what is bartending

What is Bartending?

When I searched for “What is Bartending,” the first few results were about how to make and serve drinks, collect money, do inventory, and of course, few offers for crash courses on becoming the most incredible mixologist out there, in no time.
There is no doubt that all the duties mentioned above are an essential part of the bartender’s job description and expectations but is that all the bartender is, a button pusher, another job until something better comes along. I hope not.

I believe there is more to just being a job; Bartending is a craft, a form of art where your tools, instead of brushes and paints, are tastes, aromas, textures, creating dreams and memories.
Being human, though, my other self – cast natural doubt over my beliefs of bartending being a craft. To paraphrase Shakespeare loosely, to be crafty or not to be crafty, I decided to go back in no so distant time and see what our predecessors thought of what it took and what were the expectations to be a bartender.

A while ago, I came across extensive bar book collections dating back to the late 1700s. I usually spent considerable time looking at recipes and how bartenders made their drinks until I realized the recipes were not an essential part of the books.
The first few pages of some of these books were equally, if not more important for the development, and the appreciation of the craft of bartending, so I decided to see what their expectations for barkeepers were at that time, the 1850s to the 1950s.

I intended to see if one was to create “Tips and Hints Manual for Bartenders,” using the 1800s to the early 1950s standards and expectations, will their criteria be still applicable in our time.
Are we better, worse, or the same as them in our perception of what it takes to be a bartender?
No, I’m not talking about the technical side of our job, mixing, shaking, etc.; I’m talking about appearance, love of what you do, positive attitude, and respect for the craft.
I decided to look at a few different criteria, which for me are some of the defining factors of bartending;
How to treat a patron, Rules, and Hints for bartenders, Bar prep and serving, and Don'ts.

Patron Treatment 1 2 4 6

How a customer is treated is the most crucial thing in the service industry.
Being mean, rude, and condescending towards clients will only lead to nonperforming business or none at all. Regardless of how good are the servers and the bartenders, if there are no customers, there will be no business.

Here are the common qualities on which the bartenders from the last two centuries agreed without any doubt, are the cornerstone of any business in the service industry.

The first rule to be observed by anyone working as a bartender in our business is to treat all customers with the utmost politeness and respect.
No man employed in our business should make distinctions between poor or rich.
Whether rich or poor, all the customers should be served with the same respect, with the same quality of goods.”
Customers on account of their appearance. As long as they behave like gentlemen, they should be treated as such, no matter what business they pursue.
When waiting on customers, at any time, it is of the highest importance for a bartender to be strictly polite and attentive in his behavior and, especially, in his manner of speech, giving prompt answers to all questions as far as lies in his power; he should be cheerful and have a bright countenance.¹
Efficient, paying attention to details, remember the regulars, habits, and usual drinks.
Observe the newcomers and always ask how they would like their drink to be prepared” ²
“A good listener is a wise man” – treat all the customers always the same way, poor or rich.
To know how a customer desires the drink to be mixed, make an effort at all times to study the customers’ tastes, and make the drinks according to their taste .
Never leave a customer until properly served, even if the place is bustling, don’t appear you are rushing the quest service just because there is a lineup.
Tact, not just Talent; only Talent is half of the quality needed.
“The Tin Trumpet, published in London in the latter part of 1700, says that “Talent knows what to do; tact knows how to do it.
Talent makes a man respectable; tact will make him respected. Talent is wealth; tact is ready money.”
Talent makes the world wonder that it gets on no faster; tact excites astonishment that it gets on so fast.6
At the bar, Talent receives compliments, but tact gets clients and fees.
Observing these principles can build a reputation, repeat clientele, and long-term business.

Rules and Hints for Bar-tenders

Training of new bartender is extremely important, ”teaching him manners, and see him not become impudent to you and the customers”¹- Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Manual – 1888

The descriptions of what to look for in a bartender, the expectation of their performance, attitude, smarts, and tact were described in great detail and classified thoroughly in the books I was reading.
It reminded me that bartending is a craft and how important it was for the bartenders to feel proud of what they did. Golden era indeed! 
I’ve summarized the main traits they were looking for in a bartender at that time. To some, it might look like an idealistic approach to creating a perfect, almost impossible image of a barkeeper. Still, on the other hand, if we know what the ideal image is, we can measure ourselves to it, and at the same time, it will help us improve in what we do.
That’s why I think Jerry Thomas, Harry Johnson, Charles S. Mahoney, Herbert W. Green, Harry MacElhone, as well as many others spent time writing about how important it was for a person to possess certain traits and habits, especially if they wanted to be successful in the craft of bartending.

