When we go above and beyond in hospitality, we not only make guests happy, we build relationships and create bonds.

But we can only do this if we provide an environment where guests feel safe, special, and good about themselves.

Among the rules I live by as a bartender, these two rules rank first and second:

  • Zero pretentiousness.
  • Nobody just does anything.
Bartender mixes drinks at New York's Death & Co

Bartender mixes drinks at New York’s Death & Co

Zero Pretentiousness

You can lead your guests to water. And you can make them drink.

However, bartenders should never scoff at a guest’s order. Nobody makes fun of you for liking Wonder Bread or macaroni and cheese. Channel your penchant for pretentiousness towards making guests feel comfortable enough to put their taste in your hands.

Even bartenders leading the New York City craft cocktail revolution at the turn of the century admit they were wrong to tell guests what they should be drinking. They looked down on Cosmos when they should have viewed the Cosmopolitan as a gateway cocktail. You’ll have less luck advancing craft cocktails if you refuse to make certain drinks or, even worse, ridicule someone for their order.

View every guest interaction as an opportunity. Nothing’s basic or beneath you.

Nobody just does anything

It happens countless times every shift. A guest at the bar looks at the menu, only to say, “I’ll just have a vodka soda.” I never let that way of ordering pass without finding a way to lift the guest up. Here are my go-to moves.

I establish eye contact with the guest and say “I’m going to make you the best vodka soda you have ever had in your life.” From there I take time to ensure the Kold-Draft ice looks sexy and the garnish actually complements the drink.

After having done this countless times, I was happy to discover that a bartender, who is much more famous than me, does the same thing. (Instagram me @rocco_pendola for the answer!). Great minds. Synchronicity. Whatever you want to call it.

I sometimes try to subtly elevate mixed drink orders. For example, “I’ll just have a Gin and Tonic.”

Serve it in a wine glass. Garnish it with a flower. Even better, suggest one of the ingredients from the cocktail menu. Mention that it makes a great addition to a Gin and Tonic. Most recently, I did this when I had a housemade melon syrup behind the bar.

A quarter to half ounce of this melon syrup absolutely does make a killer gin and tonic. Beyond that, it sets the stage to make the gin and tonic or vodka-soda drinker more open to trying a craft cocktail. For many bars and bartenders, that’s the goal. And it’s a fine goal. But remember, you’ll have an easier time getting there with honey (or sugar) than you will vinegar (unless it’s a shrub).