New Year's Eve survival guide -- for bartenders

This year will be my 25th New Year's Eve behind the bar.

My last post of 2010 was an amateur's guide to navigating New Year's Eve successfully, and those tips are still relevant for anyone planning a night on the town. But this year, I have a half-dozen tips for those of us who will be behind the bar:

6) Be patient. We all know what's coming. NYE is a very busy night when people who don't normally drink or go to bars venture out and sometimes make your world difficult. That being said, they are still the reason we are able to pay our bills and keep drinking money in our pockets. Since they don't go out often, these inexperienced guests can be really frustrating. Expect it, accept it, take a breath and smile. You have the ability to ruin the biggest night of the year for someone by being an ass. Don't do it.

5) Eyes up. You can always tell when a bartender is in the weeds...they have intentional blinders on and usually the smile is gone. They are working furiously with their eyes pointed straight at their well. When a bartender is getting his ass handed to him/her, they don't look up for fear they will make eye contact with someone who will yell out their drink order and put them further in the weeds. But for the most part, people will be patient if you acknowledge their presence. So look up, make eye contact, nod with recognition, smile and keep a mental list of who is next. It's a learned but valuable skill.

4) Be ready! Think about your regular flow of business and what New Year's Eve will bring. Order, stock and prep accordingly. I've worked at too many places that try to order less so that they can control purchases before the end of the year -- resulting in holes on the menu. The last thing you want to do is read off a long list of 86'd items while you are slammed. Think about stocking up on glassware as well; waiting for the dishwasher to finish cycling so you can put ice into a steaming hot glass is not ideal. Staff up. Being greedy and trying to make more money by skimping on staff screws everyone in the end.

3) Rest up and pace yourself. Don't go out drinking until 4 a.m. on the night before New Year's Eve. A hangover will slow you down and you'll be miserable. Be smart, rest up. Get stupid on January 1. And if you are allowed to drink behind your bar, be wise. Conquering New Year's Eve successfully requires teamwork, and you don't want to be the weak link.

2) Have realistic expectations. There is no magical pot of gold at the end of the New Year's Eve rainbow. Too many times I have heard bartenders talk about the amazing amount of money they are going to make on New Year's Eve: They are going to make their rent in one shift, pay off the car, pay the bookie, buy a 51" flat-screen, etc. More often than not, though, those hopes are dashed by a good but not great night. When you factor in the extra staffing required to handle the crowd, the money is usually better than average -- but not astronomical. Temper your expectations, and when you make great money, it will be a pleasant surprise.

1) Enjoy yourself. We are blessed to be behind the bar for a living. The last few years have served our craft well, and 2011 was extremely good to us. Set your intentions at the beginning of the night: Have fun; make people happy; finish the year on a high note; start 2012 with positivity, prosperity and hope. Have a great shift.

See you in 2012.

Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with 25 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can often find him behind the bar at Euclid Hall, or at his new bar, Williams & Graham --- and here most weeks, where he'll answer your questions. Post them in the comments section below.


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