Guest Bartending | Who, why, where, how & HOW MUCH?
Updated: Mar 29
Join us on *INSERT DATE HERE* at *INSERT VENUE HERE* with *FAMOUS BARTENDER* from *FAMOUS BAR HERE*. Every year in every major city in the world there are guest shifts held sometimes almost weekly! While bartenders flex on each other with their cocktail shaker or tattoo collections the cocktail bars around the world spend big bucks on showing off who can host the largest number of international guest bartenders. Guest bartending has almost become an unspoken barometer of bartender success but in reality has changed a lot of the years.
Cocktails For You regularly guests shifts around the world so we’d like to just dive into the topic.
The idea of the guest bartending shift is a noble one & originally mutually profitable affair. A guest bartender will visit from another venue will visit yours & share his expertise, techniques, knowledge & cocktails with your staff & in return he gets the opportunity to learn the same from you, visit a new country/culture he has never encountered & all that will be paid for by either the bar or potentially a sponsoring brand.
The guest bartender would work a full shift & breakdown with the rest of the team, if theres potential he might do a small seminar for either the venue or the local bartenders. He would normally get an extra day to visit the city & be a tourist to visit the local cultural sights. He would meet new people, network & be inspired by ingredients he might not be able to source back home.
In theory this is perfect.
Everything changed over time as the “Guest Bartending Experience” became more & more common. Here are some important contributing factors:
- The Internet: As the world became better connected & the bartending world slowly came online ingredients, ideas, techniques & inspiration was easier to come by through your computer. Before if a foreign bartender came to visit it was an unique event that everybody wanted to be present at regardless whether you’d heard of the name but due to information being so available, exotic ingredients becoming more available globally & higher quality information available on Google. - Alcohol Brands:
Although originally a lot of guest shifts were organised by bars on their own finances in order for their own staff to benefit. Over time brands became more switched on & started helping cover costs & sponsor flights/accommodation in exchange for brand exposure. Just like a “Domino Effect” brands all jumped on the opportunity to promote in this way, eventually cocktail competition champions were provided regional & international tours.
- Miscommunication & Over-Saturation
Too much of a good thing is never a good thing, as guest shits increased in number in a short space of time it created a new opportunity for bartenders & bars to show their ability & skills. Over time the perception of what the “format” of the guest bartending shift changed with bartending shifts becoming shorter, drinking on shift became more prominent & as one bartender once told me:
“Ah I can’t be bothered going to tonight’s guest bartending event, there will be another one next week!”
So here at Cocktails For You we wondered long & hard to what advice we can give a young bartender trying to break into the guest bartending circuit at well as a simple guide by us regarding fee’s, how-to & avoiding mistakes. We believe guest bartending is a great way for bartender to learn new things & encourage them to travel to experience new cultures.
Any bartender who wishes to hold a guest shift has to understand the basic principle of guest shifts. You’re a “GUEST” so you have to be “INVITED” in the first place in order to do a guest shift & in order to be invited to ANY bar around the world you will need to create some sort of reputation or represent something that would make you an attractive guest to an event.
If you’re a bartender wishing to initiate a proposal for a guest shift then you need to make a good case for your collaboration. The question you need to ask yourself is “Who the fuck do I think I am?” & the answer will lead you on to the next topic!
WHY? When you have managed to figure out what your “hook” is then you’ve given your reason to why you should be invited or you’ve created a case if you’re initiating a guest shift yourself. Below are some examples of usual “hooks”:
I am a local/international champion of competition X
I have won award Y
My bar has won award X or is on list Y
I am a specialist in the category of alcohol X
I am a specialist in technique Y
I am SO famous bartenders will come destination bar to see me & in turn increase the reputation of bar X
The key here is to understand that you must bring a benefit to your target audience/destination venue. From a financial standpoint a 4 hour guest shift is not a viable business model so those costs need to be justified through a marketing perspective or an educational one.
You have to pick your battles wisely when it comes to guest bartending in terms of location. The more you guest bartend the more likely you’re to be invited to guest bartend more. They see you travelling around & it creates a system of supply & demand. Other bars/bartenders perceive that you have some something that is worth for them to invite.
Regarding location here are a few rules:
NEVER guest bartend as a bartender in your home city. It makes no sense for the target audience because you’re already highly accessible.
MATCH YOUR STYLE of you’re a representative of a particular concept. A hotel bartender from one of the best bars in the world might be completely out of place in a dive bar. There will always be guests that will come to a venue regardless of the guest bartender. They need to be comfortable!
RESEARCH the local target audience at least a little. The last thing you want is to leave a bad impression because of a miscommunication issue due to language or tact.
So you want to have your first guest bartending shift? Thats great! Then how do you go about securing your first gig?
How to setup a guest bartending shift:
Analyse yourself & figure out your "hook". For example you've studied all about rum production, rum classic cocktails, tiki drinks & the history of different Caribbean nations.
Research bars that match your style of bartending both locally & internationally. This can be done using different drinks media such as diffordsguide, worlds 50 best bars, imbibe & drinksworld Asia e.g. or using different Facebook groupss such as the London Bartenders Association, Sydney Bartender Exchange e.g.
