Pacing Yourself in the Modern Bartending World | Shawn Soole
Pacing yourself in a job in this day and age is somewhat an oxymoron. We have technological advances daily, we are plugged into the world through social media and broadcasting media is all about the pop and sparkle of working in kitchens and bars. The modern bartender is inundated daily with new competitions, brand ambassadorship opportunities and job offers from that “new cocktail joint” down the road. This saturation of information sometimes leads to many ill informed opinions in our industry. Our industry is not an easy one, it’s strenuous mentally, physically and emotionally and it takes time to be able to balance all those things in perfect harmony to become the ultimate, most consummate host and bartender.
Setting goals, plotting a course for your end game whatever it may be is something that is necessary for longevity in this industry with a solid foundation of training, repetitiveness and hospitality. But all this comes from years and years of education, evolution and networking and it only comes from starting at the bottom and being patient and humble. If you are an aspiring bartender following the leaders in our industry on social media or in the national industry magazine and wanting what they have one day, set the process in motion but remember that it doesn’t happen overnight. Jay-Z didn’t become Jay-Z overnight, it took him 20 years of hard work, no one needs a “Kardashian Bartender”; one that has little skill but seems to get too much attention.
The fundamentals of setting a foundation for becoming an industry leader is working in a local pub or nightclub, firstly as a bar back then moving your way up. Bar backing is one of the most thankless jobs in the industry, laboriously hard, long hours but it teaches you fluid of movements, the “Dirty Submarine Ballet” as famed bartender author Toby Cecchini wrote in his book Cosmopolitan. I have worked with bartenders over the years that are like a bull in a china shop behind the bar, banging into things and you while you are pouring drinks. It should be smooth, flowing, flexible behind the tight quarters of most bars. Bar backs are ghosts, in and out, replenishing fruit, glassware, wiping your station and stocking your fridges without nary a whisper of noise or touching.
After 12 months or so, bar backing, bartending in a pub or nightclub is the necessary action of learning speed, efficient movement and mis en place; things I found sorely lacking the many bartenders of this day and age. When I was younger, much younger, I would work race days in the beer garden serving throngs of people tap beer, bottles, cans and highballs for eight hours. It taught speed like no other way, making every movement, step and bend count; the pace is furious but the application of these movements when applied to any level of the industry whether pouring beer, wine or making a cocktail is invaluable.
Working in neighborhood pubs is the best way to learn humility, true hospitality and guest services. The patrons that go to their local watering hole, don’t care about your latest infusion or the history of the Aviation, they want their choice drink, watch the big game on the television and maybe talk some politics with you and the other regulars. This style of bartending is about knowing every detail about what the guest wants from their Friday night post work experience. Colin Field at the Ritz Paris has been rumoured to read six newspapers every morning, front to back to know what is going on in the world and be able to engage his guests about the world affairs. Trevor Kallies from the Donnelly Group in Vancouver has modernised this and listens to podcasts of news and current affairs while preparing for his day. However, you do this, whether hard copy or digitally; your role is to be able to talk every sport, every political going on and even celebrity gossip with your guests.
I started working in my first true cocktail bar almost eight years after starting in the industry and as you can see from this article, we haven’t once talked about how to perfect that obscure classic cocktail because these steps are the necessities to getting to the goal of an industry leader. Winning a cocktail competition or consulting 18 months after getting your first real cocktail job at a reputable establishment is not the key to success. Time, working harder than anyone else and sacrifice gives you the tools to succeed for years to come.