10 Customer Service Rules for Bartenders

Customer Service

There’s nothing worse than getting terrible customer service. You probably know what I’m talking about. I mean, everyone’s been on the wrong side of bad service…

Maybe it was when you tried to cancel your phone contract and you were put on hold for 30 mins before you eventually got through. And when you finally did get to talk to a real person, they transferred you to another department that also had no idea what they were talking about!

Or maybe it was as simple as getting your haircut and the hairdresser spent the entire time gossiping to a friend on their phone…

Whatever it was, bad customer service is incredibly frustrating!

And guess what?

It’s exactly the same for customers you serve behind the bar. Put yourself in their shoes, how do you feel when you rock up to a bar and you’re served by a miserable bartender who barely acknowledges your existence?

He’s probably not smiling at you, he can’t be bothered to do more than just grunt in your direction, and when he finally does ‘throw’ a drink your way, he looks at you expectantly, waiting for a tip.

There’s nothing worse…

So don’t be that guy.

The Power of Outstanding Customer Service

On the other side of the spectrum, we have outstanding customer service. And there’s nothing better!

How great does it feel when you call up your phone service provider and your call is instantly answered by a real person? And when you tell them your problem, BAM, it’s instantly solved.

No waiting on hold for hours, no arguing with the ‘customer service’ representative. You call them, you talk to a real person, and what you need just get’s DONE.

It feels amazing!

That level of customer service inspires so much loyalty it’s ridiculous. And guess what? It’s exactly the same when you provide outstanding customer service behind the bar.

When you provide that level of service, customers will tell their friends about you, they’ll rave to your managers about you, they’ll WANT to tip you more, and they’ll back again, and again, and again!

In short, it will make you the most popular (and well paid) bartender in town.

Why?

Because providing people with high levels of service makes them ‘feel’ good. It makes them ‘feel’ special. And that’s what hospitality (and bartending) is all about.

So let’s get to it.

What is Good Customer Service?

Good customer service has become somewhat of a cliche in the hospitality industry. These days, every business and manager seem to be saying that they give ‘the best customer service’ around. Blah, blah, blah…

But the truth is, most of these businesses don’t provide great customer service at all. They provide mediocre levels of service at best. And if you asked them what good customer service was, they wouldn’t be able to give you a clear answer.

So let’s clear things up.

Essentially, good customer service boils down to this, Treat people the same way you would want to be treated if you were in their position.

Yes, it goes back to that age-old maxim your grandmother used to tell you. And it’s true! Think about it, when you go to a bar, how do you want to be treated?

Do you want the bartender to smile, ask you how you’re doing, and actually be interested in your existence?? Or do you want them to ignore you and continue playing around on their phone?

Outstanding customer service comes down to being the kind of bartender you would want to be served by. It’s as simple as that.

If that catchall phrase doesn’t tickle your fancy (or you have some weird ideas of how you like to be treated), here’s another, slightly more dramatic way to think about good customer service, Focus on giving the customer an experience they won’t forget!

How do you implement these two phrases?

That’s what we’re going to look at for the rest of this article. We’re going to dive into 10 different rules you can implement today to give outstanding levels of customer service. Pay attention, because these rules are powerful.

And it all begins with…

1) The Right Attitude

Outstanding customer service begins with the right attitude. Your attitude governs everything you do behind the bar so it’s important that you cultivate a good one.

What’s the right attitude?

Well, there is no ‘one’ right attitude. But there are certainly key ingredients that contribute to great service.

I think the most important of these is actually wanting to give people a good experience and then going out of your way to make that happen.

If you don’t want people to have a good time, bartending probably isn’t for you. Because as a bartender, that’s your first priority. And it means you’ll have to put some effort into achieving that.

Whether that’s introducing 2 customers, cracking a funny joke, or just going the extra mile to make sure the customer is happy with their drink, it’s important that you cultivate that attitude.

Then, I would say that it’s important that you’re proud of your job.

If you don’t like your job, you’re not going to take it seriously, and you’re not going to want to be there. And if you don’t want to be there, it’s going to be pretty obvious in how you interact with customers.

Fortunately, being a bartender is awesome so it’s an easy job to be proud of ;-).

Finally, you should be able to separate your personal life from your life at work. In other words, don’t bring your problems to the bar. As soon as you walk behind that bar, it’s time to put your game face on.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a bad day, you failed an exam, or you got caught speeding. You can’t give customers fantastic service if you’re worried, angry, or frustrated by something that’s happened outside of work.