Bartender Qualities¹ ⁵


Neat with a good appearance
Properly groomed
Well dressed
Awake, prompt
Respect privacy
Takes care of his health


A good judge of human nature
Good listener
Paying attention to the need of the customers
Good actor – never shows your bad mood
Sympathize with those who are not feeling well


According to Haney’s Manual(1869) and Harry Johnson(1888), the importance of appearance can be the difference between making or breaking the bartender’s carrier and can be detrimental to the business.

“The way the bartenders carry themselves behind a bar and their impression on the clientele is an important part of how people view our craft”.¹ – Harry Johnson

“Great detail to attention was placed on how the bartenders were dressed and what first impression they were going to leave with the guest”.³ – Haney’s Steward & Barkeeper’s Manual


Bar prep and serving

Cleanliness is next to goddiness” ⁸ – John Applegreen’s Barkeeper’s Guide, 1904.

The bar prep is a crucial step, which the bartender should never rush as it can make or break your day. It sets up the whole shift for the day, and if a bar station was not ready before opening, it might put you behind right from the beginning. Trying to catch up while making drinks on a busy day is not fun.

Bar prep station and serving standards4 5 8

Clean and fresh smelling roomDo everything in full view
Ready garnishNever use the same ice twice, shake
as hard as you can to wake up the flavors
Use fresh and best ingredients availablePut ice in the glasses before pouring
the drink. Chilled glass=cold drink
Workplace setupServe the alcohol at the appropriate temperature
Use only dry polished glasses, not wetNever leave a customer until properly served, even if the place is really busy.⁸
Measure accurately to preserve
the intended flavor of the cocktail you are making
“I’m busy” is not an excuse for not
properly serving customers.
According to the recipe, always mix the drink properly, don’t deviate as it creates inconsistency unless asked by a guest.Clean the counter; it always should have a clean appearance
Mix the drink above the counter and in full view of the customerClean the glasses and put them where they belong – it saves time
End of day

Before you leave your shift, make sure everything is ready for the next

“A good bar-tender can always be told by the way his bench looks”.

Harry ‘s ABC of Mixing Cocktails – 1930

I understand, and I’ve seen some bartenders thrive in chaos behind the bar; somehow, they find everything they need right away if they work by themselves. But there are a couple of things that need to be considered.

  1. How does the bar look from a customer’s point of view, is it clean and tidy, what message it conveys – professionalism and cleanliness. Perception is Reality, and if the guest’s perception of the establishment is not favorable, we just probably lost a paying customer.
  2. Usually, we are not working behind the bar alone, put everything back in place, make it easy for everyone to find the things needed, significantly increasing the speed of service and reducing the stress levels.



Don’ts for the Young Bar Clerks

What to do or not to do while working are parts of the same equation. The sum of which is Customer Service, and it can be expressed as subtraction;

CS = dos – don’ts
Dos is all the above mention Bartender qualities and serving standards.
Don’ts are the ones from the table below.
Identify how many Dos and Don’ts you have and subtract. The higher result leads to a higher level of Customer service.


  • Don’t join in any conversation.
    Don’t let them feel that you begrudge the space they occupy while they talk.
    Don’t look fiercely at people or talk loud and harshly, but cultivate a smiling countenance and quiet but firm tone of speech.
    Don’t drink with the customers.

  • Don’t let a guest leave dissatisfied – losing money on one drink is nothing compared to keeping or gaining a new customer.
    If you don’t treat the customers the way they are expected to be treated, there are many other places where they can go.
  • Don’t try to increase the revenue by selling cheaper/inferior products – you might have a little bit less profit,
    but you will gain reputation and put you ahead of your competition. Make people feel they are getting the worth of their money.
    Don’t expect to make fine drinks with cheap ingredients.

