Entertainment

Nandipha Pantsi
4 minute read
5 Mar 2014
6:30 am

What makes a great bartender?

Nandipha Pantsi

Everyone has an opinion about what makes a great bartender.

Hopensiene Ntintili from News Café prepares a cocktail,24 February 2014, at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton for the Master Bartender Awards. The event saw Gauteng’s best bar tenders go head to head making cocktails for a panel of judges. The winner won R10 000 and an ipad mini. Picture: Alaister Russell

Depending on the kind of day or night you’re having, a great bartender could either be the person who simply manages to keep the drinks flowing or the mixologist who can entertain a crowd by spinning bottles and setting drinks on fire. While it might not seem like it at 2am in a busy nightclub, there are rules and regulations that professional bartenders follow.

Everyone has an opinion about what makes a great bartender. Depending on the kind of day or night you’re having, a great bartender could either be the person who simply manages to keep the drinks flowing or the mixologist who can entertain a crowd by spinning bottles and setting drinks on fire. While it might not seem like it at 2am in a busy nightclub, there are rules and regulations that professional bartenders follow.

Cedric Mlammleli from News Café prepares a cocktail,24 February 2014, at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton for the Master Bartender Awards. The event saw Gauteng’s best bar tenders go head to head making cocktails for a panel of judges. The winner won R10 000 and an ipad mini. Picture: Alaister Russell

Cedric Mlammleli from News Café prepares a cocktail,24 February 2014, at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton for the Master Bartender Awards. The event saw Gauteng’s best bar tenders go head to head making cocktails for a panel of judges. The winner won R10 000 and an ipad mini. Picture: Alaister Russell

The Master Bartender Academy recently took bartenders from around Johannesburg through a three-month course about customer service, the art of bartending, tools of the trade and spirit production. Five of the best bartenders went head to head to win a

R10 000 grand prize and the title of Master Bartender.

The contenders were tasked with preparing drinks for the panel of judges, who critiqued them according to criteria such as the glass they chose to use, spirit selection, the methods they use and their overall presence behind the bar.

Natasha Van De Heever from The Barnyard theatre  prepares a cocktail,24 February 2014, at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton for the Master Bartender Awards. The event saw Gauteng’s best bar tenders go head to head making cocktails for a panel of judges. The winner won R10 000 and an ipad mini. Picture: Alaister Russell

Natasha Van De Heever from The Barnyard theatre prepares a cocktail,24 February 2014, at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton for the Master Bartender Awards. The event saw Gauteng’s best bar tenders go head to head making cocktails for a panel of judges. The winner won R10 000 and an ipad mini. Picture: Alaister Russell

“A great personality, discipline and the ability to provide good service are the most important factors in a bartender for me,” says Lounge Around bar owner, Xolani Mbalo.

“It’s one thing to be able to mix a drink, but if you don’t have the kind of personality that can fit into a night club, then you’re not going to be able to do a good job.”

Bartenders work under difficult conditions – odd hours, trying to get orders from intoxicated people through the loud noise of a night club. Working with alcohol also means that bartenders shouldn’t consume the alcohol.

Natasha Van De Heever from The Barnyard theatre  prepares a cocktail,24 February 2014, at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton for the Master Bartender Awards. The event saw Gauteng’s best bar tenders go head to head making cocktails for a panel of judges. The winner won R10 000 and an ipad mini. Picture: Alaister Russell

Natasha Van De Heever from The Barnyard theatre prepares a cocktail,24 February 2014, at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton for the Master Bartender Awards. The event saw Gauteng’s best bar tenders go head to head making cocktails for a panel of judges. The winner won R10 000 and an ipad mini. Picture: Alaister Russell

“This is where discipline comes in. Unprofessional bartenders tend to think it’s ok to have a drink before or while they’re working, but this is a huge mistake,” says Mbalo.

“If anyone should be sober in a bar, it should be the bartenders. Working with money and large amounts of alcohol means they need to be clear-headed and professional at all times.”

Furthermore, a bartender needs to be able to work with people.

Terence Cheetham from The Dross prepares a cocktail,24 February 2014, at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton for the Master Bartender Awards. The event saw Gauteng’s best bar tenders go head to head making cocktails for a panel of judges. The winner won R10 000 and an ipad mini. Picture: Alaister Russell

Terence Cheetham from The Dross prepares a cocktail,24 February 2014, at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton for the Master Bartender Awards. The event saw Gauteng’s best bar tenders go head to head making cocktails for a panel of judges. The winner won R10 000 and an ipad mini. Picture: Alaister Russell

“Bartenders who know how to work with people are good for business,” says Mbalo.

“Customers will come back if they know the bartenders at a certain club or bar are friendly. A good bartender knows how to keep their regular clients happy while being able to attract new ones. The trick is to make every customer feel special whether they give you tips or not. If a bartender has been serving someone drinks for five hours, its his or her responsibility to ask how the customer is getting home, and even call a cab if necessary. In some cases, the bartender should make the decision to stop serving alcohol to intoxicated customers.”

Natasha Van De Heever from The Barnyard theatre  prepares a cocktail,24 February 2014, at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton for the Master Bartender Awards. The event saw Gauteng’s best bar tenders go head to head making cocktails for a panel of judges. The winner won R10 000 and an ipad mini. Picture: Alaister Russell

Natasha Van De Heever from The Barnyard theatre prepares a cocktail,24 February 2014, at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton for the Master Bartender Awards. The event saw Gauteng’s best bar tenders go head to head making cocktails for a panel of judges. The winner won R10 000 and an ipad mini. Picture: Alaister Russell

According to the Master Bartending Academy, product knowledge is a very important aspect of good service. The bartenders who went through the programme did extensive reading into the origins of certain spirits and how certain drink mixtures were created. Every professional needs to know more about their work than the average Joe.”