bar training

Why Bar Training Just Isn't Enough Anymore: A Bar Trainers Perspective

Juan Pablo Hinojosa Orlandini tells us why he believes that bar training just isn't enough anymore and what else we as bar tenders should learn to be the best that we can be. This is a Guest Post from Juan about Bar Training. Sit back and relax and drink it all up.

"Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I will learn” - the Xunzi Books, by Xun Kuang - Wrongfully attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

Tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I will learn Click To Tweet

So, what's your first experience with Bar Training?

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Working behind the bar is not easy, you are always exposed and every move you make is seen, which is tiresome and, even if we would like, we are not always up to our 100% mistakes will be made. This is more obvious when we are just starting our bar service life.

I remember my first job in a club at 18, a customer asked me for a capoeira, a well known drink in south america, is a frozen cocktail of 1 oz Vodka 2 oz Coffee liqueur and about 2 oz of condensed milk. I was nervous and i forgot to add the condensed milk to the mix, well the drink came out with a lot more bite than intended, and the customer politely declined to finish the drink, i didn’t realize the mistake until it was too late to be rectified, the customer was gone and I made one of the biggest mistakes a bartender can make, no not serving a wrong drink, but negatively affect the experience of the customer.

I felt really minuscule, and even worse unprepared for the job i had. I know most of you have had this feeling at one time in your job life, and if you haven’t well i can only say it WILL happen.

Hence the name of this article “ Why Bar Training Just Isn't Enough Anymore” I believe that that bartending has gone past the title of trade job onto the title of profession.

It's not like in past times where you would learn about bartending while working behind the bar in an empiric way. Nowadays the subject has become more serious devolving into a debate that excites. “Theory vs. Practice”. Which is has more use at the job?

should you hit the books and training videos or just dive straight into mixing cocktails and taking names.

Bar training programs should prepare you the best way possible for real world bar work (mouthful to say huh?), the reality of it when everything isn’t just pouring well is to engage your customers in an experience they won’t forget.

bar training

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As said Bartending has evolved from a trade to a profession, from a guy with sleeves garters serving ales, cleaning cups and hearing the misfortunes of customers, to a well read man that guides the flavor trends of your local community and also hears the misfortunes of his customers. (somethings just don’t change), we used to look at the bartender as someone who was just doing a job to get by, who eventually would mature and get a proper job.

This happens less and less as bartenders nowadays have broken into the mainstream and can get well paid jobs and respect from the community. So what does it mean that now bartending is a profession?

well basically you are no longer a passive tool that the customer uses to get alcohol, but an active one that can foresee the needs of the customer before hand, also that you have a vast theoretical knowledge that supports what you are doing, such knowledge the customer doesn’t have and pays to be infused from it.

Now that last statement might get me in trouble, i’m basically saying the customer is not always right, even if this statement proves to be correct further down the road. it doesn’t mean that you can be a smug dick thanks to it.

Being a professional also means having a drive to know more or to innovate, it means not just to serve the customers until the shift ends and then go home in early morning, but to stay after shifts or come early to experiment with your service or the vast flavours and sensations different liqueurs and spirits can provide.

This is the primordial curiosity that good bartenders are known for and opened the way for it to became something bigger than a trade. We could say a professional bartender thanks to his innate curiosity values the advantages to be found by focussing in the theory of mixing alcoholic drinks.

This does not suggest that theory triumphs over practice, which lead us to our second point

“Theory vs. Practice”

an interesting debate, which could be an article by itself. Here is where traditional profession and trade clashes, normally trade focusses more on practice and profession on theory

It’s normal to hear bar courses advertising themselves as 60%, 80% or 100% pure practice, but giving practice more time in the course only gives as a result, what i like to call “Robot Bartenders” servers who are great at following orders, doing a fast and clean job, could pour 10 martinis under 5 min.

All the while keeping tabs on different customers,  and when asked about why the stirring of a martini they can only answer “because that’s how you do it” i feel that right there, they are failing in the creation and management of experiences for the customer.

The reasoning behind a cocktail is as important as the taste itself, for example a Gin martini should be stirred because it provides better control of the ice dilution and so you can prevent the Gin from losing its aromatics, that kind of reasoning can only be achieved by a thoroughly understanding of the theory of mixing.

Yes some customers don’t want to be bothered about the subtleties of mixing cocktails, but many are intrigued and in knowing, you create a stronger bond with the customer which results with a new regular.

Now as much as there is “Robot Bartenders” you can get stuck in the theory of mixing you will devolve into a “Mixing Philosopher.”

Do you study infographics like this or do you jump right in and learn whilst making?

