The Most Important Skills and Qualities You Need to be a Good Bartender

Part of learning how to be a good bartender is experiencing a few bad ones. Have you worked with someone like this or know a “bad” bartender?

I’m willing to bet that the person in question can be rude, stand-offish, lazy, or even perhaps…. unhygienic.

Yep, with a few short, not-at-all helpful answers paired with a dirty look, and that bartender can totally ruin someone’s night out. 

And as a budding bartender yourself, you’ll need to know the skills and qualities it takes to be one of the best bartenders. Why? Because you are the face of the business, earn your own living wages, and are the most important link between your establishment and its guests.

Even my fellow industry veterans can benefit from reading this article! Unless you’re perfect, then carry on!

Today, you’ll uncover the most important skills it takes to be the best bartender. Ready? Let’s dive in!

Bartender Skills: Good Short-Term and Long-Term Memory

To be a top-notch bartender, both your short-term and long-term memory need to be not just good. Actually, they need to be more on the great side, but we’ll work up to that.

Short-term memory plays an important role when it comes to remembering 3-5 orders at one time.

Of course, you can have a pen and paper to help you keep track of orders. And you’ll have recipes, or builds, to follow. But when you’re busy and behind in the weeds, you want to be able to remember a few key pieces of information to save time, instead of writing things down or looking things up!

Long-term memory is handy to have because it helps you remember the names of your regulars, their preferred choice of drink, and a few facts about them. People absolutely love when you remember their name and their favorite drink. 

You’ll get bonus tips if you remember big events that they shared with you or even their partner’s or children’s names. 

For example, your regular Lisa was talking about her son’s wedding in June. When she comes back in July, ask her how her the big day was and have her regular order ready, or in the works!

Long-term memory is one of the bartender skills that will always come in handy because you need to be able to tell your bartop what beers are in the taps, what your well vs. top-shelf bottles are,  and of course cocktail and mixed drink recipes.

Know Your Drinks

Being a good bartender and your mixology skills depend largely on your knowledge about drinks and cocktails.  You will need to know how to make drinks off the top of your head, especially for those that are ordered all the time. (This can vary for each bar you work at!)

When you’re making a new drink, do not be afraid to consult a book or trustworthy internet source. But typically, you’ll master commonly ordered drinks in no time! Just make sure you get the drink order right.

People come to the bar for high-quality drinks, so make sure the drinks you’re cranking out match that expectation! Here are some of the easiest ways to make quality drinks.

  • Use clean and correct glassware! Put a Moscow Mule in a rock’s glass without warning the guest, and you might ruin someone’s night. (Been there, done that!)
  • Always cut and use fresh garnishes. Have you ever gotten a brown lime? Yuck. I know you didn’t pay $12 for that.
  • Always pour over fresh ice. When you’ve shaken a drink in your tin, the ice can look like it’s been sitting for days! No one likes a watered-down drink with half-melted ice.

Knowing your drinks and pouring good-looking, great-tasting cocktails are just a few easy ways to create a high-quality customer experience.

Great Bartenders Have Great Communication Skills

This is perhaps one of the most critical skills you will ever need during your bartending career. 

Not only will you be consistently talking to your customers during your shift, you need those communications skills with your team, boss, and even vendors.

Sometimes, you’ll need to talk loudly, without seeming like you’re shouting at anyone. Just try to keep your overall tone positive and don’t be afraid to make a joke! I’d say something like, “Aw, I’m getting nostalgic! Yelling to talk makes me feel like I’m back home with my granny!”

In turn, to be a great communicator you will need to be a great listener. Yeah, you’ll need to listen in order to get your customer’s orders right. But you also will deal with people in various states of emotion. 

Overall, you’ll want to create a friendly, open environment where customers can interact with you and also with each other. When this happens, you know you’ve made it to a new level of bartending.

A Solid Bartender Needs Organizational Skills

As a bartender, one thing you can count on for sure. And that’s being busy. You will be running all over the bar, serving dozens of people at the same time. You are in charge of keeping track of who ordered what, when, and if they paid or not. 

