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How to be a better bartender? Social Skills - Learn to speak!

An original series from Cocktails For You where the prime focus is how to improve your game in Bartending industry. From inspirational ideas, modern techniques, helpful hints & useful tips to help you develop further in you career. The last article focused on "Drinks Preparation" you can find it HERE.

Picking up where we left off with regards to becoming a better bartender. In this blog we're going to talk about "Social skills & learning to speak". Arguably one of the most important aspects of any bartending job & naturally one of the most overlooked skills of a bartender.


Before we go on I ask all bartenders to remember the following:

The Basics - Knowledge, Technique & Social Skills.

These are the 3 key elements of any quality bartender. We are all different & some of us are better at one thing than the other BUT all 3 need to work together to become GREAT.

Here at Cocktails For You we spend a lot of our time in cocktail bars around the world, we've been blessed to have the opportunity to travel & discover bartenders globally. One of our favourite aspects when stepping into a new bar for the first time is to discovery of new ideas, drinks & techniques. One of the most disappointing aspects is when the bartender spends most of their time focussed on themselves or their drinks than the guests.


"If ordering the "BEST COCKTAIL EVER" in your bar is as satisfying as making it myself at home. Then I'd rather stay home & save some money..."


Now of course you can complain that in the modern world social media is the problem. You can also complain that this is a skill learned over time & that everybody is different when it comes to social skills. This is all an excuse. Anyone who has worked in a bar longer than 6 months is exposed to a variety of characters, a variety of races & a variety of situations. This all extends your mind & opens your up to broader range of ideas.

So at this point you might just simply same "Easy then, it just takes time & experience!" but what about the bartenders suffering from social anxiety or people who are not used to this environment?

Being a bartender requires to "wear" a variety of faces depending on the person sitting in front of you. You cannot always afford to "be yourself" because just many people have different personalities those personalities match others. You need to use these "faces" to your advantage to do your job in serving your guests effectively & to make them happy. We can break down communication down to 2 major aspects: - Non-Verbal communication - Conversational Skills

Quality social skills combine all three of above to deliver the best possible service to our guests. Below is a handy guide thanks to that will help those suffering from all/one of the above that breaks things down.

Non-Verbal Communication: Step 1: Identifying your trouble spotsTo get started, ask yourself a few questions: - Do I have trouble maintaining eye contact when talking with others? - Do I smile too much because of nervousness? Too little? - Do I slouch? - Do I keep my head down? - Do I speak with a timid voice? - Do I speak too quickly when I am anxious? - Do I cross my arms and legs? Some of the nonverbal behaviours you may want to pay attention to are: Posture (e.g. head up and alert, leaning forward) Movement and gestures (e.g. keeping arms uncrossed) Physical distance (e.g. standing closer when talking to others) Eye contact (e.g. making appropriate eye contact when talking) Facial expression (e.g. smiling warmly) Volume of voice (speaking at a volume easily heard) Tone of voice (e.g. speaking with a confident tone) Note: Many of the above examples are culturally related. For example, in Western societies, it is generally accepted that frequent eye contact while listening, and looking away slightly more often while speaking, are appropriate.


Step 2: Experiment with and practice non-verbal skills - Try to practice only 1 skill at a time, so you can make sure you have mastered it before moving on to the next skill. - You may want to ask a trusted friend or relative to give you some feedback on your non-verbal behaviour. - This feedback can be very useful, as often, we do not really know how we appear to others. - If you are able to, it may be useful to videotape yourself having a conversation, and note what your body language may be communicating. - Once you have identified a couple of trouble spots, practice the appropriate body language.You can also practice your new non-verbal skills in front of a mirror. - Once you have gained a little confidence and practice using nonverbal communication skills at home, try it out in real interactions. It is a good idea to start small by talking to clerks, tellers, and cashiers at stores for example. Try increasing the amount of eye contact you make when talking with others; smile more and pay attention to the reactions of others. For example, is the bank teller friendlier or more chatty when you give her more eye contact and smile more?

