How does your own unique personality play into your bartending style?
Bartenders: you already know that style, personality, and unique quirks make you memorable to clients and help to cultivate a following of loyal regulars. Often when a very beloved bartender leaves one establishment, their fanbase follows them to whichever new venue they end up at—but care must also be taken to ensure that their personal brand doesn’t clash with the vibe of the new spot.
It pays to be part trendsetter and also part chameleon—able to play up positive personality traits, but also able to adapt. The question is—how do you go about walking that fine line successfully?
The Cult of Personality
In our modern reality TV age, people become famous for having striking, unique, and larger-than-life personalities on-screen, including chefs, bartenders, and other industry professionals. While your job is probably not in front of a camera, and TV can be overly dramatic for ratings, you can still stand out from the crowd through showcasing who you individually are in the best possible light.
The best thing you can do is to play up your natural interests and personality traits while still being cognizant of how you’re coming across to other people. Willa of Little Bitte Cocktails is known throughout the Providence bar scene by patrons and fellow professionals alike because she made the most of her farmhouse upbringing by regularly bringing her own freshly picked herbs, flowers, berries, and self-concocted bitters to incorporate into the cocktails she makes: whichever ingredients are in-season and inspire her creatively, and her regulars couldn’t get enough of it.
My fellow contributor Loren, who relocated to Boston from Portland, OR last year, has been carving out a name for himself “from helping people (as opposed to cocktail competitions and fame),” he says. “I’m slowly infiltrating Boston for just being a friendly person. That’s how I get things done; I’m a networker. I connect people and offer insight and advocacy on healthcare and employees’ rights in the service industry. I assist in hospitality industry education and awareness.”
Steeping Both Your Establishment and Your Personality Into Your Bartending
For a more in-depth example of someone who has navigated the personality-professionality dichotomy with subtlety and panache, I interviewed Clairessa Chaput of Highball Lounge, who has bartended for 12 years and lived in Boston for just over 10 of them.
She describes her style as “a little bit sassy behind the bar. I worked in the South End for a really long time, mostly in what were predominantly known for being gay bars, and to keep up with them, I had a bit of a sassy attitude and I’ve always kept that with me—it works even at straight bars. I’ve also always been pretty fast behind the bar, I love working with high volume and keeping up with everybody there.” She brings a pretty jaw-dropping spectacle to Highball: blowing fire behind the lounge bar. “Obviously only on weekends,” she clarifies. “I was the first girl there to blow fire.”
When I ask how much of her unique brand is her organic personality versus other factors, she says, “I would say the majority of it is organic, and the smaller amount comes from the culture of the bar you’re working at. You take in what type of bar it is, what the manager is looking for from you, and the demographic, and you kind of evolve into that”–although Clairessa notes that she’s been fortunate in that she’s “always worked for managers who want your personality and who you are to shine through more than the robot thing,” and that may not apply to all environments. If you find yourself in a place that is uncomfortably stifling and controlling, you may want to seek a better fit elsewhere.
“I’ve always let my personality shine through, for better or worse,” says Clairessa. “You let the culture of the bar give you a backbone and something to rely on. Know what your limits are, and go from there.”
More Soft Skill Inspirations
T.V. isn’t the only media channel where bartender personalities are claiming the spotlight. Onthebar is an app you may already be familiar with that provides users with “real-time updates from your favorite bar staff” and offers bartenders the chance to create a profile and upload their own creative recipes.
An on-screen persona is obviously very different from an in-person one, but I perused several profiles to pinpoint some areas where users were standing out from the crowd and which should also correspond to in-person attitudes. Aside from creativity in drink making, I noticed:
- A great sense of humor goes a long way. Some bartenders used funny nicknames, wrote poems, or had offbeat responses to questions. Just be careful if it’s not your strong suit, because jokes falling flat is usually worse than not making them at all.
- Other traits you can emphasize are professionalism, attention to detail, and finding ways to portray your love for the craft and emphasis on skilled technique; longevity and experience often help in this area, but are not necessarily required.
- Style can be a big deal, with some individuals showcasing chic or unique fashion sense, whether it’s hipster, retro, cutting-edge, tailored, or something totally your own.
- If you’ve won any awards for speed racks or other contests, whether local or national, those can also boost your impact, as can mentions in publications or rankings.
- For those who are newer to the profession and still earning their stripes, demonstrating genuine enthusiasm and passion for the craft can be very appealing. Those who hadn’t won awards sometimes joked that they’d won “#1 bartender in my mom’s eyes” or “best backrub award.”
These are just some ideas on ways to play up your own innate strengths and individual characteristics, but it shouldn’t feel like a chore. In Clairessa’s words, “Always be yourself, but in a positive light. Everybody has their bad days—try to leave that at the door, but let all of the positive parts about you shine. People are people, and when they’re going out with friends, they’re looking to laugh and have fun. Don’t be shy, but always consider the kind of bar you work in and understand those limits.”
What is your unique behind-the-bar style, and how did it develop? Let us know in the comments.