There are a few things that separate a good bartender from a great one, and understanding how to properly build a round of drinks is one of them.

Any decent bartender can shake and stir a cocktail at the same time, but can you do that twice in a row, with wines and beers to pour, along with a built cocktail and muddled cocktail on-deck as well? If you’re feeling uncertain about the above, then you’ll want to read on carefully because we are going to hash out a few key details to keep in mind when building a round of drinks and the factors that make this process a whole lot easier.

Bar Design Plays a Role

Working at a bar where the design is flawed can definitely be a factor that impedes a bartender’s ability to churn out a round of drinks efficiently. Having the appropriate glassware available, wines, beers, mixers, garnishes, batches, a tin rinser, etc. within reach is vital for efficiency and can add a surprising amount of time onto an order. “Bar design can make or break the speed and efficiency of a bartender,” Jamie Kelso, bar manager at Pretty Ricky’s, says. “That being said, though, how a bartender chooses to set up their station and the mise-en-place they choose to organize can really help even with a bar that is poorly designed.”

PrettyRickey - Spilled Milk Cocktails

PrettyRickey – Spilled Milk Cocktails

Zach Shore, a bartender at The Nest at Thompson Seattle, agrees with the importance of bar design having an impact on a bartender’s performance regardless of their skill level. “With the wrong set-up, you could have veteran bartenders looking like they’re brand new,” he says. “Everything from where your service well is located, to the display shelves, to your beer and wine coolers.

The Nest Stirring

The Nest Stirring

Photo Courtesy of Thompson, Seattle

If your service well isn’t properly set in a spot in the bar with less traffic, you are dooming your servers to struggle through your guests trying to order from the bar. If your rail well (if you have more than one well) isn’t set in a prime location to access everything as efficiently as possible, your bartenders could be running back and forth across the bar just trying to make one round.” Simply put, bar design can affect performance, but always try to think of ways to mitigate the issue and work within your means.

Start With the Cheapest Ingredients First

One of the first things a bartender learns is that when cocktails are in your round, the cheapest (and smallest) ingredients are added to their respective mixing vessels first before moving forward. While this may not always be necessary when you’re building a pair of cocktails, and less likely to mess up, it is crucial to keep this step in mind when building a larger round because, if you mess up a serve with spirits already included that is a loss for the bar from a cost perspective.

“[You should] always build your drinks from least expensive ingredient to most expensive,” Shore says. “If I’m building a Cosmo, for example, I would build it with simple syrup (if your recipe calls for it, mine doesn’t) cranberry, lime, orange liqueur, then vodka. My reasoning for this is if you get ahead of yourself and make a mistake, you aren’t losing much on bar cost by having to just throw out juices and sugars. If you start with the spirits or liqueurs, you are essentially pouring the amount for two drinks at the cost of one.”

The Rockaway

The Rockaway

Photo Courtesy of The Beekman, a Thompson Hotel

Please, Properly Rinse Your Jigger

You have a round of six cocktails, plus a red wine and a beer; yes, it can be a bit hectic, but making sure that you are rinsing your jigger in between cocktails is absolutely crucial for quality service. The thing is, many bartenders get lazy (or stressed) and neglect to take this important step in-between cocktails. “Some of the most common mistakes that I have experienced at some establishments include poor jigger use (inaccurate, contaminated by the last pour, or unnecessarily washed),” Angus Winchester, bar manager at Temple Court at The Beekman, a Thompson Hotel, says. Shore also agrees with this detail being one of the most common mistakes as well. “I’d say the most common mistakes I tend to see are not washing your tins, mixers, and jiggers in between different drinks,” he says. “Watching someone use a jigger they used to make a Margarita, then again to make an Old-Fashioned without a rinse in between is cringe-worthy to me.”

The Nest Bar

The Nest Bar

Photo Courtesy of Thompson, Seattle

Keep in Mind Drinks With Shared Ingredients 

Rounds with repeat ingredients across the drinks needing to be served can help with the efficiency of service as well. This is where real bartending pros shine and show their experience and knowledge. If you are building a round of drinks with a Daiquiri, Old-Fashioned, and a Gimlet—you’ve been blessed by the bar gods who have presented you with three cocktails that all share a similar ingredient: simple syrup (or cane, depending on the bar). Measuring this one ingredient and adding them to each of their respective mixing vessels will save you time by the end of the round and is an important detail to pay attention to when receiving orders. (Also, specific to this round, you were also blessed with two cocktails that needed lime juice, making this the easiest round of all-time.)

Ice is Always Last

Now, if there is one main takeaway from these tips, it is that nobody wants a cocktail that has been sitting on ice for five minutes while you meander through the rest of your round. If there is one thing that drives a good bartender crazy, it is this. “I’d say the most common mistakes I tend to see are letting drinks dilute too much by icing right away,” Shore says. “Ice is always last. I don’t like serving an iced drink that’s been getting watered down for minutes while I complete the rest of the round.” Winchester also agrees, stating that bartenders often miss the mark when it comes to proper dilution. This can be from either adding ice too early to a drink that doesn’t need it, or from poor shaking or stirring technique. Regardless, adding ice to your cocktails such as a Gin and Tonic (which should have ice included last, followed by the carbonation—tonic), or the Margarita, should always take place as close to service as possible for optimal temperature and texture.