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This is someone who knows everything there is to know about spirits and liqueurs but can’t serve a proper pint of beer, or takes about 5 min to mix a rum and coke. Clearly you see any extreme of the spectrum creates a bartender under qualified for proper bar work. So do we have to teach new bartenders to be the perfect mix?

More often than not i see whether in the internet or in my city, courses that advertise themselves as a practice focussed course, something like 80% practical 20% theory. I understand our profession is one where our faults are more evident in practice and for the theory you can dance your way around with a persuasive tongue.

But think it as a balancing act if you overload one side you are sure to fall, but if you manage both sides you create a better act.

So i would advise care when you are choosing a bar training course to take, if you are to take one, i know that you might only find the practice driven ones, but if you do you should enter with a mindset that you will have to learn you theory through other means.

The Theory/Practice relationship is not the kind where one of them must prevail over the other, it is a symbiotic one where they both feed from the other creating better service and experience for the customer.

So bartending is more than a trade, it requires a balance of theory and practice, But Bar Training programs must have a full experience (Beyond Theory and Practice) that prepares you to deal with actual bar work.

Bar Training programs must have a full experience (Beyond Theory and Practice) that prepares you to deal with actual bar work. Click To Tweet

Even if your course is a well thought out one with an equal focus in theory and practice. I can assure you it will not prepare you 100% for your actual shift behind the bar, like we say in my country...

“otra cosa es, con guitarra” meaning “Is a whole different thing with the actual guitar”

What i mean is that the moment you are behind the bar in your first shift, you will get anxious and nervous, probably will forget even the most basic cocktails guides, like putting the condensed milk in your Capoeira. Just like i did all those years ago

So what else does a bartender need in their Bar Training?


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So my hypothesis is that we should add a subtle third aspect to a bar training course: “Charm”.

You know bar work is not just making a good cocktail, teach your audience about the world of alcohol, getting to know your customers or getting the numbers of hot girls or guys. You have to asses the more tricky situations like how to deal with drunkards, obnoxious clients, disrespectful clients or people that think you because you are a server you are below them, that’s where charm enters normally you pick this up with sweat and tears after years of regular work.

But what if your bar training course prepares you at least a bit for that, now the question is how?

Well this shouldn’t be a subject you have to pass, charm is not easily taught, like i said it is a subtle aspect you must feed it seamlessly through group activities, small somewhat irrelevant dissertations and even yet some improvisation classes where people will relax and open themselves in a secure environment.


So to finish, Bartending is no longer a trade for it has developed into a well thought and complex matter where you must understand the making of the cocktail as much as the reasoning behind it.

A proper bar training course understands this

And so it prepares you in a balance of theory and practice, so you are able to perform with all the tools you need behind the bar.

But yet bar courses should go the extra mile and subtlety try to infuse you with that third elusive aspect that is charm, that way you will be truly prepared to face the vast types of people you will find seated opposite you at the bar top

A great place to start is The 20 Commandments Of Being A Bartender

So let me know: do you take Bartending as a proper profession, are you more theory or practice driven? And do you have that charm?


Hello! I'm Juan Pablo Hinojosa Orlandini - Professional Bartender with 10 years of experience, Internationally trained, started working in bars at 17 made head bartender at 18, started my own bar at 19 and currently teaching at my own Academy. All my years of experience have taught me that Bartending is not about cocktails per se but the art of making your guest's experience an unforgivable one, as such i'm happy to be the E to your Vincent Chase. Cheers!


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train bartender

How To Train Your Bartender


So you've just had a hard evening working behind the sticks and you’re thinking the same thing you always do after a hard weekend shift. If only everyone was up to the job as much as you are yeah. It would save a lot of time and effort on your part and create more time for having fun and living the life of a bartender. Well go grab yourself a whisky, I’m sipping a Laphroig, sit back and learn how to make others be better. Let's learn How To Train Your Bartender.


Now obviously to be able to do this you are going to need the skills yourself. If you don’t feel up to speed yourself then how can you teach others? If you are unsure then go back to my 20 Commandments and immerse yourself in them every shift and it won’t take you long to move up that ladder and become an expert in your field.


  1. Split ‘em up


The first thing you got to do is split that team up in your mind or on a very carefully hidden piece of paper. Bartenders do not like to know that they are the worst there. But the truth is that we all have varying degrees of skill. We all know the bartender that is brilliant with a customer but as soon as the heat is turned up and we have a wait on to be served they drop like Miley Cyrus. Their smile goes and in turn so does everything else. Then again on the opposite side of the spectrum we have those bartenders who are at home with dozens of drunk patrons all trying to get served at the same time but leave them alone with the couple at the end of the bar on a quiet Tuesday afternoon and they will be so awkwardly lost for words they end up saying something inappropriate and finish up the rest of the shift in the keg room kicking themselves.

