What Makes a Fantastic Bar Staff?

January 23, 2011 at 9:15 PM (Food) (, , , )

There is a fair number of establishments in Boston with good, even great bar staff, but there’s a reason why I keep defaulting to Boylston St.’s Atlantic Fish Co. – aside from the great atmosphere, wine and craft beer options and delicious seafood (perhaps I shouldn’t be blogging about this before I’ve eaten lunch…): it has a fantastic bar staff.

“Brittany, what are you talking about? What makes a ‘fantastic’ bar staff?”

I am so glad you asked, dear reader, mostly because it gives me a reason to bother writing the rest of this post.  I didn’t write the book on bar staff quality experiences, but as far as I’m concerned, good and great bartenders will be attentive, recognise regulars, look up recipes for the cocktails they don’t know off-hand, and so on.  They create an experience that will leave patrons thinking, “That was a nice drink/ meal.”  They meet expectations.  A fantastic bar staff will exceed those expectations to the point of surprise.  I’ve made a few observations at the Fish that I think are certainly worth sharing with folks who haven’t stopped by, yet.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen patrons sit at the bar and sit for more than two minutes, even on busy nights, before someone has greeted them, asked them how they are, and what they would like to drink.  Oftentimes the bartender will immediately introduce him or herself as well, and if not immediately, then definitely within the next interaction or so.  I have been to other, pricier bars and have seen patrons sit at the bar unattended for what seems like forever (although it’s probably only a little over five minutes) before being asked what they would like to drink.

There is no alienation between bar staff and patrons.  While I try not to interrupt conversations between bartenders and a different party, I never feel uncomfortable asking a question (or in my case particularly, harassing someone behind the bar), nor do I ever feel like I’m taxing the bar staff with a request.  Having worked in food service and retail (and currently in public relations), I subscribe to the belief that customers should not ever feel like they have to struggle to communicate with whomever is supposed to be taking care of them. I’ve been to multiple restaurants where trying to get the attention of my server seemed impossible – and I’m not even a difficult customer (at least, I don’t think so . . .).

This next one is example-worthy: Red wine, bread and cheese at the bar at Atlantic Fish. Thanks, Jeff!if you have a craving, the nice folks at Atlantic will go above and beyond to sate that craving.  About a week ago, Adam and I went to Atlantic for a glass (or more) of wine.  I was a little hungry, but wasn’t really in the mood for seafood.  To be honest, all I really wanted was some cheese to go with my wine, but I wasn’t going to make any noises about it, given that my girlish figure didn’t need that much deliciousness anyway.  Our bartender, Jeff came over to check in on us and Adam shared my hankering of the moment with him. While I tried to protest, Jeff picked up the phone, called the kitchen and asked for a side of Parmesan cheese.  A minute or so later, I had a lovely scene (look right, please) in front of me.

Atlantic Fish's bar staff spoils me rotten. Who else goes ahead and whips together a dish of balsamic, oil, seasoning and cheese in 45 seconds? Thanks, Joe! Photo courtesy of Nicholas Adam Owens.I would have been happy with the cheese.  Truly.  Atlantic had to go a step further, though.  Joe, the bar manager was also working that evening.  He took one look at the cheese and said something to the effect of “This simply will not do.”  The next thing I knew, I had a dish of oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and of course cheese to go with my bowl of carbs. Did Jeff or Joe have to go out of their way to help rid me of my cheese craving?  Good heavens, no.  They did, though.  I have also seen the staff order cake from their sister restaurant, Abe & Louie’s, next-door because a customer was pining for it (they may or may not have done it for me as well one one occasion – honestly, it’s amazing that I’m not obese by now).

Maybe I’m an easy critic because it doesn’t take much to impress me when it comes to customer service, but on the same side of that coin, it blows my mind when I have a poor experience, knowing how simple it is to even provide the bare minimum of care for a patron: being polite and attentive, and taking whatever measures necessary to ensure an enjoyable dining experience. If you stick to that, I’d say that at least 90% of customers would be content.  If you really want to blow them away, though, take a page out of Atlantic Fish Co.’s book.

Today’s Tunes
“Wonderwall,” Oasis
“Layla,” Eric Clapton
“Waiting for My Real Life to Begin,” Colin Hay

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