Step 1: Identifying your trouble spots & to get started, ask yourself a few questions:

Below are some questions that you may want to ask yourself to identify the areas you want to work on:

  • Do I have trouble starting conversations?

  • Do I quickly run out of things to say?

  • Do I tend to say “yes”, nod and try to keep other people talking to avoid having to talk?

  • Am I reluctant to talk about myself?

Tips for Starting a Conversation:

  • Start a conversation by saying something general and not too personal, for example talk about the weather (“Gorgeous day, isn’t it?”); pay a compliment (“That sweater looks great on you”); make an observation (“I noticed that you were reading a book on sailing, do you have a boat?”); or introduce yourself (“I don’t think we have met, I’m...”).

  • You don’t need to say anything extremely witty. It’s better to be sincere and genuine.

  • Once you have talked for a while, especially if you have known the person for some time, it might be appropriate to move on to more personal topics,e.g relationships; family matters; personal feelings; spiritual beliefs; etc.

  • Remember to pay attention to your nonverbal behaviour--make eye contact and speak loudly enough so that others can hear you.

Tips for Keeping a Conversation Going:

  • Remember that a conversation is a 2-way street – don’t talk too little, or too much. As much as possible, try to contribute to about one-half of the conversation when speaking 1-on-1.

  • Disclose some personal information about yourself, such as your weekend activities, your favourite hockey team, or a hobby or interest. Personal information does not need to be “too personal”; you can start with giving your opinion about movies and books, or talking about things that you like doing.

  • Try to show a little vulnerability: it can even be OK to admit that you are a bit nervous (for example, “I never know what to say to break the ice”, or “I’m always so nervous at parties where I hardly know anyone”). However, take care – sometimes disclosing too much too soon can put others off.

  • Ask questions about the other person but when you are first getting to know someone, take care not to ask questions that are too personal. Appropriate questions might be to ask about their weekend activities, their preferences, or their opinion about something you said. For example, “How do you like that new restaurant?”

  • Try to ask open-ended questions rather than close-ended questions. A close-ended question is one that is answered by a few words, such as yes or no, for example, “Do you like your job?” In contrast, an open-ended question invites much more detail; for example, “How did you get into your line of work?”

  • Do I talk too much when I’m nervous?

Remember: People generally like to talk about themselves, especially if the other person is showing genuine interest.


Tips for Ending a Conversation:

  • Remember, all conversations end sometime – don’t feel rejected or become anxious as a conversation nears its end. Running out of things to talk about doesn’t mean you are a failure or that you are boring.

  • Think of a graceful way to end the conversation. For example, you can say that you need to refill your drink, catch up with another person at a party, get back to work, or you can promise to continue the conversation at a later time or date (e.g. “Hope we’ll have a chance to chat again,” or “Let’s have lunch together soon.”)

Step 1: Experiment & practice with your conversational skills:

The next time you have an opportunity to practice starting or ending a conversation, try breaking some of your normal patterns. For example, if you tend not to speak about yourself, try to share your thoughts and feelings a bit more and see what happens. Or, if you tend to wait for the other person to end the conversation, try a graceful exit yourself first.

Below are a few suggestions:

  • Speak to a stranger: e.g. at a bus stop, in an elevator or waiting in line.

  • Talk to your neighbours: e.g. about the weather or something going on in the neighbourhood.

  • Interact with co-workers: e.g. chat with co-workers on your coffee break or in the staffroom at lunch.

  • Have friends over for a get-together: e.g. invite a co-worker or acquaintance over, meet someone for coffee, or throw a birthday party for a relative. Make sure you interact with your guests.

  • Try giving a compliment: Resolve to give at least 2 compliments each day – preferably ones that you would not normally give. But remember to always be sincere: only pay a compliment to someone if you truly believe what you are saying.


A lot of this can be a lot to take it all at once. One of the first bar jobs I ever had the head bartender made me turn up to my Sunday day-shift 30 minutes early every week. He would hand me a filter coffee & the newspaper, I would read it & remember the key details such as the news of the week, the sports & the gossip. I learned more than I remember about things I now forget about, but the shift was never a boring because I always had something to talk about.

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