Words by: Jane Ryan
Cocktail waitresses and waiters play a vital role in most bars, but are seldom mentioned within these pages, let alone within our industry. They are the first point of contact for most guests, the person who will suggest drinks, offer advice and provide service all night long. Perhaps it's time we trained them up.
A waitress, just like a bartender, should be able to explain to guests the taste profile of any spirit the back bar carries. They should be able to identify how different ingredients impact on a cocktail, and should be able to move a customer's experience forward. Love rum, have you heard of rhum agricole? Big on Scotch, experiment with peated or grain.
Luckily, the stereotypical notion of a waitress with tight blouse and short skirt and on the look out for big tips but generally clueless and unaware, is on the whole mythical. But then how often are customers served by waiting staff who really know their spirits inside out? And is this their fault or is it the fault of the bar that offered no training?
Some bars tackle the floor challenge by doing away with wait staff altogether, such as the American Bar under Peter Dorelli. However a lot of customers will never come face-to-face with their bartender. And herein lies the problem: it's the bartenders who will develop their knowledge as they move from job to job, it's bartenders that brands want to court and educate and it's bartenders who are in their job for the long haul.
We asked bars in New York, London and Melbourne what was the best way to tackle the problem. Here are their answers.
A Means To An End
Whether they're a struggling actress, musician or student shouldn't matter. If you're doing a job it needs to be done properly. And a little initiative would go a long way, such as asking what ingredients are if they don't know them. That said bartenders shouldn't get upset if a waitress or waiter is asking these questions, which can often be the case. Ultimately it comes down to training. Bars need to invest in their waitresses much more than they do now.
If employers rewarded staff showing initiative and knowledge or provided training, then customers would have a better experience at their tables.
Think like a bartender, act like waiter
Try to give each table personal recommendations and logical progression of drinks as well as snippets of information and knowledge about the products.
Taste all the products
Understand every ingredient inside a drink, homemade and purchased, what does it taste like and how it changes a drink and works alongside other products.
Learn the key classics
Having a blank face when someone asks for a Sidecar or White Lady isn't going to go down well. Make sure your servers know the ones that are most asked for and the twists on them.
Reading the room
Knowing where each guest is with their cocktail is just as important as knowledge. Guests shouldn't be left waiting for you.
Memory (faces, names, drinks)
Timing (when to check back)
Body language (both positive towards guests and the ability to read guests)
Appearance and grooming