11 Bartender Tips & Tricks to Keep Them Coming Back

Updated May 25, 2021
Bartender shaking cocktail shaker in cocktail bar

With lightning fast reflexes and what seems like an encyclopedic knowledge of every drink known to man, bartenders carry with them a certain old-world mysticism. However, every preeminent bartender gets their start as an amateur, fumbling shakers and over pouring cocktails. If you're just beginning on your bartending journey or you'd like to refresh your skills, check out these bartending tricks that'll help you impress even the most difficult customer.

Don't Get Lazy About Carding

Checking people's identification to ensure that they're old enough to legally drink is a vital component of the bartending trade. Whether you're working at an elite bar or a downtown club, you can't rely on the doormen to confirm every person's legality. Since the consequences of making a mistake for this include fines and potential jail time, you don't want to leave anything up to chance.

Be Calculated When Giving Back Change

If customers are paying in cash, always give them back money in single bills. Giving back higher amounts, like fives, tens, or twenties, works against you getting tipped. Of course, this isn't a consistent problem across the world since bartender tipping customs vary from country to country, but be sure to keep it mind especially if you're bartending in the United States.

Save Money Before Tax Season

If you work in an area where a lot of you the money you make from bartending comes from tips, you might not realize that the government does take out taxes on those cash tips. In order to avoid a nasty problem with your local tax organization, make sure to set aside about 30% of your cash tips so that you already have the money ready to submit when it comes time to pay the government its due.

Keep Your Workspace Clean

Bars have gotten a public reputation for being sticky, grimy, and altogether dirty. However, the cleaner the bar, the more likely customers are to stick around and order more drinks. Therefore, when you have any downtime, make sure that you take a wet rag and really wipe down your worktop as well as wash the glasses and reorganize your ingredients so everything is prepped for a quick and clean experience.

Bartender working behind bar in pub

Keep the Conversation Alive

While you shouldn't ever be controlling a conversation with a customer or group of customers, you should try to be as personable as possible with each of them. Pay close attention to customers that have come alone and try to keep a rapport with them, however short it might be. Making yourself accessible encourages people to come back multiple times throughout the night and even makes them feel okay with waiting for their next drink to be made.

Be Careful About Handing Out Freebies

Handing out the occasional free drink or appetizer will make you seem like a cool bartender, but it won't necessarily make your job any easier. If you're going to make a habit of giving out free items, be sure that you'll make up the difference in the cost over the rest of the night and that your boss is aware of what you're doing. One free appetizer isn't worth jeopardizing your job over.

Be Aware of Current Trends

Whether it's an Aperol spritz or a Moscow mule that's taking social media by storm, you want to keep tabs on what drinks are particularly popular at the moment, especially if they're ones that you don't have much practice making. Chances are a customer is going to ask you to make it at some point, and if you can get ahead of the curve, you can capitalize on the trend earlier than your competitors will.

Practice Your Listening Skills

Bars can be loud, busy places, but no matter the conditions, most customers don't want to have to repeat themselves more than two times when they're ordering a drink. Thus, it's incredibly important that you practice your listening skills and really give a customer your full attention the first time that they ask for something so that you don't get caught in a "I'm sorry, what was that" spiral.

Learn to Eyeball Your Measurements

You shouldn't expect to be able to eyeball your measurements early in your bartending career, but you should start practicing on getting to that point. Using a jigger for precision is perfectly fine, particularly if you're not sure that you're eyeballing is up to snuff. However, free pouring can help you maximize on your time and let you pour more drinks, and get more tips, throughout the night.

Bartender Preparing Drink In Bar

Bring a Little Fun to Your Work

Everybody loves a little entertainment, and as a bartender you're going to be expected to provide some. Whether it's by being a great conversationalist or by showing off your quick hands, it's a great idea to start learning a few tricks that you can hold up your sleeve. Flipping bottles, pouring from up high, and incorporating fire into your mixing can mean the difference between a customary tip and a big pay off.

Most Importantly, Practice the Basics

As with any trade, the most important trick to keep in mind is to continually practice the basics, no matter how comfortable you are with them. Your fundamentals should feel and look as natural as breathing, and you should be able to make the most basic cocktails in your sleep. As they say, practice makes perfect.

It's Not All Fun and Games

Bartending can be incredibly fun and entertaining; you get to interact with some of the most interesting people on the planet and come away every night with new stories to share with your friends and family. But, the trade isn't all fun and games - it takes practice and calculation to become a top tier bartender, a role which often starts by working as a barback. If you want to make bartending a permanent profession, then take careful note of these eleven tips so that you don't make any rookie mistakes once you get your foot behind the bar.

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11 Bartender Tips & Tricks to Keep Them Coming Back