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Bartender Duties, Responsibilities, and Checklists

By
Scott Schulfer
Table of Contents
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One of the really great bartender duties is when bartenders lean on the bar with a towel thrown over their shoulder and a welcoming smile. Picture that. Don’t you want to pull up a stool? If you’re anything like other Americans, you probably do.

We spoke to the bartenders we know and came up with a list of 7 of the most important bartender duties and responsibilities and a handy bartender duties checklist to go along with it.

Whether you’re writing a bartender job description, coming up with bartender interview questions, considering going to bartending school, in bartending school earning a bartending certificate or license, or learning how to become a bartender on your own, focus on these 7 bartender responsibilities and you’ll be golden.

Customer Service

The first bartender duty is a social one. A bartender is responsible for serving their customers at the bar. That breaks down into two pieces: flexibility and recommendations.

Being Flexible

While sticking to the menu is easier, there are a lot of people out there who need something on the menu tweaked just so. A good bartender happily obliges. In bar and restaurant terms, this is hinted at with phrases like “killing them with kindness” or “going above and beyond.” But the reality of being a flexible service professional is simple. Do what you can within your resources to provide a good experience.

Making Recommendations

People naturally look for reasons for things. Should they order this? Should they order that? A bartender will push them over the edge of indecision. That’s why curating hospitality experiences is so important. There is a world of difference between the winter cocktail on your menu and a bartender genuinely recommending the winter cocktail on your menu. Give them a reason.

With a few questions, a bartender can make great recommendations that can turn an otherwise standard experience into a memorable one. They can also use these recommendations to upsell cocktails and walk away with a little more money that night.

Making & Serving Drinks

The mixing and combining of ingredients—alcoholic and not—is the big kahuna of bartender duties. There are two levels to this. The first is knowing all the classic cocktails. The second is being familiar with the basic ingredients to experiment with them and make original cocktails. You should also know how to pour a beer, but that seems less impressive to customers. Depending on your state, you may also need to attend alcohol server training.

Knowing the Classics

Check out any of the hundreds of “most popular cocktail” lists on any given year, and they’re all pretty similar. If a bartender commits 30 cocktail recipes to memory, they can probably handle 75% of orders that come their way. They'll also need to know the standard pour for each drink sold so they can maximize profit.

We put together a list of the cocktails every bartender should know which is a part of our bartenders drink guide. We also explain the primary liquor families and what does one part mean right in our bartender’s guide.

Creating Signature Cocktails

This is where familiarity with the main liquor families (brandy, rum, gin, whiskey, vodka, and tequila) brings huge benefits. Then a bartender has a good feeling for the primary liquor types and how they interact with mixers and juices. And then they’re ready to unleash their inner mixologist.

A familiarity with mixology allows bartenders create drinks on the fly for guests who may not want what’s on the menu. It also helps bars create signature cocktails, which can be huge profit drivers if they take off, especially if they're made using well liquor.

Filling Drink Orders

Often, servers will be ringing in drinks and the bartender will need to fill those drink orders and place them at the service bar. The service bar is the little area on the side of the bar where bartenders make drinks and put them for servers to pick up and run to their tables in the dining room. Or at a cocktail table in the bar area. Point is, these are not drinks ordered directly from the bartender by guests, but by other restaurant and bar staff. You'll still want to know how many shots in a handle so you don't run out in the middle of service.

Keeping the Bar Area Clean

While bar managers are responsible for creating bar cleaning checklists, it's ultimately falls under bartender duties. They execute them so frequently, in fact, that keeping a tidy workstation becomes a way of life for bartenders. They also stock up the bar cleaning supplies and delegate much of the cleaning in the barback job description. Because when the bar environment isn’t organized, it can quickly devolve into chaos. Beyond efficiency, bartenders keep a clean bar for health and hygiene purposes.

Pay special attention to the bar cleaning tasks that are done throughout the shift, not just during opening and closing. These are the tasks that are front-of-mind for bartenders while they’re interacting with guests and mixing drinks.

Processing Payments

Having a balanced drawer at the end of the night is obviously important for any retail sales business. And bars are no exception. The trick with bars is that it’s a much more hectic environment than most other retail environments. Keeping accurate tabs, closing out payments quickly, and having a balanced drawer is no small feat in a busy bar. It requires great attention to detail. That’s why this rises to the level of one of the 7 most important bartender duties.

