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Interview for success: The art of staffing your bar

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Your bartender represents YOU, YOUR brand, and YOUR business. Patrons frequent or avoid  establishments just like yours solely because of the bartender. So how do you find someone who represents your culture well? How do you interview and then hire the right candidate? More importantly, how do you weed out the wrong candidates? Let’s talk about the interview.

Interviewing: art and science

Interviewing over drinks

Let’s assume that, by the time you’re interviewing candidates, you’ve already seen their resume. You’re happy with their training and certifications. Maybe someone you know introduced you. Maybe you’ve met them in person and they pass the ‘good vibes’ test. So why not hire them on the spot?

The interview is your opportunity to test their claims. You want to:

  1. determine how well you can trust the candidate,
  2. determine how effectively they’ll perform,
  3. determine how they’ll act with customers, especially difficult ones, and
  4. ensure cultural fit.

Number 4 should be obvious based on your interactions with the candidate. But how do find out the rest with simple questions? Can’t a candidate just make up answers?

Don’t ask the usual interview questions

Evaluate nonverbal clues, and then ask the candidate to do something. Here are the qualities to look for that you won’t find through traditional interview questions like, ‘what are your biggest strengths and weaknesses’:

  • Energy. Your bartender needs to move quickly all night long. And he or she must stay positive and upbeat. You can get a feel for a person’s energy level by interacting with them, but you can also ask if they play any sports, or what they do in their down time.
  • Attention. Your bartender must stay alert when on shift. She must constantly monitor customers and the environment. Which customers are drunk? Which guests need more attention? Walk your candidate through your bar, even during the day, and then ask her to describe what she saw and whom she saw. What was the state of the guest at the bar? Which tables needed cleaning?
  • Hygiene. You can tell if your candidate has decent hygiene by looking at him. Can you smell the candidate? Does he smell bad? Then you don’t want him. Maybe for you it’s obvious. You’d be surprised, though.
  • Smarts. Your bartender must have a decent memory and be good with numbers.
    • Ask the bartender to repeat the order you’re about to give her. Then list seven or eight items. Don’t forget to add special orders. Did the candidate repeat without error?
    • Then give the candidate your drink list and have her add up the order. How far could she get without a calculator?
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Of course, you can probably think of a few more unorthodox questions or tasks that will test your candidate’s mettle. But these should get you started.


Anything else you should ask?

You can find some important clues with more traditional interview questions. Here are some key items:

How do you cut someone off?

The best answers involve subtlety and kindness. Answers like, “Recruit their friends. Be honest but nice.” Also look for more clever answers like, “I’d come by the table less often for drink orders, but make sure they have plenty of water.”

If you caught another bartender stealing, what would you do?

Obviously the best answer is, “Confront them and tell the owner.” But that’s not the real purpose of this question. The purpose of this question is to communicate your intolerance for dishonesty. Dishonest candidates will avoid your bar if you communicate your intolerance for theft. The candidate’s response might tell you if they have something to hide.

What’s the best way to make [insert common cocktail here]?

Maybe there’s no ‘best way’? But this is a quick BS test to validate or invalidate someone’s training.


Like our list of interview tips? Feel free to share! Or comment below on your own interview strategies. What’s worked best? What hasn’t?




Let us know what you think!

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