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Chris Amirault

Drink-Making Speed in a Professional Bar

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Had the first wall-to-wall shift last night, with the bar 75-100+% full from opening until half an hour past closing. By the end of the night, we had had more covers at the bar than the DR had on the floor.

There were two of us behind the bar, but I was primarily responsible for cocktail-making. Over the five hours, I probably made something like 50 drinks, including several 4+-ingredient affairs, lots of twice-shaken egg white drinks (testing Paul Harrington's Prado), and a few requiring crushed ice made a la minute. I also handled a good deal of the beer and wine orders and several meals at the bar.

The night swept by in a blur, both exhilarating and exhausting, and as I pondered my lower back pain this morning I wondered: where am I on my speed learning curve? I'm quite confident that the drinks in the glass were very strong; I'm also quite confident that people waited 5-10 minutes for their drinks more often than they didn't.

So I'm wondering: what measures do working bartenders use for speed? I'm talking about quality drinks made individually to order (no batching) within a more or less ideal environment. (For example, last night was not ideal: the POS was down/screwed up nearly all night and we had little hot water.) What numbers indicate a slowpoke bartender? a speed demon? What's a busy night? A light night? How long is an acceptable wait for a guest? What's too long?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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If you figure 50 drinks over 5 hours, that's 10 drinks an hour, or around 6 minutes a drink. If that is a consistent rate, then that strikes me as not particularly fast. But all these things, I suppose, depend on the style of the bar, etc.

To what extent are you setting up multiple drinks simultaneously? For example, if you get an order for five drinks, you should be able to measure everything out into five mixing tins, preshake as needed, then load ice and shake them out in not much more time than it would take to prepare a one-drink order. I would think it should be possible to do a five drink order like that in no more than ten minutes, which would be half of your hourly average.

As you go along, you'll figure out ways to minimize the extent to which you make drinks on an individual basis during the busy times. Because the walking back and forth, taking the order, etc. all uses up a lot of time. I've watched NYC crews work busy nights many times, and one thing I notice is that they never seem to be making just one drink at a time. It's always three or four or five at a time.


--

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Oh yeah: I definitely think that I'm slow -- or, rather, slower than I want to be. Placement of booze, ice handling, glass issues, constant supply... there are a lot of logistical and mechanical things that we need to do to help with that. I'm looking for what I can do to improve independent of those things -- just as you suggested:

To what extent are you setting up multiple drinks simultaneously?

Very rarely: last night I probably did it fewer than ten times. I think that's a great example of a seemingly simple step that could reap big rewards without quality suffering.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I'm not particularly fast, but the first few months I made cocktails from behind a for-profit bar I was definitely way slower than I am now. Watching the fast people I worked with helped me learn a lot, but the thing that took me a while to realise is that I think it makes a bigger impression, within reason, for a group to all get their drinks at once (especially if they are standing there watching you make them) than for them to come out as fast as you can make them in a sequence. This goes back to the ticket management techniques such as making several drinks at once, having your other bt (or barback) pouring beer and wine for the people while you're pouring a Manhattan and a Tom Collins, etc. If your food came to your table as it was ready it would be weird; you expect it to all come at once, even if that means a little extra wait. People don't usually think of it as conciously, but I think the same applies to some extent to drink service.

This has been discussed elsewhere I think but if its any help here's an example of a sample ticket and how it could be made to minimize time:

1 glass Chardonnay, 1 Mojito, 1 Manhattan, 1 Atty, 1 beer, 1 glass Shiraz, 1 Sidecar

So if I was looking at that I see 3 up cocktails, 2 of them stirred. So I'd chill 3 glasses, measure all the ingredients of the drinks into separate mixing glasses and add ice to the Manhattan and Atty. Then I'd go pour half of the beer (in case it foams cos I'm in a hurry) and the wines (we use small 5 oz carafes for table service). Then the Mojito is made, which we are set up to make very quickly and once it is made the fuze is lit, so to speak. Pour the rest of the beer, stir the Manhattan and Atty briefly and strain. Shake the Sidecar, strain. Garnishes all around. Holler the server's name, or don't. Done. I think it's completely reasonable to expect that that ticket could be done in 6 minutes by one person who was focused. Of course in the real world where other customers, servers, managers are calling for your attention times can slip a little but in general with practice and familiarity with your mise en place it should be doable. Like Mr. Kinsey said, doing several things at once is key. I don't even want to think about how long a ticket like that would have taken me when I was first starting out.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Andy, reading your specific ticket management techniques is really useful. The DR beer and wine tickets are actually pretty straightforward for me: I pop the bottles and pour out 5 oz carafes; the servers pour into glassware at the tables. But I haven't started distinguishing categories based on what I have to do -- stir/shake, especially -- and that would be a great first step. I can see it applying to other categories as well: dry-shaken drinks can be prepared before assembling other shaken drinks, with ice added at the end; fizzes and other rocks drinks can sit a bit waiting for shaken drinks.