On those busy nights, you’ll be taking care of what feels like eight thousand different things. So you better be good at multitasking!

Bartenders with these skills earn more money, and can too! All you have to do is follow these rules.

The best way to get better at multitasking and organizing is to make sure you know your job, what’s expected of you, and to be able to prioritize.

Maintain an Outgoing Personality

Seasoned bartenders and those who are new to the game, will want to maintain a composed, outgoing personality–even when you’re busy, having an off day, or just don’t want to be there! Leave that attitude at the door and put on your happy costume.

For example, let’s say you’re slammed making twelve Lemon Drop shots for a group of girls graduating from undergrad. But then, a nice couple comes and sits at the bar. You might not be able to get to them for a few minutes! Go ahead and put on a smile, make eye contact, and let them know you’ll be by with menus and water as soon as you’re done. That kind of acknowledgment goes a long way.

Even when people are pissed (or hangry!), you’ll need to flex your kindness muscle. Always maintain a cool, calm, and collected demeanor and you’ll be making that good money.

Have Good Money-Handling, Time Management, and Math Skills

Speaking of good money! You handle a lot of it behind the bar. So, those money-handling skills you learned in the second grade weren’t a total waste! At a minimum, you’ll need to know how to do quick addition/subtraction and know how much change will be returned back to your guests.

Learn Excellent Customer Service Skills to Stand Out

As a bartender, your customer service skills need to be up to par. The most basic nature of the job is the service you provide to bar guests, and your pay largely depends on tips. So you need to be that your personality doesn’t majority conflict with your clients and to increase the odds of them coming back.

Our certified instructors at Local Bartending School will guide you not only with the technical skills, but customer service skills too!

Here are some easy customer service skills you can adopt today!

  • Ask the guest how they like their drink and/or food after two bites or sips
  • If the guest has their wallet out, they’re ready to pay! Go ahead and drop the check off.
  • Get to know your guests and why they’re in town or at your bar

Be Responsible, for Yourself and Others

When you decided to be a bartender and go through safety training (if you haven’t, you will soon!), you learned you have a social responsibility. You agreed to serve alcohol to the public, in a safe and responsible manner. This includes checking for IDs, verifying legal age, and being aware of when you might be overserving a guest.

Did you know you can be found guilty of manslaughter just by overserving someone? It’s true!

If your guest is doing any of these things, you’ll need to stop serving them or grab a manager:

  • Slurred speech
  • Talking loudly
  • Swaying in chair
  • Can’t make eye contact or focus 

Being a bartender also means you’re a part of a team! Your coworkers, peers, and bar managers all work together to make one service happen. Keeping your mindset focused on teamwork will help you hone your bartending skills to the next level.

Physical Stamina and Able to Deal with Difficult Situations

The bar work and bar jobs that you have (or are seeking) can take a lot out of you, physically and mentally. Especially if you’re into flair bartending! Long hours are usually required and oftentimes you’ll deal with upset guests who create the most difficult situations.

You’ll need to keep it together! It always helped me to remember that usually, my regular customers weren’t mad at me personally. It also helped to remember that the shift always had to end. Everything is temporary, even the rush!

Willing to Learn and Adapt and You'll Have a Long Bartending Career

So there you have it, my friends! I’ve given you all of the skills and qualities of a good bartender that I’ve compiled from over twelve, long years in the industry.

But if you want to take it one step further, get ahold of my certified instructor friends at Local Bartending School! They can come right to your home and show you these skills (and more). After the program, you’ll not only be able to brag about your technical skills but will also understand the philosophy of the craft.

Carrie Jean Lipe

Carrie Lipe has been writing creatively since childhood but jump-started her professional writing after college. She's an Indiana native, Ball State Hospitality graduate, and a bartender with over 10+ years in the industry. You can find her making basil Moscow mules when she's not writing. Follow her professional journey on Instagram! @contentbycarriejean