Alex Kratena: My Golden Rules to better bars

Also colloquially known as his guide to creating 'Holy Shit' moments in your bar, award-winning bartender Alex Kratena, head bartender at Artesian at the Langham, and Tales of the Cocktail's International Bartender of the Year 2012, gave his top tips to a better guest experience as part of a series of Bacardi Legacy seminars.

1. It's all in the detail


A bar isn't totally about the drinks it serves: a guest's experience starts before they arrive and lasts during and after their visit. It's about anticipating the experience; the service itself, from the drink they order, whether a cocktail with a beautiful garnish or a perfect glass of water, to the smell of the room. Afterwards, it's about the way the bill is presented and whether it's easy to get a taxi when you leave. Perfection is all these thousands of details, all executed brilliantly. You can make anything special.

2. Know your competition


The easiest way to exceed your guests' expectations is to know what their expectations are, so go around and see what your competitors do wrong and build on that. Remember, the customer experience is a journey, not a destination.

3. Here's one for mum


The foundation of an amazing cocktail is to make things delicious, but here's my most important rule about drinks-making: would you serve it to your mother? If you can serve something to your mum, it's good enough for presidents or royalty.

4. The bar's a stage


It's not just about what goes in the glass, it's everything that happens around it too. I really like smell, theatre and fun things, because smells and sounds are the biggest triggers of the human brain. Try and evoke a memory or emotion in the way you serve a drink: in my bar it's telling a story. Remember, 60 per cent of what we do is ingredients and the rest is technique/execution.

5. Service innovation


There are so many new products being launched all the time, but little service innovation. At Artesian, that's a key part of theatre and service. We are continually coming up with new vessels, from our silver Martini glass with detachable bowl, to our latest cocktail, called Forever Young. It is inspired by Oscar Wilde, who used to hang out at the Langham and wrote A Picture of Dorian Gray there. In many ways, it's the ultimate garnish, so individual that you can't replicate it: it comes with a mirror that reflects you as you drink while an incense stick perfumes the space around you.

6. Be original


Everything is becoming the same - you see the same speakeasy bars, built to similar rules the world over. Don't be limited by these rules: we asked ourselves why we couldn't use a slushie machine on the back-bar of a 5-star hotel? In fact, there's never been a corporate rule that said you couldn't - I checked! Couldn't we use one to create the best-tasting Piña Colada, at the perfect temperature and the correct texture? That's how we came to have a slushie machine on the back-bar. For the same reason, who said you cannot serve a drink on a comic book as a coaster if it evokes emotion?

7. Smile!


One of the most important economic considerations in the 21st century is to create an insanely amazing bar experience with no cost to you, or at least little resource. So remember the essence of hospitality is to gain pleasure from doing nice things to other people. Build relationships and smile: you can make someone's day by smiling and that can make your day as well. With that comes trust and people will want to return. Be aware of body language and listen too. Get that formula right and the money will follow.

8. If it's not broke, make it better


Just because something is not broken doesn't mean you can't make it better. A cocktail may look good in one particular glass, but maybe it tastes better from another. Does your guest understand how to drink what you've served them? Could you organise your speed rail better?

9. Collaborate and listen


Collaboration between your team is a key element of creating the perfect bar: no matter how amazing a mixologist is, the whole team should feedback on how they see their guests' experience. You need a set of rules for all your staff to double check how to do things. Make sure your guys understand where the job is going to take them. What are your values, how do you measure success and what are your key performance indicators? Leadership sets goals, management works out how to achieve them.

10. The next big thing


Everyone's been aging cocktails in barrels, bottles and clay jars. We've been imagining the next step of how to age cocktails and realized that next step is actually the very first way how to keep liquid, we've started to age cocktails in leather sacks to some really great results. Glass of one of the drinks we've created is wrapped in luxury tissue perfumed with rather expensive perfume. It's evocative and reminds us we are not just selling cocktails: we are selling emotions.

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