I attended a staff training where the host described a situation in which members opt to only receive their favorite drink from their favorite bartender. The famous Taylor Swift lyrics rang through my mind: “It’s me, hi. I’m the problem, it’s me.” Was I failing my fellow bartenders by not training thoroughly enough?
Bartending is often seen as a profession that revolves around, at surface value, mixing drinks and serving guests in a very transactional way. However, this seemingly straightforward job can offer valuable lessons in empathy and emotional intelligence. Some will argue that these skills cannot be taught, but I believe bartending can teach these skills if the trainee is open and aware. By honing these skills, you can make better drinks and better serve members, putting you on the fast track to receiving the coveted title of a member’s favorite bartender.
One of the fundamental aspects of bartending is interacting with a diverse range of people. Bartenders will encounter nuanced individuals from all walks of life, each with their own unique stories, struggles, and joys. This exposure to different perspectives and experiences provides an excellent opportunity to develop and impress empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share in the feelings of others. By engaging in conversations with guests, bartenders gain insights into their lives, challenges, and triumphs. This firsthand experience fosters a deeper understanding of the human experience, allowing bartenders to connect with people on a more profound level. It’s the manager’s job to give the new bartender the space to comfortably converse with the members who visit the bar on a weekly or even daily basis. I do this by walking away from the bar frequently when I am training someone. I give support by delivering food and cleaning glasses but always let a new bartender take the lead, especially in conversation.
Engaging In Active Listening
Bartenders are confidants and listeners. They must possess strong listening skills to truly understand and respond to the emotions and needs of those they serve. Active listening involves giving one’s full attention, maintaining eye contact, and responding empathetically. By really listening, I’ve learned so much about guests’ personal tastes. If I know someone likes sweet drinks, I can easily mix up something new for them to try next time they are at bar, or I can recommend wine based on what I’ve seen them eat and drink in previous interactions. Members won’t always know what they want, and it’s our job to make recommendations based on clues from previous conversations.
Through active listening, bartenders develop emotional intelligence, which is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s own emotions, as well as those of others. Emotional intelligence enables bartenders to navigate social situations, diffuse conflicts, and provide support to guests who may be going through challenging times. This also helps bartenders realize the time to stop serving someone alcohol sooner, promoting a proactive approach, rather than a damage-control approach. For example, if you know your guest is having a bad day, and you notice they are drinking more quickly than usual, you can access the situation better by slowing down service or buying them some food. The more you know about your guests, the more smoothly it will go when you need to have difficult conversations.
Dealing With Difficult Situations
When faced with a difficult situation, bartenders must remain calm and composed. We need to assess the situation, understand the emotions at play, and respond appropriately. This requires a high level of emotional intelligence. As bartenders, we must be able to balance our own emotions while effectively managing the emotions of others—in short, not taking things personally and dealing with the situation as swiftly and quietly as possible. If we’ve already built a trust with our guests, we can interact with them as effortlessly, as we might with our own families.
Building Trust and Connection
Trust is a crucial element in any bartender-guest relationship. By demonstrating empathy and emotional intelligence, bartenders can build trust and establish a connection with their guests. This connection goes beyond the transactional nature of the job and creates a safe space for guests to open up and share their thoughts and feelings.
A Win-Win Situation
When guests feel heard and understood, they are more likely to return to the same bartender, fostering a sense of loyalty. Bartenders who display these skills can create an environment where customers feel valued, respected, and supported. The ability to understand and connect with guests on a deeper level can help contribute to a more harmonious environment overall.
Bonus: Having a Good Memory
Having a good memory not only enhances a bartender’s technical skills but also goes hand in hand with emotional intelligence, making them a better bartender overall. When emotional intelligence is combined with a sharp memory, you’ll take your skills from good to great. Remembering a customer’s name, their preferred drink, or even details about their personal life demonstrates attentiveness and shows that the bartender genuinely cares. This level of personalization fosters a sense of belonging, making guests feel valued and appreciated.
Additionally, a good memory enables bartenders to recall previous conversations, allowing for meaningful follow-ups, rather than a simple exchange of niceties. Moreover, a sharp memory combined with emotional intelligence allows bartenders to anticipate and address customer needs before they are even expressed. This proactive approach not only enhances the member experience but also showcases the bartender’s ability to connect on a deeper level.
Bartending is far more than mixing drinks; it is an art that can teach valuable lessons in empathy and emotional intelligence. Through their interactions with all walks of life, bartenders gain a deeper understanding of the human experience. Active listening, being present in the moment, and the ability to handle difficult situations are skills that bartenders hone, enabling them to build trust and connection.