You're certainly right as well about serving drinks as a round. I've been fairly successful at that, especially for smaller bar parties and DR tables (which are usually mostly wine & beer). Last night, though, I had a seven-person party at the bar, several of whom were industry-related, and I admit I got flustered. Those drinks went out in two 3/4-drink sets, not all at once; there's no doubt that the guests watching others get theirs first were patient but a teensy bit envious. I also had a spill with set two. Not a "Hospitality Hall of Fame" moment.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Honestly I think the biggest hurdle to becoming faster is knowing that you want/need to be faster. I have worked with people who were very very slow and didn't really seem aware of this. Those are the worst. I think a lot of it is practice--I, too, transitioned from hobbyist to "pro" once upon a time and the learning curve is steeper looking back than it appeared looking forward.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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The fastest person isn't necessarily the person whose limbs are moving the fastest. It's often the person with the most efficient order of operations. Andy's example above is perfect.

Off the top of my head (I've never taken the time to actually write it out before) here's my order of operations:

1.) Prep garnishes, rims

2.) Premix stirred and shaken cocktails

3.) Warm/unchanging (red wine and neat shots)

4.) Cold/uncarbonated (white wine)

5.) Cold/carbonated (beer)

6.) Make "built" drinks (highballs etc.)

7.) Add ice to stirred cocktails and let cook

8.) Add ice, shake and strain other cocktails, one by one

9.) Strain stirred cocktails

10.) Garnish and get out of the window.

There are lots of ways to make this faster. If servers could be trained to properly garnish drinks (and they can) then #1 and #10 could be eliminated. If servers can be coaxed to pour their own beer and wine at the bar, even better. I've always been leary of having servers stir or shake drinks because it seems like a technique that really requires the right touch.

Streamlining this process is another reason why bar design is of so much interest to me.

Another thing I try to pay attention to is movement. Order of operations is one thing, but the actual athletic aspect of bartending is not insignificant. It's a dance, especially when you're working in a tight bar in tandem with another person. I used to almost bounce off the walls in the little cage where I used to work; I thought of it as human pinball. Movement and balance are important; there are good ways of getting smoothly from the wine glass shelf above your head to the white wines at ankle level, and there are bad ways which will destroy your back and knees.


Edited by Kohai (log)

Pip Hanson | Marvel Bar

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I'd have to agree with all the above points, especially those about structuring the round correctly.

One thing that really helped me in my early days was mastering the technique of only touching one bottle once. For example, if you're making 5 different cocktails and 4 of these contain simple in differing amounts, the simple should be added to all 4 at the same time. Sounds simple but takes a lot of practice to master, especially if you have an extensive list and comprehensive backbar. A lot of people find it difficult to stop thinking through the specs of drink one, then move onto two etc, rather than thinking abut it all together.

Another important aspect is the layout of the bar. I expect you already have the basics of this covered, like having all your equipment in sensible places etc. Rearranging the back bar can help significantly, the more commonly used bottles you can reach without moving from where you are the quicker you'll be. This does of course compromise other important areas. The effect of the backbar as a sales tool may be diminished, as may its aesthetics and/or neatness. Eg you have 5 different gins on the backbar, one is used frequently but the other four don't move much. Do you bring the popular one closer to you for the sake of speed or keep them all together for the sake of appearence (looks better and also helps a gin drinker to sum up their options.) It's a difficult balancing act, we've been open about 4 years and currently have about 150 different products on the backbar. It gets tweaked quite often as things go up and down in popularity. The first 6 months or so it seemed to be changing almost daily!

Also with regard to the backbar (and everything else) it's important to have a mental map - you should know where everything is without looking.

Hope that's of some use!

Cheers,

Matt

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One thing that really helped me in my early days was mastering the technique of only touching one bottle once. For example, if you're making 5 different cocktails and 4 of these contain simple in differing amounts, the simple should be added to all 4 at the same time. Sounds simple but takes a lot of practice to master, especially if you have an extensive list and comprehensive backbar. A lot of people find it difficult to stop thinking through the specs of drink one, then move onto two etc, rather than thinking abut it all together.

Excellent point, and yes that is quite difficult to learn. I still have trouble with it occasionally if I am trying to do something else at the same time (like talk to a customer).

Eg you have 5 different gins on the backbar, one is used frequently but the other four don't move much. Do you bring the popular one closer to you for the sake of speed or keep them all together for the sake of appearence (looks better and also helps a gin drinker to sum up their options.)

Another option is to have two bottles on hand, though that doesn't always make sense from a cost standpoint.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Did anybody look into work-balancing by not having for example a cocktail menue on the table with the hope of stearing customer towards simpler drinks when it is busy?

I would think similar to what goes on with menu design and steering customers towards high profit items a bar operator could employ certain tactics to influence how and what the customer order.

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