Once you're put together a list of potential venues dig deeper into their specific history to be able to approach them better. Narrow down the list to a top 3 best matches. - How long has the bar been open? - Who is in charge? - Do they have a history of guest shifts? - Do they have any awards? - What is their 'level'?
Here there are 4 options how to move forward. Remember if you're reaching out to someone regarding a guest shift as opposed to an invitation you're very unlikely to get paid. In order of most to least effective: Option A) Get invited! The easiest way is to attend your local, regional or international trade event or bar show such as - BCB Berlin/Brooklyn, Tales of the Cocktail, Lisbon Bar Show, Moscow Bar Show e.g. it is at these events that you can find an opportunity to network & potentially meet the bar owners, bar managers & brand ambassadors that have the power to arrange guest shifts all over the world!
By being present at these events & meeting with the right people whilst making a personal & real connection with them you find the opportunity to expose them to you & your “hook”. They say 90% of business occurs outside while having a cigarette but in the Hospitality Industry it is us usually over a shot.
Option B) Befriend the person with the position of power that allows them to organise guest shifts. If he likes/thinks you're good enough he could invite you or you can suggest to him a collaboration. This method has the highest chance of success but in the industry "you don't charge your friends money". Option C) Send a package/letter/gift in real life to the bar with your 'hook'. Present yourself, your bar & potentially a small bio regarding your experience & history. Be honest & humble in your approach also make sure to mention something about the target venue(like a cover letter for a job application). Highlight your strengths & give an honest reason WHY you enquired about the opportunity(Usually to learn from the target host). Be straight, upfront & professional. Option D) Contact online with a professional email to ask to speak the bar manager regarding a collaboration opportunity. For the rest of the letter see above.
IF terms are accepted iron out responsibilities between both parties regarding the following: - Travel Logistics - who is paying for what regarding travel, contact numbers, contact names, accommodation e.g. - Menu Logistics - design, printing, drinks, price, ingredient preparation & menu structure e.g. - PR - Facebook Event? Instagram Stories? Hashtags? Video promo? Poster? - DEADLINES - Make sure you have all clear targets by when all information must be delivered. STICK TO THE DATES.
Do the shift. Rules for newbies: - Dont drink on shift - Clean up after shift - Arrive 30 mins before & introduce yourself to every single member of host staff - Bring all your own equipment. - Don't complain out loud. If you're not happy with the bar you didn't do your research well enough.
This is probably the hardest question to answer because there are a million approaches to how a guest bartending shift is carried out worldwide. There is no specific right or wrong way but at Cocktails For You we can comment on how we’ve seen guest bartending shifts carried out & where the guest bartending trend is going.
The usual template is very simple:
Arrive at destination
Bartending for X amount of time
We had said previously that guest bartending has become very saturated around the world the key is how can you stand out from the crowd around the world? How do people come to your event & remember you? Here’s a few tips based on our perceptions:
Bring in “Player 2”. Everything is prepared faster, you’re working with someone you know, one is working on the drinks the other has time to communicate the message of the bar & the list goes on & on…
Work on the atmosphere so this comes down to sight, sound & smell. Everyone in the bar has usually been here before so how can you bring something “different”. Bring a playlist, change a lightbulb colour or maybe use an incense to create an aroma e.g.
Bring props & merchandise! Menu’s designed for that event, hats, t-shirts, pins & badges. Things that people could only get if they’d attended! Limited edition has worked for the fashion industry after all…
One of the most interesting subjects to come across when it comes to guest bartending events is that on some occasions bartenders request fee’s for their work. There are many opinions out there regarding this particular issue & we can debate the many different aspects surrounding this.
We’ve worked a little guide that could be useful for bartenders to working out fee’s & have a few little considerations to bear in mind for both potentials sponsors, hosts & guest bartender wannabes!
Our Formula for guest bartending fee’s:
Bartender Fee = (Number of Days not working X (Daily Wage + Average Tips)) + Extra Costs*
*Extra Costs = Hotel transfers, preparation time, cost of ingredients or menus e.g.
John’s Guest Bartending Shift Fee Breakdown:
Time Away - 1 Day travel to destination, 1 day work & 1 day travel back
Daily Wage at home - 100 euros
Travel Costs 50 euros
Preparation costs - 50 euros
Preparation Time - 1 Day (Half-Shift) = 50 euros
Tips missing per day - 20 euros
Total = ((3 x (100 + 20)) + 150 = 510 euros
To host a guest bartender the host has to cover travel, accommodation & food. This all can cost a LOT of money. This is where your fee is balanced out based on that.
Your relationship with the host. Is it a friend or are you selling a service? Are you doing a favour or being used? Were you invited or did you convince them yourself?
How much is your time worth to YOU? If you’re taking time off work or working on your days off to guest bartend you have to consider your health & time spent on the project. You can to balance out the worth of the event in your life, everybody has a price but you can’t put a price on your relationships or health.
Are you travelling to a new country or for a new experience?
We hope that all of the above can give you a small insight into the world of guest bartending & hope we’ve inspired you enough to consider it yourself. We will dive soon into the subject of ‘Takeovers’ & ‘Pop-Ups’ with example of some of out favourite around the world to inspire you!