Bartending fails: Your biggest pet peeves behind the stick

16 April 2019

Of course you and your team are perfect – but not everyone has your high standards. From dirty stations to unchecked egos, Clinton Cawood asks industry experts to pick out the behaviour that sends them off the deep end

The unmixed mixed drink
Andrew Copsey, independent consultant
‘Get your spoons out guys…’

Something that constantly bewilders me in cocktails is the phenomenon of the unmixed mixed drink.

I was at an event a while ago and one of the drinks on offer was a delightful Americano/Garibaldi riff – Campari, sweet and dry vermouth, and a touch of lime and orange juice, topped with soda. Although the bartenders were all taking care to measure out the ingredients with jiggers in the snazzy two-jigger hold (which everyone seems to be doing now), the soda made its way into the glass, as per the written spec, as a simple top. The result was a beautiful mix of alcohol and citrus at the bottom of the glass, and an almost pousse café-style float of soda lying on top of it.

The fact that we’re all moving forward with serving long drinks without straws is a progressive one for the environment, but it does make it less enjoyable for the drinkers out there if they’d, quite rightly, prefer not to drink half a glass of soda followed by a rather concentrated mixer as a chaser. Surely it’s easy enough to take out a spoon to help this along, or to simply add the soda to the glass first and then the other ingredients on top. Or there’s the classic round-building style of just icing up at the end after all the ingredients – tops and all – have made their way into the glass. The act of having to stir something with your finger might be novel and fun for some, but not really what the end consumer wants.

The most common culprit of this is the Bellini – I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a venue that does heavy Bellini sales put out every single one in a consistent manner. Often the prosecco is sitting afloat a dense mixture of various purées and sugars… that’s not a mixed drink, that’s a mess. Every sip of simple drinks like this should be the same, but it sadly seems like they get overlooked. Get your spoons out, guys – the simple drinks need love too.


The drink snobs
Dean Callan, consultant
‘Don’t shame people’s drinking choices…’

I have always found drink snobbery the most irritating trait a bartender can have. Giving people advice is fine, but don’t shame people's drinking choices.

I really don’t understand it when a bartender decides, on my behalf, that something I’ve asked for isn’t going to taste nice. You may have had this happen to you, or even done it yourself. Someone asks for a ‘shit drink’ and you refuse to make it. To me, that’s an epic fail on the part of the bartender, provided the request isn’t irresponsible. If you can give the people what they want, then do.

Hospitality is bigger than just drinks. It’s really about making people feel special, and you certainly don’t do that by belittling their drink repertoires.

We shouldn’t treat people how we like to be treated, we should treat them how they like to be treated.


The masters of mess
Dan Crowther, Hedonist
‘Clean your shit when you use it…’

Bartenders not cleaning up after themselves is a huge pet peeve of mine. One of the guys I work with is horrendous for it. Every time you come onto the bar you know he has been on and just done a cocktail order, as the sink is full to the brim with equipment. I joke we need to hire him a personal barback just to follow him around and tidy up after him.

Clean your shit when you use it. It makes everyone’s life quicker and easier.

That said, one thing I always do, which people either find funny or have a pet peeve about, is always putting icing sugar on any mint sprig garnish. I think that it looks so much better, but I always end up sugaring the peanut rail as well. Icing sugar and water make an interesting mix!

Also, those bartenders who free pour into a jigger, empty the jigger, and then keep pouring into the drink… what is the point? Obviously you are not measuring with the jigger, so just free pour if that’s what you want to do. Definitely style over substance.


Arrogant bartenders
Rasa Gaidelyte, Home Bar
‘People just want to be superstars now…’

When I was starting out in the bar business, we had really hardcore training. You had to earn it. They’d start you as a barback and you’d learn everything. But people survive now on personality without the skill.

I don’t know if you can call it a new generation of bartenders, but they’re so arrogant, and don’t have that old-school training. People are very short on staff now in London, so these people get a chance, sometimes at awesome bars, and then act like douchebags. You don’t know better than anyone else.

Get down from your high horse and do what you need to do. I worked in clubs a long time ago, and people got bartending jobs by how they looked.

