Saturday, April 2, 2016

The 7 Things to Look for (and Avoid) When Hiring a Private Event Bartender

The 7 Things to Look for (and Avoid) When Hiring a Private Event Bartender

DISCLAIMER: After writing this article, it’s really really informative but only medium entertaining. I’m starting to face that I might suck at writing fun + information packed blog posts. My older posts, and me in person, are a lot more fun. **pinkyswear**

OK, lets roll!

So you’re planning an epic event. A birthday party, wedding reception, holiday party or just a good old-fashioned everyone-blacks-out-rager.

And you want it to be great. You want to delight your guests. You want it to go down in the record books are one of the best parties ever. At the vest least, you don't want something to go wrong and for it to suck.

Killer parties need killer drinks. You decide to hire a bartender.

But how do you choose a good one? This person’s going to come into your house and talk to your guests. People will be upset if they have crappy drinks. A good or bad bartender can make or break your event.

Sh*t, this bartender thing just got risky.

There are other guides on this topic out there on the internet (I looked). I noticed that none of them contain a succinct list of HOW to actually choose a bartender who knows how to make good drinks, is cool and will add to the awesomeness of your party.

That’s why I came up with this guide.

Ready? Boom. Let’s go!

Number 1: You Like Their Personality

It’s important to make sure they have a personality conducive to a fun event.

Your bartender is going to be in your house and at your party. They will be talking to your friends. The bartender has the ability to have everyone walk away with a drink, or with a drink and smile on their face. This is an important skill for any non-ulta-loud-nightclub-bartender, so make sure the person you choose can do this.

There are two tried-and-true ways to do this. First, are they sufficiently professional in an email correspondence you have with them?

Second, are they cool when you talk to them? Do they seem to know how talk talk to people? Friendly? Do they instill confidence in you? Are they enthusiastic?

Number 2: They Have Experience Bartending in Real Bars (Not Just Catering or Bar Backing)

A lot of times I need to hire extra bartenders and this may be the hardest to find.

The barrier to entry to get behind a bar and pour drinks is crazy low. But the skill needed make excellent drinks and delight your guests is not.

A lot of bars and restaurants, especially larger ones with multiple locations, will have rigorous training programs for their bartenders. A lot of private event bartenders out there won’t have this.

It’s *very* hard to get your first bartending job and get a job at one of these places. So lots of people skip this important step.

What a lot of people will have is experience bartending for a catering company. From working with lots of catering companies and their bartenders, I’ve learned that their training, unfortunately, is jumping behind the bar one day and pouring stuff in cups. Potentially a light and informal training program that helps the caterer sell their bartenders.

Another scenario is where someone may have worked as a bar back in a bar or restaurant, got to make a few simple drinks a night when it got really busy, and they started doing their own private events.

In both situations, little to no training required.

The last thing to avoid with this is a bartender who has training, such as going to bartending school, but never actually worked as a bartender until they started doing private events. The experience you gain working behind the bar cranking out sometimes hundreds of *quality* drinks per day/night is invaluable when contributing to a great private party. It also solidifies your knowledge of how to make each drink well.
Not a bar check list,
I just thought it was funny

Number 3: They Have Resources to Help You Prepare The Bar at Your Event

What do you need to buy? And how much of it do you need? What can you use as the bar? What kind of trash cans do you need? And how many?

These are all things your bartender should easily be able to help you out with. They’ve hopefully done it many times before and should be confident in helping you out with this part.

Number 4: They Demonstrate They Know How To Make Drinks

Before you lock this person in for your event, you want to make sure they actually know how to make drink well. A long time ago I hired two bartenders to work with me and I skipped this step. Their drinks were not good, and it took them a long time to make these crappy drinks.

Do they post recipes? Do people say they make good drinks? Do they do tastings (but don’t be surprised if you have to pay extra for this last one)?

Number 5: Do They Have Proof Of Happy Customers?

In today’s day and age this one’s pretty straightforward for a bartender to get (if they in fact have happy customers). It’s also easy for you to find.

Do they have Yelp reviews? What about WeddingWire? Do they post testimonials?

Sometimes people ask for references, but keep in mind this asks the bartender to cash in a pretty significant favor from a past host, who is likely a busy person. I do this for parties of a certain size, but maybe other bartenders do this more often than I do.

Number 6: They Don’t Flinch When You Ask Them For Specialty Cocktails or a Custom Menu

Any bartender who is comfortable and confident in their craft would be excited to do this. On the other hand, a bartender who’s less comfortable in their ability may demonstrate much less confidence in the face of this request.

One way to tell is if they are able to start coming up with ideas on the spot. 

I would always recommend gathering a bartender’s thoughts on a specialty cocktail or custom menu whether you actually want this or not. Mostly to gauge their response and see how they react.

The ideal reaction would be closer to excitement and enthusiasm opposed to hesitance, apprehension or stammering.

Number 7: You Get What You Pay For

I’m not sure if this is really something to look for, but I wanted to make sure I mentioned it. I hired cheap bartenders a while ago and they sucked. I hate to say it so bluntly, but they’re cheap for a reason.

A good bartender would make $300 or $400 on a Friday or Saturday night at their bar. There are usually a couple bars in most of the larger cities where bartenders routinely walk out with $1000 dollars per night. This is rare though.

A bartender who is/was was expert enough to get these competitive shifts will be used to making this this kind of money in a night and will ask for something in this ballpark. A more junior bartender not and will ask for less. 

Last, here are a few questions you can ask a bartender to help find out if they are good:

How do you make an Old Fashioned? 
(I put this question at the top of the list because I have found that knowing how to make this drink is an excellent indicator if the bartender knows their stuff or not. You don't actually have to know the answer yourself, but the level of confidence and enthusiasm in which the bartender answers will tell it all.)

**How I would answer: First, I would tell you an Old Fashioned is one of my favorite drinks. I'd also let you know that I wrote a ridiculously detailed blog post on how to make one of these here. Then I’d go through the recipe, letting you know variations in how different bartenders make it, my preference in how I like my Old Fashion and a few details most every bartender misses. Then I’d probably ask how you like yours

What would you ask if someone walked up to the bar and asked for a martini?
**How I would answer: Sure! Gin or vodka? Up or on the rocks? How dirty? I wrote an article with a lot more details on this here.

What would you do if someone walked up to the bar and asked you to surprise them with something?
**How I would answer: I would profile them a little bit (50 year old men like different drinks than 21 year old girls) and if I hadn’t made them something already, I would ask them if they like sweet or fruity.

What’s a difference between an IPA and stout?

**How I would answer: A succinct answer something along the lines of, an IPA is lighter and has a hoppy flavor, kind of like grapefruit. A stout is darker and has a flavor more like chocolate or coffee.

What’s the last drink you created?
**How I would answer: I would tell the story of how I made up a jelly donut martini at a happy hour. I may also talk about the time I started lighting all of the drinks (and some of the deserts) on fire. Don't worry, the guests loved it and the fire department wasn't called. 

Cheers all!


P.S., Want booze for your party delivered to you? In an hour? And save $5? Check our Drizly. It's the only way that I buy alcohol these days.