So leave your shit at home.

2) Build Relationships

Building great relationships with customers is a fantastic way to enhance their experience. And no, I’m not talking about sleeping with them!

I’m talking about building working friendships, or even just mutual levels of respect. When people walk into a bar, they want to feel at home, they want to feel respected, and they want to be able to just relax and be themselves.

If they have a good relationship with you, that’s exactly how they’re going to feel.

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to hang out with them after work or buy them a drink. It simply means that whilst you’re at work, you go out of your way to make them feel welcome, have a chat/laugh, find out how they’re going, and listen to what they have to say.

Essentially, you should treat your customers as if they’re your friend.

Think about it, when a friend rocks up to your bar, how do you act? Do you ignore them and continue polishing glasses?

Or do you crack a big smile, walk over and say hello, ask them how they’re going, and then find out what they’d like to drink?

The chances are, it’s the latter. And you should aim to treat every single one of your customers the same way. Regardless of whether or not you know them.

How you go about this is going to depend on the type of venue you work at. Some venues will encourage more friendly behavior, whereas other venues will require you to act more formally.

It should be pretty obvious, but if you’re not sure, ask your manager.

One final note, this does not give you an excuse to STOP working and chat with customers. If you’ve got tons to do, and a new customer walks in, don’t stop what you’re doing, casually walk over, say hello, and then begin to engage in small talk (see customer service tip number 10)!

Use your common sense here.

3) Know Your Products

Having a great attitude and building solid relationships with customers is fantastic. But what about when they want a drink from you? Can you recommend something that they’ll enjoy?

Do you even know what kinds of drinks you sell?

If you don’t, you need to understand that it looks extremely unprofessional. Look at it like this, if a customer asks you if you have any IPAs, what’s the better answer?

Hmm, I’m not sure what an IPA is…Or, “Yes we do, we’ve got the ‘Wolf of the Willows’ IPA on tap and the ‘Brewdog Punk’ IPA by the bottle.

Knowing the products you sell behind the bar is integral to providing great customer service. From a customer’s point of view, it’s pretty disappointing if their bartender can’t answer their questions about the drinks they sell.

On the other hand, it’s extremely impressive if the bartender can intimately describe the drinks on their list, guide them through their selection, and offer any recommendations they might enjoy. People remember that kind of bartender…

So at the very least, you need to learn the cocktails on your list, the more popular beers, wines & spirits you stock, and any other popular drinks/products (food, coffee, juice, etc) you sell. The more you know the better!

Being friendly and easy to chat with is only one aspect of bartending. So make sure you develop the others. Knowing your products is what makes you useful to the customer and they will seriously appreciate & respect you for it.

4) Learn How to Sell

For a lot of you, ‘selling’ probably sounds like a dirty/sleazy word. It sounds like you’re trying to rip people off and take them for all their money.

But that’s not what selling really is. Selling, in the context I’m talking about, is about giving your customers a better experience.

Consider this, before the customer even walks through the front door, they’ve already made the decision that they’re going to spend some money. Whether that’s on food, drinks, or whatever.

No-one walks into a bar thinking that they’re going home with a fatter wallet. It just doesn’t work like that!

So as the bartender, it’s your job to help them spend that money in the best way possible. In other words, it’s your job to ‘sell’ them the products you think they’ll love. That’s the way you need to start thinking about selling.

One of the best techniques to do this is known as suggestive selling. Essentially, it’s giving the customer ideas (or suggestions) of what they might like to order.

That might mean that you let them know about any specials that are on (happy hour, Halloween shots, etc), any new stock that’s arrived, food that might go well with their drink (and vice-versa), or anything exotic that they might not be able to get anywhere else (novelty drinks, craft beers, an extensive wine list, etc).

It could be as simple as suggesting a better quality vodka to have with their soda!

However you chose to approach it, suggestive selling works and it makes everyone happier!

Your customer appreciates you taking the time to let them know about better quality products or any specials that are on. And your boss appreciates the fact that your selling more, both in quantity & price!

**Note** When you’re suggesting products, you should only suggest and recommend drinks that you think they’ll like. Otherwise, your venturing into the sleazy salesman arena.

5) Keep the Bar Clean & Organised

You might be thinking ‘How does a clean & organized bar give the customer a better experience?’

