Advice for New Bartenders: Brian MacGregor

Brian MacGregorBrian MacGregor
Bar Director, Wingtip, San Francisco

Dear Young and Aspiring Bartenders,

Shut up and listen. Shut up and watch. Shut up and study. Shut up and act accordingly.

We were all young once. All of us veterans of this business had to start somewhere. Some of us made noise, maybe a little too much, some of sat back and watched. But the best thing I can tell you after all these years is to sit back and listen to what people have to tell you. Not just us old-timers and veterans, but your peers, your bosses, your customers.

You will never learn if you don’t listen, and this is a business where if you want to succeed and have great career you better be prepared to learn. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants who have laid the ground work for us to be here. If it weren’t for a slew of people ahead of who started this whole cocktail revival many moons ago, none of us would have jobs doing what we do.

We learn every day, no matter what, as long as you listen. And just because you hear something from one person doesn’t make it so. Listen to everybody. Form your opinions, but mostly just shut up and remember there are hundreds if not thousands of people who have worked their asses off just so you have the chance to stir a martini and not shake it.

Watch what the great bartenders do. I know this may seem similar to the previous paragraphs, and you know what it is. But completely different. Watch how great bartenders make people laugh, make people say “hmmmm,” make drinks quickly. This is part of the learning progress.

After you have watched the great ones, and see how they do it, start to think about how you can be that great. What makes them special, what makes them unique. And then and only then after hours and weeks and months of watching and listening, start to figure out how you can be great. Watch how they hug a customer with their smiles, watch how their customers hug them back when their eyes light up. These are some skills that may not be able to be taught, but we as bartenders should all try to have.

Study. Study! Study!!! Read every cocktail book you can get you hands on, read every blog you can find, cross reference every drink you find online or in said books. Learn where every drink comes from and who “created” it or what book it was first published in. Learn why every spirit is unique and how every spirit is made. Then and maybe only then will you understand how to create a cocktail. And once you are done studying, remember there are always people who know more than you. so don’t act cocky because you read something online.

Act humble and remember that we all came from nothing. (See first paragraph). This is all about acting accordingly. Do not get drunk at work, do not get drunk at bartender functions, and do not get drunk at a competition. People will notice, and maybe one of those people will be a prospective employer someday. Remember you are always being interviewed when around your peers whether you know it not.

If you need to get drunk do it at your local watering hole with your friends who are not “interviewing” you. I learned this lesson the hard way. Along with act accordingly, dress accordingly. If we want to be respected as professionals, dress like you care what people think of you. I love jeans and t-shirt more than most, but when out at a professional function, I dress like a professional, or at least like some one who knows how to iron a shirt.

Now these are just ramblings of a bartender who has learned a lot along the way. Made more mistakes than he cares to admit, and learned from some of them, and still making some of them. I hope this helps at least one of you.

Read more advice for bartenders from the experts.