Friday 15 June 2012

Diary of a Barback - Listen!

"Pay attention" is one of the common themes in being a good barback, and this includes really listening to what's happening around you.

Listen for chits printing out. If the lead bartender steps off-bar for a few minutes, he shouldn't come back to five chits and have to suddenly catch up. Hear them print, grab them, make what you can, and if the other bartender isn't busy at all, hand him a drink or two. The former is the most important. A bartender doesn't want to come back on-bar and see tons of chits in the printer or above his well and have to sort out a bunch of wine and beer orders that you could have done already.

Listen to the guests at the bar. Even if you're doing something else, if you can hear the guest at all, be aware of what is being ordered. If they're ordering a snack for sharing, you should already be grabbing small plates and napkins. If mains or appetizers are being ordered, you should already be grabbing napkins and cutlery. Likewise with drinks - if something is being ordered that requires a product from the backbar or a juice that's in the fridge, you should be grabbing it before the bartender has to ask. This is really where cocktail knowledge becomes very important. It's really not a big deal if the bartender asks you for something - your job is to help - but wouldn't it be awesome if you're already placing it next to him before he even has to ask? If someone orders a Blood & Sand, grab the cherry heering, if someone orders a particular Scotch, go grab it, an Aviation, grab the violette, and so on. Knowing what's in the cocktails makes this really easy, and when it's busy it makes the bartender's job easier too.

There's only so much you can do here, but it all helps. A guest may say "something bitter with bourbon," and you don't know that the bartender is thinking of using Booker's until he says so. But, anything you can do to speed things up and allow him to just focus on making drinks at his well is improving the system.

For food, if you know which guests are ordering which food, you'll be able to help direct servers to the right person when the food is ready. On a busy night, the 'table numbers' can be confusing at a bar because they're not always clearly defined. Communication is key here too - if a guest orders anything from you, let the bartenders know.

Listen for when guests are finished ordering. If they've ordered drinks, clear the drink menus. If they've ordered food too, clear those menus too.

If you hear someone ask for the bill, print it out; if they mention a card, bring your portable machine if you have one. (And never let a customer wait too long to pay the bill - if a card is on the bar you need to process it as quickly as possible).

Now, don't take this as a lesson to constantly be trying to listen to everyone at the bar even when you're trying to talk to a guest. The guests should always feel like 100% of your attention is on them when you're actually speaking with them, so don't be glancing at other guests and straining to hear. Be in the moment and be engaged and listen to the guest in question, but you may still find your peripheral hearing picking things up and that's great.

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