They just flew into town. They don’t want to see the business center, the pool or the spa. They don’t even want to see their room yet.
They want to see the bar. Your bar. The heart of the hotel.
Why? Because you’re the ace. You’re more than a person who pours drinks. You’re a hotel bartender: the complete package.
This is your town and you’re their portal to it.
Louis Davenport, founder of Spokane’s famous Davenport Hotel, challenged his workers to “be prepared to do your job better than it has ever been done before.”
Preparation begins with something more mundane than cutting fruit or ironing your uniform. First, you need to get there.
If you’re driving to work, you need to ditch that car. If your hotel is in a busy urban area parking may not be simple.
Get a monthly pass even if it means spending a little extra. Leave early. Allow for traffic surprises.
Not taking a car at all may be a better choice if your city has ample public transportation. If riding the bus, train or subway is a potentially dirty experience, iron your uniform and dress when you get there.
Rideshare services are a great way to get home but may be an unpredictable way to get to work.
Practice commuting on your own time. This may sound obsessive, but find the best and most timely means to get to work.
Compare these two states of mind to start your shift: stressing over every red light, hunting frantically for a parking spot and running in the door at the last minute or cruising leisurely to work, whistling a tune and clocking in ten minutes early.
I know how I like to start my shifts: relaxed and confident. Don’t let the commute be the hardest part.
Of course your appearance is important. A nice hotel expects a higher level of polish. In return, you’ll get more respect and better tips.
No matter what you know or how good you are, a wrinkled shirt and crooked tie give your guests the initial impression that you are unprofessional. You’re starting behind and now must prove you even deserve your job.
The Tools for the Job
Having a wine opener, keys, pens, notepad and other gear to do your job should not even be a thought. Keep all your necessary stuff in a locker or dedicated bag that never leaves your person or your car.
Worry about the unknown, not whether or not you can get to work on time and prepared. That should be easy as breathing.
And always make sure your mise en place is in place.
The front desk agents and concierges are a wealth of local knowledge, but you should be too. Don’t make your guests leave the bar to get answers. Deliver everything they need to know along with a great drink.
Be ready with a handful of local restaurants of various flavors. Know where they can listen to music, get a massage or buy a gift. Know the closest drug store. If they have a technology emergency, you’ll be a hero for quickly directing them to the Apple store or Best Buy.
You may experience an extra bonus for sending guests to the same restaurants frequently. When their owners and managers routinely hear “Eighty from the hotel said you have the best sushi in town” you’ll probably get hooked up when you dine there yourself.
Know what’s going on in your town so you can anticipate your guests. Is there a concert, game or convention going on? Don’t be blindsided. Be ready.
Consider subscribing to a few local events email newsletters. Read the free weekly paper. You’ll be up to date without much effort on what’s happening this week.
You may get tourists on vacation spending their fun money, (and that’s great), but what will butter your bread most consistently are the business travelers.
While most people hope to take one or two good trips a year, business travellers may spend over a hundred nights on the road annually. They’re professional hotel stayers.
They have a budget for food and drink. They eat out a lot, so they have manners and appreciate quality.
Do you think travelling for business is romantic and exciting? Nope. They rarely see the fun parts of a city, but they see a lot of planes, airports, meeting rooms and convention centers.
And hotel bars. The hour or two they get to focus on a meal and some drinks is the only break they get from constant work and travel. And you get to create that experience.
Give them a chair that isn’t attached to a plane or behind a desk. Give them some good things to eat and drink. Chat with them or give them peace and quiet. They’ll be happy as an olive in gin.
That’s an easy bullseye to hit.
They have choices on where they can stay. Treat them right and they’ll tell everyone about you and your bar.
Remember their names and details about them. Take some notes so you can ask them about their kids and hometown next time they visit. Use Mr. and Ms. until they say: “Just call me Jim.”
You’ll build local regulars, too, but your business travellers will drop $50-100 on dinner and tip 20% every night they’re in town.
No matter how professional your clientele is, you’ll see a whole new level of inebriation at a hotel bar.
The misconception is that people can get more drunk when they only have to drive an elevator home. Congratulations: You’re the last stop on the subway to Sloshville.
This is untrue, of course. Liquor laws and common sense agree that serving people who are already intoxicated is a bad career move. There are many ways to have the tough conversation about cutting someone off (which we’ll touch on soon in a full post) but it must be done.
You might see the same people at your bar before dinner and again much later. Note if their behavior, speech or appearance has changed dramatically. I like to watch people walk into the bar and sit down. People who struggle with the door or barstool probably don’t need another drink.
When you cut someone off, communicate. Let the front desk, security and other bartenders know. (After all, that person will likely try to order from room service or another bar).
Want to be a really good neighbor? Call the bar down the street and let them know they shouldn’t serve the dude in the three-piece suit with the flammable breath.
Being a hotel bartender is a great gig. You have a professional organization promoting you, a team of specialists supporting you and an audience sleeping in the same building. All you have to do is not mess that up.
The right hotel or hotel chain provides stability and benefits. They’ll have high standards, too. Follow the rules and take care of their money.
You may not have all the flexibility of a mixologist at a small bar. The hotel brand will have “our way” of doing things. Your inner nonconformist might have to shut up sometimes.
Yet if you work had and exceed everyone’s expectations, you can have a great career at a hotel bar.