Well, it’s simple, a clean and organized bar is more efficient, effective, and more hygienic to work in. It also looks better, which in turn, makes the customer feel better about ordering a drink there.

If a bar is disorganized, precious time is lost searching for products and/or making unnecessary trips up and down the bar collecting different things. There’s nothing worse than trying to find that bottle of citrus vodka in the middle of a busy service…

That time can be put to much better use.

For example, you could use that time to give better service by chatting with the customers, guiding them through the menu, recommending different products, or most important of all, serving more people!

If a bar is dirty, it’s naturally going to be less hygienic. And that’s going to be a huge turn-off to customers when they walk up to the bar and order a drink.

For example, if they see un-tended spilled drinks, over-flowing bins, and flies everywhere, they’ll simply think, ‘this bar is disgusting, there’s no way I’m ordering a drink from here.

On top of all of that, from the bartender’s point of view, working behind a clean and organized bar feels a lot better. A lot of us bartenders have mild OCD. And disorganization & dirtiness frustrates us and play on our minds.

These frustrations inevitably lead to poorer levels of service.

So it’s pretty simple, clean up after yourself, organize the bar in the most efficient way possible, and watch how much happier you AND your customers will feel whenever you’re at work.

6) Be Fair

In nightclubs, you see this one all the time.

You’ve been waiting at the bar for 10 minutes when a young attractive woman rocks up and starts waiting next to you. The bartender finishes serving his last customer and he starts walking in your direction…

Finally,’ you think…

But as you open your mouth to ask for the 3 beers you’ve waited so long for, you realize that the bartender isn’t serving you at all. They’re serving the young attractive woman standing right next to you who only just arrived…

And it’s annoying… Really annoying!

We’ve all done it, but some bartenders are more guilty of it than others. That is, they give preferential treatment to certain customers (generally young attractive females, friends, or wealthy customers).

That preferential treatment usually comes in the form of serving these customers first (despite others waiting for longer) and/or spending too long talking to them whilst other customers are waiting.

I think this rule is fairly obvious, but outstanding customer service requires you to be fair and treat all of your customers equally. Otherwise, customers are just going to get annoyed that they’re not receiving the right amount of attention.

7) Forget About ‘The Tips’

This is an incredibly hard tip to remember. Because for a lot of us, tips is how we make our living. But focusing on ‘the tips’ is NOT the way to give outstanding customer service. 

The problem with focusing on tips is that it leads to poorer levels of service overall. And you’ll end up getting annoyed when people don’t tip you well. Which leads to even poorer levels of service.

Sure, you might serve some customers extremely well… The ones that are tipping well. But you’ll ignore the rest, which is in clear violation to tip number 6 – Be fair! 

Also, this way of thinking comes across as greedy, fake, and unauthentic. And when people find out that that’s what you’re about, it leaves a sour taste in their mouth.

On the other hand, when you provide everyone with great levels of customer service regardless of how much you think they’ll tip, not only will you feel better, but people will see that you’re a genuine, authentic human being.

They’ll appreciate your service much more.

And as a natural consequence, you’ll start bringing in more tips.

So forget about the tips and focus on giving great levels of service regardless of whether or not you think they’ll tip you well. In the long run, you’ll be much better off for it.

8) Learn how to Handle Complaints

Bartenders tend to be pretty bad at handling customer complaints. And the reason is that most of us aren’t taught how to deal with them. We’re just expected to be able to handle these situations on our own without any training.

And when you take into account that most of these complaints seem to arrive at the most inconvenient times (i.e. there are 10 customers waiting at the bar, you’ve got 5 cocktails to make, and no-one is around to help you…), it’s no wonder that complaints aren’t handled very well.

BUT, if you want to give outstanding levels of customer service, you MUST learn how to handle them. Because it’s in these moments that you can either lose a customer for life OR turn them into raving fans.

How does that work?

When customers feel like they’ve been ripped off or mistreated, they’re never going to come back… Would you?

But when they realize that what happened was a simple mistake anyone could have made AND they’re offered a great solution to the problem, they think, ‘Wow, these guys really care about giving us a great experience!’

Funnily enough, a customer that has had their complaint dealt with extremely well is more likely to love the venue than a customer who never had a complaint at all!

If you’re not sure how to handle complaints, here’s a few tips.

How to Handle Customer Complaints

The most important thing you need to do to effectively handle a complaint is to actually listen what the customer has to say. Whatever you do, DON’T interrupt or argue with them.

