You can’t buy it. You can’t stop it. You can’t travel forward or backward in it (without creating a troubling number of paradoxes.) What is it?
But you’re a bartender. You can make anything, right? You can make time.

Be more efficient. Streamline your actions, simplify your processes and you will make valuable extra time for yourself. Save five seconds a dozen times a day and – bang – you’ve just created your very own minute.

Why be efficient?

Silly question, probably, but let’s cover the basics.

  • The more work you can do in an hour (more drinks made and more service given) the more money you’ll make.
  • The more work performed by the individuals on the floor means you need fewer individuals. Therefore, a bigger section for you.
  • If you can do more work in a shift than someone else, you are more valuable to the company.
  • Doing efficient work is impressive. Your guests would rather see you making it look easy than see someone else looking frenetic.
  • Working efficiently means you are calm and in control. This is the proper mental state when the house is going nuts.

My Favorite Tricks

I’ve added a few quirky habits to my routine that speed me up. Mostly, it’s about removing worries. The hospitality business can be uncontrollable, so I try to control as much as I can.

  • You’re an athlete. Bartending is a sport. Work out for it. I’m a bit of a rolly-polly bear, but I have quick hands, I take care of my feet and I stay flexible. Getting tired or hurt is not one of my worries.
  • Dress for action. (Bar managers, please let your people do this.) Wear the right shoes, feel agile in your clothes, have the right things in the right pockets. Feel more like a gymnast than a runway model.
  • Delegate. Be specific. Don’t say: “I need help.” Say: “Can you get me some ice?” or “Can you pre-bus table 204?” A couple little bits of help can take a tremendous amount of pressure off you.
  • Streamline your recipes. Focus on the result, not the process. One day years ago I completely changed the way I muddled drinks. I stopped muddling liquid and ice when I realized the fruit was not being properly smashed. Now I go fruit/herbs – smash – ice – liquids – shake – serve. I’ve saved myself months and the drinks are better.

Basic Efficiency Tips

Maybe you already do all these things because you’re a salty pro. Maybe you came up as a student-of-spirits mixologist and can benefit from some essential restaurant tips. Either way, let’s recap some fundamentals.


An alcohol pour spout as a bar pest control product for vinegar flies

Copyright A Bar Above


  • Pour with both hands. Keep necessary things in their proper places (mise en place) and everything else out of the way.
  • Always move fast, even when it’s slow. It’s good practice and it may be busy any minute now. Don’t be caught flat footed.
  • Lump orders together. Handle multiple tickets or verbal orders at once. Get all your beers in one swoop. Pour all the vodka drinks at the same time. Only pick up each ingredient once.
  • Full hands in, full hands out. Maybe you can’t empty the whole glass washer this moment, but you can grab a couple glasses on the way by. When you bring drinks to a table, take something away.
  • Drippy, loose pour spouts are frustrating and messy. Put them in a glass with hot water from the coffee machine every time you grab a new bottle. In mere seconds the plastic fins will pop back out and the spout will fit snug.
  • Preset for your food orders. Ask about condiments they like. You have from when you place the order to when the food is ready to set up steak knives, napkins, mustard or whatever else. You don’t have to do it after the plates arrive.
  • Keep a damp towel or sponge by the cash register. Take a tip from bank tellers. Wet your fingers before counting cash. (Don’t lick them because money is nasty.) You’ll be more swift and accurate.

I started as a busser and worked for years as a server before getting behind the bar full time. I’ve done a lot of banquets. I still consider myself to be a waiter who can pour and I treat every shift as a party.

As a waiter, the best two bits of philosophy are “treat your whole section as one table” and “sweep your section.”

From corner to corner, cocktail table to stool, speed well to glass washer, front door to kitchen, be aware of all the happenings and touch every piece routinely. Don’t do one thing at a time. Sweep all of your guests and then attend to their needs. Perhaps multiple people need more bread, water refills or the same drink. Make all of your steps count. Keep a running list of priorities.

You need to get to those new guests now. That table needs to be bussed soon. You need more ice eventually. Putting your credit card slips in order can wait.

If you traced your steps over a shift, what would your path look like? A smooth hiking loop or a seismograph? The first one, I hope. Don’t zip to one spot, do one thing and zip back. Hectic feet make a hectic brain which makes a hectic shift. Try to move in a set, regular pattern.

And use a tray. They’re not just for servers. Take two drinks out on a tray and bring back a tray full of unnecessary bits.

Slow is Fast

While reading some other bartenders’ tips on this topic, I found a quote that jives with my thinking. So, with proper attribution, I’m biting it from Alfie Turnshek-Goins.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Yes, exactly. I slow down just a little when I’m really busy. When I truly can’t afford to make a mistake, I’m a little extra deliberate. I’ll take a moment to audit my situation, making sure I’m not missing anyone and all the gears are turning in unison.

So when you’re getting crushed, don’t respond simply by moving faster. Move better.

It’s a beautiful thing.

A bartender moving confidently, fluidly and efficiently is the product of physical and mental discipline. Not many can do it. They should be well compensated.

You’ve seen it done wrong, I’m sure. Cluttered surfaces. Frustrated guests. Frantic, panicked bartenders. Waste and lost income everywhere. Hideous.

Don’t be it.

Every day, improve your process and habits. Get streamlined, fast and smooth.

Eighty Six

Eighty Six, also known as David Klenda, has worked the front of the house since George Bush's dad was president and OJ was famous for being a football player. He's been writing poetry and fiction longer than that. He'll write freelance about anything for a buck, but is so glad to be writing about something he knows and loves. Currently he is making a Spokane neighborhood dive a little more crafty.