15/03/2021 We asked leading bartenders how their role evolved during Covid.
With the closing of restaurants and bars for most of last year and this, the roles of bartenders in their establishments have definitely been challenged and changed. We asked a few bartenders what they were doing differently during these times. Even with the hospitality industry being so hard to hit, they have kept their chins up, tried to be more creative, and kept looking ahead.
The bartending position has always required as much flexibility as any position in the industry. Bartenders are often expected to fulfill the roles of servers, barbacks, and food runners in addition to making drinks. Now with the current restrictions, those bars and restaurants that are able to stay open have had to cut back staff considerably. As a result, now more than ever you are seeing the role of a bartender be an all-encompassing one.
I think the bartender has to consider what elements are missing that a patron normally experiences from their establishment. If there is no outdoor/indoor seating, factors such as lighting, ambiance, conversation - are all stripped from the guest experience and all you have to offer is a to-go cocktail. In that sense, you have to be very creative in things such as presentation, menu descriptions, and great ingredients. What makes them want to purchase alcohol with their to-go meal instead of buying something at the market?
I’m not thinking the role of the industry evolved during last year and the beginning of the new one, just some aspects changed especially social media communication and activities, but you know that is temporary. Bar is made at the bar, the rest is just an excuse.
In Santa Clara County, we have had little to no opportunity to serve drinks. In the brief times we could operate, we definitely had to pair down the number of spirits behind the bar and we focused a lot more on batched cocktails.
I don’t feel as if it has evolved any more or less in being hospitable. The work is the same. It’s just that I’m taking care of less people at any given time. It was insulting that “they” thought a bar was giving you Covid when it was people being careless. My bar went above and beyond the safety protocol to keep everyone safe and clean during these times. My bar was definitely cleaner than your homes or anyplace else for sure.
Aom Aphiradi Lee
Batching and to-go order is the only way to survive here. Some places could do outdoor dining seating so that was great for a couple of months but now we are back to just only to go again.
Bartenders have devolved to re-attain something of their original status: craftspeople. We evolve to attack the historic shortcomings in our field: racism and misogyny. And now we are essential workers within a system that doesn't provide health care or a living wage (though there are exceptions). The role of the bartender has been that of torchbearer for a time when we can come together again and raise a glass. Until then, there are creative ways to package and market at-home cocktails and pay the rent.
There has been a lot of reflection over this, and I believe a bartender must be more prepared, knowledgeable, and continuously studying to be growing. Must reinvent oneself creatively, and artistically, but also must research and seek entrepreneurial nuances to the new business norm.
Well, considering we don't get any face-to-face with customers anymore, and everything is to-go bartender is really about passion and community. Now more than ever we all have to support one another. Covid has been a test for all of our creativity, and innovation.
Megan Elizabeth Abraham
During Covid, there is a distance between people created by masks and social tension. That being said there is also more pent-up demand to connect with people deeply than ever! My interactions with guests are less frequent because dining takes place outside, so my bar functions almost like an auxiliary kitchen. No one sees me make the drinks so we streamlined efficiency by batching cocktails. Instead of worrying about people sitting at the bar and tickets for drinks that service tables in a restaurant I worry about drinks fulfilling the tickets serving tables in the restaurant and also replenishing and servicing to-go orders. It’s kind of like stocking a vending machine, you need to make sure everything is in its place and ready to go ahead of time, and then eventually someone will want it.
The difference is, beverages, especially when using citrus, have a shelf life so it’s a tightrope balance to figure out how to be prepared enough but not waste. With a vending machine, you take skittles, M & M’s, and cheese it’s and fill the slot. For a to-go cocktail program, you batch and bottle. Cocktails that require juicing the citrus and making any specialty ingredients: for example Mecalef honey or specialty infusions. Additionally, we rotate for freshness and label each cocktail with a printout that includes the ingredients. There are many steps and it requires multitasking and organization. Skills I have been using for years but am now gearing more towards the production of to-go cocktails as opposed to a heavier focus on interpersonal relationships when people were inside.
The Bartender will have to be much more knowledgeable about spirits and be more about the guest. Making sure that the guest is always well attended and that they have a great experience at your establishment.
Kristofer van Zanten
Now more than ever is it important for bartenders to have, not just a well-rounded knowledge of the bar and products therein, but rather extensive knowledge of every product that is behind the bar, and even the ones that are not; the days of a bartender not knowing how to make a WIKI WAKI WOO are over. It is increasingly important to have an in-depth knowledge of all products including their makeup, their origin, their history, their producers, etc. Mixology is becoming quite difficult because of Covid. Fewer people are venturing out and experiencing new things, rightly so, but it is having additional, unintended consequences. Fewer people are venturing out, and that means they are also much less likely to try new things, are more hesitant to try a new spot, and that small number of potential walk-ins for a bar or restaurant can very well be their profit margin.