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Managing Inventory

Like creating bar cleaning checklists, managing bar inventory and stocking a bar (with a bar liquor inventory list) are technically the responsibility of the bar manager. But a good bar manager will always leverage the expertise of their bartenders when managing their beverage program’s inventory. This includes alcohol and mixers and also bar supplies like cocktail napkins, glassware, and more.

At the minimal level of involvement, bartenders will take part in counting the inventory. That means they’ll comb through all the bottles of alcohol (handles, fifths, pints, all the liquor bottle sizes you have) in the building and note their levels on a spreadsheet. If using beverage inventory management software like BinWise Pro, they’d be quickly scanning labels on each bottle.

Some bartenders will take over the bar inventory management entirely, though. And that means coordinating the inventory counting and then using those inventory numbers to:

           
  • Place new orders
  • Determine causes of spillage and leakage (also known as variance)
  • Learn how to control liquor costs by tweaking ingredients in popular drinks. See our liquor cost calculator guide.
  • Decide what stays on the menu and what goes
  • Know how much beer is in a keg and when its about to be tapped
  • Understand wine bottle sizes and which ones are worth purchasing
  • Know the 86 meaning and if you need to switch recipes due to inventory issues.
  • Catch staff or customers stealing alcohol

Because bartenders create signature cocktails and help with bar inventory management, they often have a hand in menu construction. Or, as it’s more strategically known, menu engineering.

Menu Engineering

We have a whole guide on the subject of menu engineering for bars. Once you take your bar’s inventory, you’ll be able to figure out the pour cost of every drink you sell. The idea behind menu engineering is that your menu is a tool. It turns your most profitable drinks into your most popular ones and vice versa. This is done by taking advantage of how people interact with menus: where they look first and what draws their attention.

Bartenders are uniquely qualified to engineer menus for bars. That's because they’re familiar with what drinks are profitable, what drinks are popular, and how guests respond to the menu. They've also got a talent for creating signature cocktails. That means they can create high-profit drinks they know will sell and make them as visible as possible. This is the same regardless of menu type, so feel free to engineer your prix fixe menu.

Placing Food Orders

Lastly, let’s face it, most bartenders will be placing food orders. Unless you're using qr code menus. That means our final bartender duty is to become an expert on the food menu. Then apply the same flexibility and suggestiveness that they would on the drink menu.

Thankfully food and alcohol pair wonderfully together! If your bar offers food, you’ve opened up the suggestive selling opportunities exponentially. Which is a fantastic way to increase your profit margin.

Bartender Opening Checklist

Bartenders are typically responsible for opening the bar since they are usually the first ones to arrive. This is a big part of a bartender's duties. First, they can make a quick property check for any visible damage. Then they can proceed to go through the bar opening and closing checklist and complete the following tasks:

  • Unlock beer and wine coolers
  • Unlock and inspect beer taps to ensure they are functional
  • Check bar inventory and restock any items if necessary
  • Place floor mats behind the bar
  • Cut and prepare garnishes and other perishables
  • Prepare mixers and juices
  • Assemble, fill, and start frozen drink machine
  • Stock glasses, mugs, highballs, pilsners, wine glasses, snifters, etc.
  • Double-check all bar drink-making tools and equipment (strainer, shaker, jigger, ice scoop, ice cream scoop, wine opener, bottle opener, stirrer, bar mats, pour spouts, etc.)
  • Restock ice
  • Make sure all trash cans are emptied and liners are replaced
  • Restock disposable items (napkins, straws, utensils, coasters, skewers, etc.)
  • Restock items for food menu (if the bar serves food)
  • Rinse and clean bar sink
  • Have backup beverage canisters and CO2 tanks ready to replace emptied ones
  • Wipe down the bar’s counter, tables, chairs, and stools
  • Turn on the light, music, bar TV, neon lights, and bar signs
  • Get and count opening bar bank from the bar manager
  • Get a new comp and waste log from the bar manager

Bartender Closing Checklist

The first thing to do when closing is ensure all guests have left the bar and all doors are locked. Having guests linger around can severely slow down the closing process and prevent your bartenders from completing the tasks or leaving on time. While the manager takes care of the bar manager duties, like ordering the full bar liquor list, you can take care of yours. Here is the bar closing checklist for bartenders:

