The way that a bartender greets and parts ways with a guest are two of the most defining moments that occur in a proper bar service. They are the opening scene and the closing scene in the story of that individual guest’s visit. While this might seem obvious, it cannot be overstated that these two moments factor enormously into a guest’s overall opinion of an establishment. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that these two moments are performed well!
There are several ways for a good bartender to greet a guest, however, the most important element in greeting a guest is to offer a friendly and welcoming presence. A smile and a warm verbal greeting let’s the guest know that the bartender is there for them and that (s)he wants the guest to be comfortable. Sometimes it’s appropriate to shake hands and exchange names with the guest. It is always appropriate to be friendly and helpful!
Frequently, the bartender will be too busy to verbally greet each guest at the precise moment they reach the bar. When this is the case, a good bartender will use eye contact to communicate with awaiting guests. The use of eye contact is extremely helpful in assuring a waiting guest that (s)he will be served shortly. While making eye contact with the guest, a bartender should smile and nod their head, or wave their hand, “hello,” in acknowledgement. The subtext of these simple gestures is a mutual understanding that the acknowledged guest will be helped very soon; ideally next. (The bartender must honor and keep track of these unspoken arrangements, in proper sequence, if they are to keep all of their guests happy.) When the bartender is able to approach the guest to verbally greet them, (s)he can thank the guest for their patience and welcome them with a full measure of attention.
An overlooked point of greeting a guest at the bar involves bar top cleanliness. It should be an automatic impulse for a bartender, when approaching a guest, to wipe the bar top with a towel and to place a fresh, new cocktail napkin in front of the guest. If there are any empty glasses in the immediate vicinity of the guest, they must be cleared before service can commence. The bar is, essentially, a long table in a restaurant. One wouldn’t seat a dinner guest at a dirty or unset table. Similarly, it is important to vigilantly clean the bar top and to set a place for each new guest.
At this point in the service, it is appropriate to present a cocktail menu and to help the guest to select a refreshment that will suit them. This, “negotiation,” is an art form, in and of itself. If you are negotiating the guest’s cocktail choice, certainly you have already greeted them. Hopefully, you have made a great impression!
Saying, “goodbye,” to a guest is frequently paired with a version of, “Thank you for visiting.” It’s extremely important to let a departing guest know that their patronage is appreciated. Their exit is also an appropriate time to let the guest know that they are welcome back soon. In my next installment, I will detail the elements that go into gracefully saying goodnight to a guest.
Ralph Vincent, 4100 Bar, GM