable to what you need to be done.

Similar to what was discussed at Anchor Distilling's Educational Drinking Tour, 90% of success is making yourself easy to work with. Gary presented a few guidelines and parameters to consider:
• Never agree to do something you do not want to do or cannot do.
• Always meet deadlines.
• Communicate constantly.
• Help promote your competition.
• Never badmouth anyone.
• Never take yourself too seriously.
Life is far too important to be taken seriously. -- Oscar Wilde
• Do not be a prima donna -- you are no better than anyone else. Success does not make you any better.
• Never lie about your strengths.
In preparing for a shift, consider getting to work early. Whether you meditate, read, or eat food, the time will help you center yourself and prepare yourself for the shift.

Never, ever get angry. However, you will not be successful every time. Anger is fear based. In trying to diffuse situations, know that the victim is afraid. Afraid of acting, afraid of doing nothing. Use humor and connection to your advantage.

Find a good mentor. Most bartenders are willing to share their knowledge. Just sitting at their bar and watching how they handle various situations can be helpful.

Use cleaning the bar during the shift to your advantage. Cleaning will restore organization and teach you where things live. Moving up and down the bar during the cleaning will allow you to interact with all of the guests.

Finally, nobody goes to a bar for a drink. You can drink at home, but people go out to celebrate, meet other people, find romance, conduct business, or read. People will go out for a drink if they hear that the place has quality cocktails, but they will not return if that is all they get. The most important goal of a bartender's job is to make sure that every guest leaves the bar happier than when they walked in.

For further insight into mindful bartending, I recommend Gary's Gary Regan's Annual Manual for Bartenders series. I own and have read 2011 and 2012, and I have 2013 coming my way. Those books pointed me in the direction of such literary gems as This Must Be the Place. And there are still several more dates for Cocktails in the Country and more information can be had here.

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