When Hiring a Bartender, Look for These Red Flags

Jessica Elliott

Jessica couples her 24 years of restaurant and hospitality industry experience with meticulous research to deliver insight into technology, operations, and marketing topics. Her optimized copy helps companies engage their audience while strengthening their communication with clients, employees, and management.

Bar service can be a boon for restaurants. But, it also requires a trusted bar staff. BevSpot reports that “internal theft is estimated to cost bars 24 to 26% of gross sales on average.” However, it’s not only theft that you need to worry about. Your liquor license, brand reputation, and customer safety depend on your bartender’s actions or lack of effort. With so many possible ways that shoddy bar staff can harm your business, it’s crucial to consider your gut feelings and pay attention to these red flags when hiring a bartender. 

Bartender pouring alcoholic drink into the glasses

1. Poor or non-existent references.

While hiring a bartender without prior bar experience is a possibility but highly unadvised, you’ll still want to check their references and perform a background check. If you’re unable to verify employment, account for gaps in work history, or notice other questionable issues on their resume or application, then take note.

2. The applicant expresses negativity about previous employers or local establishments

It’s one thing for an interviewee to say that their former work environment wasn’t a good fit or that they disagreed with lax standards at their previous job. However, if the person you’re interviewing ends up in a rant about the cleanliness of an establishment, a manager, owner, or staff, then be wary. This could be a sign of a chronic complainer or someone who will badmouth your restaurant after leaving the job.

3. They display an arrogant or know-it-all attitude

Bartenders are team players who listen and display confidence. However, an arrogant applicant who talks over you or suggests they know more about running your business than you do is a red flag. This type of bartender may result in an employee who resists training and restaurant-specific processes. Plus, listening is a key skill for excellent customer service. An applicant who displays communication issues from the get-go is problematic.

4. Your interviewee acts overly defensive during questioning

If you notice the applicant becoming standoffish or defensive during an interview, then address the cause immediately and give them a chance to respond. Handling pressure and challenging questions with grace is a customer service skill required for bartending. An applicant who shuts down may have something to hide or could struggle with self-control issues.

5. The applicant has a drink at the bar before your meeting

While many bartenders enjoy a good drink, it’s a red flag when applicants do it at your establishment before an interview. If they consider this normal behavior, then the potential employee could struggle with no-drinking policies or may have problems with authority figures.

The bottom line is that a bartender affects not only your profit margins but also your reputation and employee culture. By paying attention to these red flags when hiring a bartender, you’ll prevent future headaches. Although you may be tempted to go against your gut feeling, it’s critical to think it through. 

6. The applicant isn’t familiar with common drinks

Whether you’re hiring an expert mixologist or not, familiarity with common drinks is a must. If they can’t tell the difference between an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan, you can’t expect them to be able to respond quickly to guest orders. This is especially critical if you’re hiring bar staff with an expectation that they’ll be able to drive menu changes, nightly specials, or signature cocktails.

7. You get bad vibes about their work ethic

Of course you want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but if they come in to drop off an application during peak hours, for example, it shows a lack of understanding of how a bar or restaurant operates. Another red flag along these lines is immediately asking what their hours will be. Make these potential red flags the opening to a conversation to dig deeper.

FSR Magazine quotes Patrick Yearout, director of training for Ivar’s Restaurants, as saying, “Don’t hire someone merely because there is not a suitable applicant and do not be influenced to overlook an applicant’s shortcomings. It’s much more costly to hire the wrong person.”

If you pay attention to your applicant’s body language, communication skills, and ask the right interview questions, you’ll increase your odds of a great hire. 

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