WHY CAN’T MIXOLOGISTS BE MORE LIKE BARTENDERS?
Not that I have anything against mixologist. Some of my best friends are mixologists. The problem is that in my experience, the amount of professional arrogance in the industry is staggering. It’s not enough to be a talented, passionate know-it-all anymore. Todays consumer has choices when it comes to craft cocktail lounges. It wasn’t long ago that my friend, mixologist James Menite, and I went into a well established local cocktail lounge here in NYC (no, not that one) and sat at the bar. We were happily chatting away while we waited the obligatory 15 minutes to get our perfectly made craft cocktails when a young lady stepped up to the bar and ordered a Cosmopolitan. James and I winced as we braced ourselves for the response. Then our mixologist said “If you want a Cosmo, I suggest you go out the front door, make a left, go to the end of the block until you see a dive bar on the corner. Maybe they’ll serve you a Cosmo”.
Direct quote. I swear on my bottle of KNOCKANDO (or No-Can-Do as the case may be). Sadly, though I should have been floored by this response, I’d heard it before. Sometimes the admonishment is directed toward Vodka, grenadine or a blue cocktail, but the message always comes across loud and clear: ‘WE DON’T SERVE YOUR KIND HERE!’
It seemed obvious to me that guest simply didn’t know what she wanted, but what if she did? Not only was she a paying guest, she is a human being. The whole incident reminded me of the pompous chef who refuses to do substitutions for no other reason than his guests “just don’t get the vision”. It suddenly occurred to me that a lot of talented mixologists could learn a thing or two from a good bartender.
Take Tommy Rowles for example. Tommy has been a bartender at the Carlyle Hotel for over 53 years. If you ask him his favorite cocktail to make, he’ll tell you straight out: a Heineken. The man doesn’t know from mixology, but he knows how to make his guests happy. The only time Tommy grunts at a cocktail request is if you order a Mojito and that’s only because he has arthritis and it hurts to muddle that mint properly. Everybody’s has their own story on why they got into the customer service industry, I just think that if your going to be in this business one of your priorities should be, hmmm, I don’t know… customer service?
The really sad part is that everyone I know in this business has a similar story and yet no one is ever guilty of having done it themselves. In the three years I worked at PER SE I only had three guests request a Long Island Ice Tea. These diners were about to embark on the most memorable (if not expensive) meal of their lives and yet they ordered a cocktail famous for its amnesiac qualities. It never occurred to me to roll my eyes, or whisper in hushed tones to my fellow bar mates. Instead I did what a bartender/mixologist is supposed to do, I made their drinks, without judgement. I didn’t make them overtly strong, I didn’t rip them off. I used premium spirits, fresh ingredients and balanced the acids and sugars. It was the “best tasting L.I.T. they’d ever tasted” hence the second round. Chef Thomas Keller once said, “We (in the service industry) are in the business of creating memories”. Bartenders more than most.
So the next time a customer leans over the bar and orders that ‘Mudslide with extra cherries’ tap into your inner bartender. Consider it a personal challenge and make them the best damn Mudslide they’ve ever had, even if your blender is still broken!
(COMMENTS? FEEDBACK? SHARE YOUR OWN STORY? I want to hear from you… send all comments to: Brian@MyMixologist.com)