People just want to be superstars now, and it’s sad. So many people that are famous in our industry don’t even know how to make a proper Daiquiri, but because they have good chat and social presence, they get this fame. That’s what young kids want now. They want to skip all the shit and just want to be famous, and that’s what’s destroying us.

There aren’t enough people passing the torch. We need to inspire this new generation, that it’s not all about being a brand ambassador, or wearing a suit, or being in a magazine and all that. It’s about loving your craft. Bartending is a lifestyle. Every time I make a drink I love it.

For every customer that comes to my bar, it’s an experience, and it fills me with joy. People inspired me when I was young, when I was starting out.

I don’t want to be a brand ambassador. I tried it for a few days and I hated it. I want to be behind the bar. I want to have my own bar. I like that lifestyle – the scruffiness of it.

It pisses me off, this arrogance and judgement. If a customer comes to the bar and orders something you hate, or think is stupid, you don’t judge them. You just make the best version, and give them an experience. I go to some bars and get this look. It’s nonsense. A bar should be a place where you feel comfortable. I don’t want to be judged by some hipster bartender with a moustache who only makes Martinis. I love shandies, and I’m going to drink them until I die.


The one-armed, and the warm mixers
Drew Mallins, consultant
‘Use both hands and think three steps ahead…’

Room-temperature mixers are one of my biggest gripes, particularly given the rise in choice of tonics to pair with gins, not to mention a plethora of other new and innovative mixers.

Some operators may say that they haven’t got the space, but I would argue that they haven’t set up their bar properly. As bartenders, we are obsessed with ice and dilution when it comes to cocktails, but that’s all a bit fruitless if your Fever-Tree tonic goes flat and becomes rapidly diluted.

Then there’s the lazy hand… the curse of bartenders the world over. If I had the opportunity, I would halve the hourly rate of any bartender who didn’t use both of their hands to make drinks! Using both hands and constantly thinking two to three steps ahead was one of the first techniques I was taught when I started bartending.

Due to their extensive training, Be@One bartenders have this down consistently to a tee. However, they also don’t put their mixers in the fridge. But then everyone knows you drink June Bugs at Be@One, not G&Ts.


The oversharers
James Drummond, Resident of Paradise Row
‘Bitching about customers on social media isn’t healthy…’

Something I don’t like is bartenders airing their dirty laundry on social media, like moaning about customers. In my opinion, you get paid to be polite and nice to them. If a customer happens to be rude, it’s not very professional to go telling everyone on social media about it.

You never know who’s going to see it at the end of the day.

I can understand if it’s done in a reasonable way, and it requires input from other people, like you’re looking to get advice about how to respond. That’s completely fine. But just pure bitching about people on social media I just don’t think is very healthy.

In previous jobs I used to ban people from doing it. There was one bartender, who was a very nice guy, but every week he would put up a ‘Shit Customer of the Week’ post on Facebook. He’d post typical stuff like people string ordering, groups that pay individually, or customers touching the fruit. In my opinion, this stuff is going to happen. Grow up and deal with it in a professional, adult manner.

It’s quite poisonous, because it creates a negative vibe around customers, and people then feel they have the right to moan about their customers. Especially for young bartenders, you don’t want them coming in and seeing that it’s okay to have this negativity about customers, because at the end of the day they’re the most important people. It’s fine if you do it privately. When I was a young bartender, before social media was massive, we would just sit after the shift and moan about it, and that was it. But on a public forum it’s written in ink. As soon as it’s on the internet it’s permanent.

Related content

News |  Wine

The Pet Nat Boys: Pétillant naturel wines

It might be bigger in Australia and the States, but pétillant naturel (or pét-nat) wine is starting to have an impact over here as well.


The art of low-impact bartending

The buzzword that seems to be on everyone in the on-trade’s lips is sustainability, and this seminar at Bar Convent Berlin was no exception.Hosted by

News |  Spirits & Cocktails

Martini's Davide Zanardo on London bartending and the rise of the aperitivo

Fresh from his appointment as Martini's Northern Europe ambassador, Davide Zanardo sat down with Imbibe to discuss how his time in London bars will sh

News |  Spirits & Cocktails

'Biggest ever' Edinburgh Cocktail Weekend

If you think this week is all about London then think again.