What’s the one thing that makes any cocktail—whether martini, manhattan, margarita, or anything else in between—fantastic from the start? Author, consultant, and all-star mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim will tell you that it’s not the correct amount of vermouth or a perfectly squeezed lime that makes a drink superior (even though both things are true!), but it’s the shining smile and hospitable attitude of the person pouring behind the bar.
Abou-Ganim, who penned The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary Classic Cocktails, visited Johnson & Wales University in Providence this week, where he was recognized as a Distinguished Visiting Lecturer by the College of Hospitality Management. Not only did he share his best secrets from his 30-plus years behind the bar (tip: always beware of the dreaded garnish tray), but he also delivered a passionate presentation laced throughout with one common idea: hospitality is what keeps customers coming back for another round.
“What we do is hospitality,” he said. “It’s all about the guest experience.”
Crafting a Pleasant Guest Experience
There are three things that really play into a guest having a positive bar experience, according to Abou-Ganim: the cocktails, the bar, and the bartender.
First, the drink needs to be well-made and taste good—which is pretty much a given. And the guest is always right, he said, even if they ask for their Negroni shaken when you, as a professional, know it is much better stirred. “If that’s what they want, I’ll give them the best one they’ve ever had,” he said.
Second, the bar needs to be inviting and clean. Nobody wants to find fruit flies floating around in their drink.
Third—and this is the most important thing—the bartender needs to be friendly, engaging, invested, and all-around personable. According to Abou-Ganim, you can teach anyone to make a great drink but you can’t teach someone to have a good personality.
Let Your Personality Lead the Way
There are so many ways to showcase your personality to a customer. One thing Abou-Ganim said he doesn’t see nearly enough is a knowledgeable bartender giving his or her guest a good, solid recommendation.
“Tell them what you’re excited about and why you want to make it for them,” he said.
Another way to make a good impression? Share some details about the drink, like its storied history, if it’s appropriate. Abou-Ganim, whose love for a good Negroni was evident throughout his presentation, said next year the drink will celebrate its 100th anniversary! Engage the customer in conversation so they know you truly care about them spending their time at your bar.
Keep Them Coming Back for More
Abou-Ganim, who was selected to develop the beverage program at the Bellagio Las Vegas in the 90s, said customers will always remember a bartender they liked. During his presentation, he shared several stories about bars, drinks, and bartenders he loved—often calling them by their first name—to drive home the point that good service goes a long way.
One anecdote he told was about a time when he was managing at the Bellagio. He said he ran into a couple who was staying at a different hotel (because the Bellagio was full when they booked their trip), but spending their time and money at his bar. They said they kept returning night after night because the bartender was so pleasant and the drinks were so great, it made them want to book their trip earlier next time so they could get a room at the Bellagio.
And that, he said, is one of the biggest compliments a bartender can receive.
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