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8 Skills You’ll Need to Become an Expert Barkeep

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Working behind a bar is not a profession that suits everyone, but for those that persevere and pick up key skills along the way, it can be a rewarding job and even a full-blown career in its own right.

To master the art of bartending, check out the following skills that you’ll have to get to grips with if you want to thrive.

Skills You'll Need to Become an Expert Barkeep

1. Understanding different keg sizes and how to use them

While most people only see what barkeeps get up to when serving customers, there are a lot of behind-the-scenes responsibilities for them to tackle as well.

One of these is dealing with kegs and barrels that contain the beverages they serve, and it’s especially necessary to know how the sizes of these containers differ from a business perspective.

Using keg conversion charts is a good way to deal with products that might not use the system of measurements with which you are familiar, such as when converting between metric and imperial when handling imported beers.

This all goes towards making sure that you order the right volume of alcohol to meet demand, and also that you don’t have to suffer unnecessary wastage which could otherwise eat into your bottom line.

2. Succeeding in customer service

Bartending is a customer-facing job much of the time, and so if you aren’t a people person then you either need to work on your customer service skills or select a different industry to work in.

Good communication is obviously part of this, and barkeeps need to be able to listen carefully to customers so that they can take orders and respond to their needs rapidly.

It’s also about making an emotional connection with the people who patronize your bar. Customer loyalty is won through swift, friendly service and a sense that the bar person is really interested in making them happy, rather than simply feeling like a perfunctory business transaction.

3. Being an expert in your field

Another thing that bartenders need to know about is the beverage industry, not just in terms of the commercial aspects, but also the drinks themselves.

It’s normal for customers to ask a barkeep for recommendations on what to drink, and also for them to expect that they’ll be able to prepare a particular concoction, even if it is obscure.

You’ll need to be a fan of beers, wines, cocktails, spirits, and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, or at least have an aptitude for learning and information retention. 

Some of this you can acquire on the job, but it’s not unusual for people who are serious about a career in barkeeping to study hard after-hours, or even take college courses in this profession.

4. Maintaining bar hygiene

Any context in which food and drinks are being served to paying customers requires an understanding of and an adherence to codes and regulations for hygiene.

This isn’t just about staying on the right side of the authorities, but also about showing customers that you care about the upkeep of your bar, and want to maintain it in an appropriate way.

As well as carrying out usual cleaning processes, you can further demonstrate pride in the workplace by making sure that everything on display is well ordered, organized, and regimented. 

That means realigning bottles of liquor after they are used, keeping glasses in a neat fashion, and generally avoiding the place looking cluttered.

5. Having a head for figures

Much of the cash-handling process in a barroom context has been digitized and automated over the past few years, with transactions frequently carried out without the exchange of traditional notes or coins.

Even so, there are still lots of people who prefer to pay for their drinks in an old-school way, so you can’t be overly reliant on digital sales systems to do all of the mathematical heavy liftings for you. 

If your skills with numbers have gotten a bit rusty since you left full-time education, now is the time to brush up on them, or else you could struggle to serve customers quickly and efficiently, and your tips might even suffer as a result.

6. Embracing professionalism

If you think that barkeeps don’t need to be too concerned with how they present themselves, you’ve got a surprise coming. Being well turned out is just as important in the context of working behind a bar as it is in any office or other workplace.

Different employers will of course have different guidance on attire, but even if the place that employs you gives you a lot of leeway in this regard, it’s better to show that you take pride in your appearance for the sake of connecting with customers.

7. Staying cool under pressure

When a bar gets busy and customers are queuing several deep, the barkeep has to be a calm, tranquil presence in among the hustle and bustle of peak periods

This is obviously a skill that certain people have innately, but it’s also one you can acquire through experience. The better you understand the job of tending a bar, the less stressful you will find it when the happy hour arrives.

8. Making light work of multitasking

We’ve already touched on a few of the duties that fall within the remit of a barkeep, but the other skill you need is the ability to multitask, or at least to organize your shift in such a way that no duty gets overlooked.

As well as serving drinks, you’ll also need to think about things such as clearing tables after groups leave, changing kegs and barrels when they run dry, putting glasses in the dishwasher so that there’s always a fresh supply, and much more besides.

The bottom line

Barkeeps have a lot to take on board when they first get started, and there are some skills you can bring to this job from other areas, and some you will need to pick up as you go along.

If bartending sounds like fun to you, there are always opportunities to give it a go, so check locally and apply to positions at places you know and love already.

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