Saturday, March 3, 2012

Give The People What They Want!

I work in a restaurant where we rarely say no to guest requests, even if they're kind of "out there."  When it comes to food and drink, you almost always get exactly what you want down to every last little detail.  If you want something and we have the ingredients, the tools, and the ability to create it...done!  That's probably a big reason the restaurant has such a loyal and dedicated clientele, and has for the past 15 years.

Some "mixologists" refuse to make certain drinks (the same goes for certain chefs and the food).  I'm a bartender.  I'm a bartender who wants to take care of my guests and help you have an enjoyable experience.  I'm also a bar manager who needs to have the best interest of the business in mind and take responsibility for the numbers.  I'm also very passionate about spirits, beer, and cocktails, and I have a deep respect for the craft of bartending.  At the end of the day, I'm here for the guest and I try to do my best.  I hate the whole pretense thing, where it's all about the cocktail or the "hip" factor and nothing else.  When that becomes your main focus, guest service suffers.  But I digress.  Back to my main point.  Some establishments overall theme and concept revolves solely around the cocktail and small-batch craft spirits (or beer, or wine).  I can appreciate and respect that, probably because I love craft spirits and beers, creative culinary cocktails, and well-made classics.  I geek out on stuff like hand-cut ice, antique bitters bottles, quality bar tools, and home-made ingredients.  When bars have those things and the service is really good to boot, then I'm in love with the place.  However, those types of establishments are few and far between.  And not every place can be a destination bar for the die hard cocktail and spirits enthusiast. There's something out there for everyone.

There are many different types of restaurants and bars, and they all serve a purpose.  I love a lot of them for different reasons.  Dive bars, hotel bars, cutting edge "mixology" bars, speakeasies, white-table cloth, fine-dining restaurants, and the neighborhood pub for a good, affordable burger and great pint of beer.  There's a lot to choose from.  If they treat me well and make me feel welcome and comfortable, I'm a customer for life.  I work in a restaurant that prides itself on great food, great drinks, and above all else, service.  You know that saying "you can't be all things to all people"?  Well, in a way, the restaurant I work at kind of does try to be all things to all people in the sense that we accommodate just about every food, drink, and service request.  We have a fairly large food menu and a large selection of spirits, liqueurs, wines, and beers.  That means there are a lot of things that we can indeed make for you.  The main goal is making sure the guest has a superb experience and gets what they want.

The style of restaurant and the area we're in means that we pump out a lot of Cosmos, Lemon Drops, Pom-Tinis, Ginger-Tinis, and a million other things that end with "tini."  A couple of their house cocktails that have been on the list for almost 10 years end with "tini" and man do they sell.  It's kind of been this bars thing for many years.  I'm not going to correct or scold or laugh.  I will however use fresh citrus, good booze, correct technique, and strive for balance.  It's not my place to change the name of cocktails made popular by a past bartender or house cocktails that have served the guest and the restaurant well, especially if the restaurant doesn't want to change those things and they are happy with it being a part of their image.  If it's become a part of their successful brand, there really is no reason to change it.  We have a balanced cocktail list that I've taken a lot of pride in contributing to over the past year and a half, and we've built a wonderful spirits and beer portfolio as well.  We have a lot of cool things that you can totally geek out on in the liqueurs, bitters, spirits, craft beer, and house-made ingredient departments.  We also have the "big guys" on display:  Goose, Ketel, Patron, etc.  It's a good, yet delicate, balance.  I think we do a darn good job of pulling it off.

If you want a Grey Goose Cosmo, you got it.  No problem!  I have Goose, I have Cranberry Juice, and if that's what you like and that's what you want, I will happily make it for you.  I'm not going to make you feel bad or feel stupid for ordering that.  I'm not going to preach to you and try to convince you to try this really great cocktail from our list that features our house-made shrub, rye whiskey and amaro.  But you know what?  Because I happily made that Goose Cosmo, gave genuine service, and we served some tasty food to round out the experience, that guest comes back.  They come back again, and again, and again.  Now they're a regular at the bar.  They like the feel, the vibe...that atmosphere of warmth and acceptance.  They have FUN!  Go figure.  And guess what?  Now that we have a relationship of sorts, something interesting usually begins to happen.

Some of these guests are now more likely to try something different, perhaps something we craft just for them that we've been working on and think they might like, or perhaps something from our seasonal cocktail list.  We have built up a certain level of trust.  That Grey Goose Cosmo customer that has become a regular?  Maybe she says "you know, I see you guys making all of these crazy cocktails from the drink menu for people.  I think I'd like to  try one.  That one with the cranberry shrub looks interesting.  I like cranberry, but I'm not so sure about the whiskey and the vinegar parts of the drink."  Awesome!  Now we have a dialogue.  They might actually love that menu drink as is.  Or I might have to tweak it a bit to suit their particular taste preferences, but now she has a new favorite drink.  On the other hand, she might hate everything about it, even after modifying it, and stick with the Cosmo.  The take-home point is this: I know her well enough now that I can confidently make her several cocktails that she'll truly enjoy, whether it's one of of our seasonal cocktails from the list, something I come up with on the spot just for her, or simply making her that Grey Goose Cosmo just he way she likes it.  I now have a regular for life, the restaurant has a loyal customer, and she has a place that she loves spending time (and money) at.  Everybody wins.

It's not ALL about the drink.  That's important, and I'll be the first to admit that I love creative, balanced, well-made cocktails.  For me, it makes a good restaurant experience a great one.  I love a good bar and kitchen that does things the right way.  But what is "the right way?"  Ultimately, it means using fresh, quality ingredients; utilizing proper technique; having some real passion for what you do; and above all else, taking care of your guests and giving them what they want:  a great experience in a warm, welcoming environment.  That's true hospitality my friends. 


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