Beginner Bartender Tips: Station Setup

Give yourself an early gift. Keep the lemons close, the bar clean, the sink empty and still have the time and energy to argue about whether Die Hard is a Christmas flick.
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At the time of this writing, it’s almost Christmas… For most, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. For retailers. But for bartenders, it’s increased drunken sing-a-longs, more sad sacks slouched at the bar for hours, and more requests for eggnog. Who the hell drinks eggnog, anyway?

Anywhoo, things get busy during the holidays, so you’ll want to be as efficient as possible. Because no one wants to be stuck working longer than they have to. Even if you love your job as a mixologist, after the twelfth sing-a-long to “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” you’re ready to call it a day, go home and read Lovecraft. Or watch Die Hard. All that to say, here are some tips to get you through the holiday season with at least some personal holiday spirit still intact.

A Place for Everything, Everything in Its Place – #FixYoShit

You know the peeps that frequent your bar, but there will be a new crop of people who are drawn to it or show up because a regular is hosting a party. Knowing what your regs like can help you set up your bar station. This is survival mode, so you’ll want to keep the stuff you use on the regular close by, and the rest of the shit behind you or off to the side – so you can get it if you need it, but it’s not in your way.

For example, if your patrons do a lot of shots, there’s no reason for the shot glasses to be behind the champagne flutes. The new peeps will probably order what your regs do, so no real need to worry about that. Take a good look at your bar setup and decide what needs to go where.

A few things to consider include:

  • Do you tend to make drinks going from left to right or right to left? Set your station up to match your natural tendencies.
  • Where do you keep your garnishes? If you use lemons and limes, but olives and onions not so much, then make sure the citrus fruit is within close reach.  
  • If you’re known for your killer appletini, then set up a minibar with all the makings for that drink. If you have mixed drink specials, it makes sense to set up a station that includes the makings for your most popular mixed drinks.

Tl;dr set up your station so the things you use the most are closest to you; you’ll shave minutes off your preparation.

Clean as You Go

When you’re busy and the orders are flying in fast, you’re tempted to let the glasses and shakers pile up in the sink for when you’re “less” busy.

First off, there is no such thing as “less busy” during the holidays. There’s busy, really busy and “did a f*cking bus break down out front?” busy.

Second, before you know it, it’s closing time, you have a sink or two full of glasses, and who knows what the hell else to contend with. Not only have you added extra time to the end of your shift, you’ve also created a safety issue. If a glass at the bottom of the sink breaks but you can’t tell because there’s so much shit in it, you’re going to cut yourself. And that shit hurts and no one wants to deal with that.

Just wash stuff as you go. Take the three minutes to wash, dry and put away the two shakers and four shot glasses. Patrons might want fast service, but if they see you’re working and not just shooting the shit with a coworker they’ll wait for you to finish what you’re doing. You don’t think they came up with shortcuts to get out of the office in time for happy hour? Please. Same thing for the bar. Clean up spills as they happen and you’ll have less of a mess at the end of the night to contend with, and fewer dirty looks from Karen when she notices the bottom of her White Russian is sticky. 

Slow + Deliberate = Satisfied (and Possibly Entertained) Patrons

You know how in martial arts and even yoga, every movement has a purpose? This same concept applies to tending bar. If you have to run from one end of the bar to the other to find what you need to make a drink, you look like an idiot. And then if you’re dribbling mix or alcohol while pouring it, you look like an idiot with lousy aim making a mess that someone will have to clean up later. And by the end of the night when you get home, there will be no Netflix and Chill. Hell, there probably won’t be any Netflix cuz you’re going to be that effing exhausted.

It’s time to conjure up your inner sensei and Slow. Down. Gather all the items you need, then make the drink. Carefully pour the mixes and spirits into the tumbler or glass. Make it look like art. A zen experience. Like you’re the goddamn Yoda of mixology. At first, it might feel awkward and like it takes too long. But once you realize that slowing down means you make less of a mess when making the drink, and patrons are tilting their heads to the side as you methodically and precisely add the ingredients, you’ll see it’s worth it in the end. And if the station is set up in an efficient manner as we talked about above, that makes it all the better.

See? It ain’t that hard or that deep to set up a station that works with you and not against you. You’re going to have your hands full dealing with drunk morons and entirely too many replays of “All I Want for Christmas.”

Give yourself an early gift. Keep the lemons close, the bar clean, the sink empty and still have the time and energy to argue about whether Die Hard is a Christmas flick.

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