  • Don’t occupy too much space, but give your colleagues behind the bar a chance.
    Don’t fail to put things in their places so that you and your co-workers will know where they are at all times.
    Don’t attempt that difficult feat of pouring cocktails, sours, etc., at long range until you have practiced some on clear water.
    Don’t let liquids and empty glasses accumulate on the counter.

  • Don’t give a man a drink when he has had enough.
    Don’t work with great confusion; it will appear you are not up to the situation.
    Be informed, read the news.

  • Don’t smoke.
    *Don’t wait too long before you get married.

*Note: Not sure if applicable these days; nevertheless, it was mentioned in the book – p.160, so it had to be very important at that time.


After reading all these great books on bartending, I felt transported back in time. Every piece of advice they gave sounded familiar to me, as if it was written in our time. I realized the ideas and the hints these bartenders shared with us are not just about how to make drinks; there were also on how to be a better person, a better human being (eat healthily, drink moderately, don’t smoke, keep in good shape, have a family, etc.).

They were also trying to convey that bartending is more than just a job. It would be best to be humble with the right mindset, motivation, positive attitude, willing to learn and listen to others. You will discover that bartending is a craft, and like any other craft, learning and improving is part of the journey.

Even though these books were written by bartenders a long time ago, they are still as contemporary as they can be in different eras.
Every piece of advice still can be applied today, and even if we get the desire and the love for what they did, I can say for sure these great bartenders succeeded in creating the base for the Art of Mixing and Bartending we know it today.

Ok, Almost Done

With the cocktail renaissance starting in the late 1990s – early 2000s, one begins to wonder why in the world a cocktail and not Fizz, Collins, or Julep Renaissance. They used to be more popular drinks than the cocktail, and they are, like the other drink families, delicious beverages.
I think the “problem” was that all of them had one thing in common, Definition.

There are defined by particular rules on how they are made. If I make Sour or Fizz, the only thing I have to change is the liquor. Start changing other ingredients and is not Sour or Fizz anymore, which means the drink families are limited in one crucial feature, creativity.
On the other hand, the cocktail is not defined in the same way, naturally leading to the following question: What is a cocktail?

If we look at it as a drink, the cocktail has limited use. By Definition, it is a stimulating drink, aperitif, with the primary goal to stimulate the appetite. It is not a drink served after dinner or late afternoon, so why has it become so popular.

In the early 1800s, the cocktail was more or less following the Definition of choice of any liquor, sugar, water, and bitters. Still, with the creation of new liqueurs and modifiers, unique “fancy” cocktails were starting to be part of the menus. With the lack of structured rules and definitions, like with Daisy, Fizz, or Crusta, the cocktails slowly changed their meaning of being only before dinner drinks.

In current times the term cocktail, for the majority of the people who are not bartenders, can be used to describe any drinks out there like fruity martinis, after-dinner drinks, anything that looks fancy, and I think this is a good thing.

People are not concerned with what the word cocktail means. They want to have well-made drinks, drinks they’ve never tried before, something unusual, and the cocktail’s lack of proper Definition allows the bartenders to accomplish precisely that.
By not being confined by strict rules like in the drink families, the bartenders can let their imagination loose and have fun. Vive le cocktail!

PDF version

What is Bartending – no flip book effects

credits: Cocktail definition image – public domain


  1. New and Improved manual (1888) by Harry Johnson 𝓻𝓮𝓽𝓾𝓻𝓷
  2. How to mix drinks- The Bon Vivant companion, 1862 Jerry Thomas 𝓻𝓮𝓽𝓾𝓻𝓷
  3. Haney’s Steward & Barkeeper’s Manual – 1869 𝓻𝓮𝓽𝓾𝓻𝓷
  4. Hoffman House – Bartender’s guide (1912), by Charles S. Mahoney 𝓻𝓮𝓽𝓾𝓻𝓷
  5.  ABC of Mixing Cocktails (1930) – Harry MacElhone 𝓻𝓮𝓽𝓾𝓻𝓷
  6. Mixed drinks – Manual for bar clerks, 1895 by Herbert W. Green 𝓻𝓮𝓽𝓾𝓻𝓷
  7. John Applegreen’s Barkeeper’s Guide- revised edition, 1904 𝓻𝓮𝓽𝓾𝓻𝓷 
  8. King Cocktail Shake, 1954 𝓻𝓮𝓽𝓾𝓻𝓷




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