So how we going to split them…? Easy, into three groups. Beginners – Average – Best at your bar




Now we can see that most of our bartenders fall in to the ‘average’ category. We have four who are classed as the ‘best in our bar’ and three who are beginners and are not as competent as the rest.


Okay so grab a pen and paper and do that for your bar.


  1. The Average Joe’s


Now for a bit of human psychology. The obvious way to train these guys is to focus on those beginners. Well don’t, just don’t. imagine investing all your time into these guys and ending up with nothing but an average bar team with a few still at the top because they have never been challenged, the best when they stay the best become lazy at the top or not challenged enough you will find them moving on to new bars where the grass seems greener for them.

This is what you do. You take the names of all those that fit into the ‘Average’ section and you work out the specific needs for that person. It is important to only train one thing at a time. It can be broad or it can be specific but it needs to be one thing at a time. These small goals will help YOU feel as though you are really starting to make a dent into increasing the knowledge of your team.

But why am I training the Average people?

When you train the average crowd it does three things.

  • It pushes those at the top. When they see people catching up with them they are scared they are going to be caught and they up their overall game. Which in turn creates new aspirations for the rest of the staff.
  • The ‘average’ bunch becomes your tools to use behind the bar on a day to day basis. Remember when we said that you are not to train the beginners? Well this is because you have made their progress the ‘Average’ guys responsibility. This increase in knowledge and the increase in responsibility they are getting from becoming mentors will catapult both groups through the ranks
  • The beginners see a pack moving away from them and leaving them behind. This triggers the question asking and the intent for learning thus creating a great baseline team for your self to work with



So as you can see we have moved the whole team up. And its only up again from here

Grab your staff list; it’s time to work out that one thing for now that each individual needs work on.



  1. How To Train


The most effective way to train is to have patience. There is no quick fire method that is guaranteed to work. What is guaranteed though is that you get out of training what you put in. remember working smart is better than working hard.

Every person in the world learns a little differently to the next person. But every person in the world can learn and that is a fact.

Have a look at this diagram then the explanation below.


CYCLICALWhat is the Purpose?

You cannot train an adult without the purpose. If you tell a child to jump up and down then they most likely will. They will also smile and laugh while they are doing it. Ask an adult to jump up and down and they will ask why? Its only when you tell them there is a deadly spider crawling around their feet will they jump around like crazy trying to get out of the way. It’s just the way our brains are wired.  So why is it important that we stock up the beer fridges at the end of the night? Because we have too is not a good enough answer. So we have cold beers in the morning for the first customer. Once a purpose as leant it’s wait to an action then it sticks in our mind as a must do, it adds a responsibility to the action. The bartender now thinks, “I must remember to stock up tonight otherwise the regular in the morning won’t have his cold beer and it would be my fault”.



Simply this is showing the trainee either a skill in action or how you want them to behave. Show them as if they were to mirror your actions



So we have already showed them how we want something to be done. Let’s carry on the analogy of stocking up the beers at the end of the night. The shift before we have showed them how to place the beers in, to check dates for stock rotation, we have shown them the fridge plan and where the warm beers are kept. Now this shift we tell them to do the same as the night before and we watch from a distance or we follow them closely without interfering depending on their learning styles.



We have shown and we have told. Now it’s time to ask. We are not asking a direct question here. We are asking them, in this analogy, if there is anything else left for them to do. Push them for the answer.  “Yes, I have just got to go and stock up the fridges” and again we watch



The most important aspect of your training regime is this part. Refrain yourself from doing the ‘ask’ part again. It’s difficult but you have got to do it. This is where you are looking for them to complete an action without your prompt. Pay close attention to them, if they don’t do it then they are yet to create a habit in their brains. And so we must start again from the show phase straight away.

This is where your patience can be tested but if you persevere it will save you a lot of headaches down the line. Imagine coming into work and everything is perfect, just perfect. As in you couldn’t of done it better yourself.


If your trainee as completed it correctly that congratulations you can move on to the other things you need to train them on or other people who need your help. You have successfully created a habit that will be very hard for them to break


Remember always train the purpose and stick to the cyclical nature. You will not always be there to babysit. You need a holiday as well right. 

And that's how to train your bartender. Don't give up if it seems hard. Once the lessons are ingrained your life will become a lot easier.




Any questions leave them below


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