         
  • Lock beer and wine coolers
  • Clean and lock beer taps
  • Take floor mats to back dock
  • Empty trash cans and replace liners
  • Melt any remaining ice from the night before in the ice bins
  • Cover and store all perishable items in their appropriate places. Discard if necessary
  • Cover and store all mixers, juices, sweet and sour, etc., in their appropriate places
  • Empty frozen drink machine. Refrigerate leftover and clean machine
  • Clean and restock glasses, highballs, pilsners, wine glasses, snifters, etc.
  • Clean all blenders and mixers
  • Restock disposable items (napkins, straws, utensils, coasters, skewers, etc.)
  • Restock beer cooler
  • Restock liquor empties
  • Wipe down service well liquor bottles
  • Wipe bar top, counter, chairs, and stools
  • Sweep and mop the floor
  • Clean soda gun nozzles
  • Empty, rinse, sanitize, and clean the bar sink
  • Turn off the light, music, bar TV, neon lights, and bar signs
  • Give bar bank to the bar manager
  • Close and lock the cash register
  • Turn in comp and waste log to the bar manager

Bartender Side Work Duties & Checklists

Being a good bartender requires more than just knowing the standard pours. In addition to opening and closing the bar, there are also running bartender side work duties like cleaning and doing maintenance around the bar. This activity can be done either daily or weekly, depending on your bar’s unique operation.  A general bar cleaning checklist includes the following tasks:

  • Clean beer cooler
  • Pour Clorox in floor drains
  • Polish brass railing
  • Polish brass and chrome beer taps
  • Polish espresso machine
  • Wipe down displayed liquor bottles
  • Clean bar mirrors
  • Rotate beer and wine coolers
  • Clean cash register, credit card terminal, telephone
  • Clean back bar
  • Rotate, soak, and sanitize pour spouts

It is really important to create accountability for them to make sure they are doing their job. A good bartender knows that their work affects other staff. If they don't put a bottle back in the right spot, then the next bartender will have to spend time searching for it. When they could be making happy hour drinks or up-selling guests instead. You don't need to go to bartending school to know it's not good to make the next person have to work twice as hard.

It's also helpful if bartenders spend time preparing and setting up the bar area for the next bartender before they leave.

         
  • Restock garnishes and other perishable items
  • Restock beer cooler
  • Restock liquor and beverage
  • Check liquor expiration date to avoid liquor going bad
  • Cut and prepare fruits
  • Restock sweet and sour, juices, mixers
  • Restock mugs, glasses, highballs, pilsners, wine glasses, snifters,
  • Restock ice
  • Check liquor, and wine backups for each service well and back bar
  • Check how much beer is in a keg and if it needs to be replaced (this varies with different beer keg sizing)
  • Restock disposable items (napkins, straws, utensils, coasters, skewers, etc.)
  • Restock items on the bar’s food menu, or any other types of menu in use
  • Rinse and clean bar sink
  • Count bar bank and report back to the bar manager

While these tasks don’t need to be done in this specific order, it is important that they are all addressed. And completed throughout the day. Setting up your bar right before opening, closing your bar properly, and keeping your bar clean and well-organized. These are all important activities to ensure a smooth operation at your bar. Here's some of our picks for the best bar and restaurant cleaning supplies, too.

Having a bartender duties checklist—and keeping it safe and sound in your bar operations manual—is one of the most effective ways to communicate these responsibilities to your team of bartenders. And hold them accountable for their work. It is also easier to train bartenders if you have a duties checklist ready. You can also send other staff to alcohol server training so you can sell even more drinks.

Download our free printable bartender duties checklist and customize it to fit your unique bar or restaurant operations.

Those Are the Most Important Bartender Duties

Well, there is one more. An unofficial one. If you read this whole post, it won’t surprise you. It’s multitasking. Not only are these the most important bartender duties, but many of them are done simultaneously. That's why you earn that bartender salary.

It’s not an easy job, as these duties and responsibilities make clear. But it can be a fun and lucrative job. If you’re thinking about becoming a bartender, or you want to improve your bartending fundamentals, check out the bartenders guide we linked to above. Just make sure you understand the answer to "how old do you have to be to serve alcohol?"

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And if your ears perked up when we mentioned automated beverage inventory scanning, then book a demo to see how BinWise Pro will help. We’ll have an expert walk you through exactly how BinWise Pro will make taking bar inventory faster, easier, and more informative.