That’s only going to further infuriate them. It’s also a great way to ensure bad reviews and specific complaints to management about you.

So keep your cool, listen, acknowledge their points, and wait for them to finish.   

Once they’ve finished, if it appears that you or anyone in the team has made a mistake, admit them, apologize, and then do your best to make it right.

In other words, propose a solution you think they’ll be happy with.

If necessary, pass the situation over to management so they can propose a more effective solution (for example, you might not have the authority to give away free drinks, take something off the bill, etc).

That’s it!

Note: The customer isn’t always right so handling complaints doesn’t mean that you should accommodate to their every need. In these situations, common sense prevails! For example, if a customer complains about their drink/food after they’ve finished it, I’d be hesitant about refunding them.

9) Cut Drunks Off

For a lot of bartenders, cutting drunks off is the worst & most difficult part of the job.

But it has to be done…

Because if you don’t, you’re potentially ruining other guests’ experiences, you’re putting the customer’s safety at risk, and you could be hit with a huge fine. Or worse, lose your job!

So don’t ‘leave customers to it’ and expect them to know when they’ve had enough. Sometimes, you’re going to have to step up and step in.

There are several ways to deal with these situations. But before you take any action, make sure you let someone else know (preferably a manager) that you’re going to do something. Just in case thinks go awry.

Once you’ve let someone else know, the best approach is to take the customer to one side and tell them that unfortunately, you’re no longer able to serve them. You can either say it’s because management won’t let you or because you have to adhere to strict alcohol service laws.

Whatever you do, don’t tell them it’s because their too drunk. That’s a great way to offend and embarrass them. And they’re likely to respond negatively.

The ideal outcome is that the customer accepts what you say and stops drinking. But the chances are, they’re not going to like being told they can’t get anything else to drink.

So if they do complain, be firm, and you keep your cool. You’re in the right here. And if the problem persists, let management know.

10) Prioritise

There’s A LOT to think about when you’re working behind the bar… Especially, when you’re trying to give outstanding levels of customer service!

For example, a customer walks in and you know that you have to be friendly, smile, and say hello. But what about if you’re already in the middle of serving someone else? And what about if you’ve got another customer waiting to pay their tab, 10 cocktails to make, dishes stacking up, and a drunk in the corner demanding to be served!?

Well, that’s when things start to get interesting!

But don’t worry, these situations get easier… Trust me.

So first things first, it’s important to recognize that sometimes, you won’t be able to give the ‘full’ service because you have more important things to do.

When things start to get hectic, you need to prioritize. Otherwise, you’ll get overwhelmed and the situation will keep getting worse.

As a general rule of thumb, prioritize serving customers over doing things (i.e. making cocktails, washing dishes, etc).

But the truth is, how you prioritize is going to depend on the bar you work at and how many people you’re working with. Regardless, you need to know how to juggle a situation like this without having a mental breakdown.

So to give you an idea, here’s what I would do.

Prioritizing in Action

Firstly, I’d find out if there was anyone else around who could help me out. And if there was, I’d ask them to sort out the customer’s bill, serve the new customer, followed by taking care of the dishes.

In the meantime, I’d finish serving my original customer, go take care of the drunk, and then make all of the cocktails.

Unfortunately, there won’t always be someone around to help (damn you cheap employers!!). If that was the case, I’d let the arriving customer know that I’d be with them in a minute & hand them a menu, I’d finish serving my original customer, take care of the other customer’s bill, sort out the drunk, go back to serving the new customer, make the cocktails, and finally, take care of the dishes.

Then I’d go have a beer and call it a night!

Whatever the situation is, prioritizing will help you keep level-headed, remain calm, and satisfy the customers’ most important needs.

Conclusion

Bartending is about being a consummate professional. There’s a lot more to it than making the customer their favorite drink. And being able to provide outstanding levels of customer service is one of the most (if not the most) important quality of a great bartender.

So it should be at the forefront of your mind whenever you’re at work.

If you’ve gone through this list and feel like there’s too much to learn, just remember this simple rule, ‘treat others the same way you yourself would want to be treated.

In most cases, that should steer you in the right direction.

And on a final note, one of the best things about learning how to give great customer service is that these skills are transferable to every other area of your life. Whether it’s in a professional manner or in your personal life, people skills are valuable. And that’s what customer service is.

So even if you’re only bartending as a temporary gig, develop this invaluable skill-set. Because who knows, it could change your life!

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