“The first rule to be observed by any man [or woman] acting as a bartender in our business, is to treat all customers with the utmost politeness & respect.”

– Harry Johnson, New and Improved Bartender’s Manual, 1882

So Tales of the Cocktail 2012 has come and gone. My head is much clearer after being removed a thousand miles and two weeks from Grand Dame NOLA and its time to reflect on what I learned.

This year I approached seminars differently than in the past. Though I’m a geek, I attended no hour and a half seminars  on bitters manufacturing, no attentive listening to a round table discuss dilution rates of Kold Draft ice vs. hand carved ice spheres, and I stayed away from lectures about foams, liquid nitrogen, and vaporized cocktails. This year I wanted to learn about hospitality and the bartender. It was time, after 22 years behind the pine, to get back to the basics and remember why I love this industry so that I can better teach the next generation.

Its very telling that the world’s most important gathering of career path bartenders now needs to include hospitality training in its broad selection of seminars. Why? Because we have a problem. We have taught young bartenders in the greatest detail about the spirits they pour. We have encouraged them to commit to memory hundreds of pre-Prohibition drinks. Ferran Andria & Grant Achatz have showed them how to think differently about presentation. And somewhere in the excitement of the cocktail revolution we have forgotten to teach them how to be bartenders. We have somehow forgotten to mention that we serve people, not drinks.

I was interviewed several weeks ago about what it means to be a bartender and the current state of affairs behind the bar in my market. The interviewer asked me what the most important thing about being a good bartender was and I immediately answered – “A love of serving people and honest hospitality”. It was the right answer, I’ve been parroting it for two decades. But it bothered me. Is this how I conduct myself behind the bar? Not as well as I should. How often do I actually impress this basic tenet of service upon the scores of bartenders and servers I teach every year? Not enough. Am I spending too much time teaching barrel maturation theory to part time bar mules instead of  saying “Make eye contact, smile, and be nice.”? Yes, I am.

I had to fly to New Orleans and spend money on seminars to remind me who I’m supposed to be behind the bar and what I’m supposed to be teaching.

I’ll pick this thread up over the next several weeks and talk more about what I relearned from those who never forget what hospitality really means : Bridget Albert, Tony Abou-Ganim, Allen Katz, Tobin Ellis, Angus Winchester, Sean Fitner, and Leo Robitschek.