Monday, November 11, 2013

World-renowned bartenders share secrets to their success

By Wendy Waren, VP of Communications for the Louisiana Restaurant Association. This article ran in the LRA Fall 2013 A La Carte magazine as part of the ongoing series, Beverage Beat.

Jacob Briars receives the "Golden Spirit" award at Tales
of the Cocktail in 2010 for his informative and funny
presentations, and for his passion for connecting spirits
and cocktails to their broader cultural context.
The Art and Philosophy of Hospitality was one of the most well attended seminars at the 11th Annual Tales of the Cocktail, a five-day cocktail conference that took place July 17-21, 2013 in New Orleans. Nearly 200 industry professionals—owners, managers and bartenders—packed into a Royal Sonesta ballroom to hear from four of the leading bartending pros in the world.
“What has now been the topic for the last couple of years is: Have we lost sight of service? Are we now so focused on producing the perfect cocktails, using the very best ingredients and products?” asked Jacob Briars, head of training and education for Barcardi. “Understanding the history and the very fundamental part of bartending that is taking care of your guests and giving a warm hospitable feeling to every person that walks through your door.”

Panelist Ludovic Miazga perfected the art of cocktail making at some of France’s top establishments before making his mark on the London cocktail scene as the manager of one of the world’s most highly acclaimed bars, Milk and Honey. He kicked off the seminar with a little history lesson on hospitality.
Ludovic Miazga shares his insight of cocktail and culinary
pairings with guests of the exclusive D'USSE Cognac
event at the Degas House in New Orleans, July 17, 2013.
“Hospitality has its origin as the word host,” informs Miazga. “But it wasn’t always a very welcoming term. Often it meant to prepare yourself to receive your opponents.”
The contemporary definition centers on the relationship process between a guest and a host, connected to the entertainment world, to deliver an experience for something that you know or even don’t know. The root of hospitality is respect.
“Hospitality is about ownership and training, individuality, confidence, being authentic and sincere,” said Colin Peter Field, of the Hotel Ritz in Paris.

Field knew he wanted to be a bartender when he was 14 and took a study trip to Paris. As the head bartender at the Hotel Ritz in Paris since 1994, his philosophy on the art of hospitality has earned him numerous awards and twice named the World’s Best Bartender by Forbes Magazine.
“Don’t ever ask guests if they’d like a drink half way through the beverage they are drinking,” said Field. “Remember, you are not in your house, the guest is not in his house, but as a bartender you are there much more often, so be a gracious host. In a bar setting, never tell people where to sit, let them seat where they will feel comfortable.”

In France, the hotel schools, all 137 of them, specialize in hotel training—meats, wines, whiskey, scotch, vodkas, service and etiquette—in the first two years. In 1984, France’s Minister of Education added a degree for bartenders in the country with an additional one year of educational training.  Field developed the bartending degree curriculum over the course of 10 years.
“The visual aspect of the establishment is 55 percent of a guest’s experience – clean cloths, tidy bar, clean bathrooms,” said Miazga. “You should be able to hear the melody of the bar tools, avoid unfavorably smells, no fruit flies, no smell of cigarettes on hands and the tangible like the garnishes, engagement, glassware and menus.”

Originally from Czechoslovakia, Alex Kratena is one of the UK’s leading mixologist and has worked in various establishments from New York to Tokyo, in Michelin start restaurants and 5-star deluxe hotels.

“Bartending is really about common sense,” said Kratena. “Great service is about three things, planning, expectations and measuring success.”
Kratena encourages managers to involve everyone in the operations and creative planning process. He says leaders provide the vision and make sure the ladder is against the right wall, while managers focus on how the team can climb the ladder most efficiently. Including the entire team may improve creativity and efficiency and as a result, the bottom line.

“How do you measure success?” asked a seminar attendee.
Although it seems very corporate, Kratena encourages secret shopping on a regular basis. In addition to self-assessments and staff performance reviews, having a third party to visit the establishment several times at various times of the day is a real indicator of how well the staff is doing in providing exceptional customer service.

Zdenek Kastanek, hailing from the Czech Republic and bartender at 28 HongKong Street in Singapore, credits his mother with giving him the book “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” which he reads regularly.
“The book teaches you everything you need to know to be a good man,” said Kastanek. “Don’t steal anything, put things back where you found them and don’t hit anyone. I’d recommend this book for any person who wants to be a bartender or work in the hospitality industry.”

Increasing the awareness of the bartending profession is the goal of Tales of Cocktail and the underlying message of all of the panelists. Kastanek seeks to educate and remove the public assumption that individuals are working in a bar or restaurant because they are in school or can’t find anything better.
“Staff selection is key to creating a successful bar business,” said Miazga. “Women tend to drink less behind the bar and have less of an ego than men.”

Miazga recommends establishing a standard of service guide. In his 12-page handbook for staff, he includes an overview of the business, the rules of the house, staff responsibilities, tasks to do all the time, speed of service, floor responsibilities and closing procedure.
Miazga’s Standard of Service Guide’s Staff responsibilities:

1.       Be on time.
2.       Be ready for service.
3.       Be sure to eat your staff meal before or after opening.
4.       Take ownership of the space.
5.       Make guests feel welcome.
6.       Enter everything into the POS system, including ALL accidental drinks, off wine, flat champagne, etc.
7.       Keep your work environment tidy and clean (all floors, office, staff room, stock room and even the bathroom).
8.       Speed of service (drink delivery), food and upselling.
9.       Attention to details and awareness of building—candles on, music, napkins, ashtrays, ambiance.
10.   Give customers what they want, within reason.
11.   Do not give excuses, find solutions.
“Never say hello and goodbye the same way twice,” advises Field. “’Are you leaving already?’ ‘When will we see you again?’ ‘Oh, you’re heading out?’ Saying it differently each time keeps you authentic and sincere.”

Miazga referenced a quote that he always keeps top of mind by American poet Maya Angelou, “’People will forget what you told them, people will forget who you are, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’” He concluded with, “To serve is to love.”

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