A revamp to the rescue

Behind the bar, labor shortages can cause backups and sloppily poured drinks. Beverage directors and bartenders can go hard on hiring and double down on better training, but all of that takes time. What’s needed now are tactics that can be implemented fast to prevent the restaurant’s most profitable center from any losses. This means taking a hard look at the bar and revamping service to make it easier, yet still creative, for limited or lower-skilled staff.


Throwing new staff or the few bartenders you already have into a service with dozens of drinks to remember can stress an already-fragile ecosystem. Offering just a few easy-to-make, specialty cocktails allows your team the freedom to excel at a simple task, rather than struggle through a difficult one.

“I am a huge fan of ‘less is more,’” says Ryan Robinson, wine director for Michael Jordan’s restaurants in Chicago, Las Vegas and Connecticut. “Reducing the amount of specialty cocktails that a restaurant offers allows the staff to perfect the few that they do feature.”


Working through the challenges of nearly two years of the pandemic – from sanitation and cleaning supplies to taking extra care to keep guests at a distance from employees and other guests – has made operators more realistic. Yohsuke Kimura, a bartender who has served at Chicago’s Radio Anago and Maude’s Liquor Bar, emphasizes the importance of focusing on what “staff is capable of” rather than lofty expectations. This strategy, he says, is sure to result in a better bar experience for workers and customers.


With tried-and-true cocktails serving as the foundation of the bar experience, only a few specialty cocktails are needed to round out the customer’s options.

“Common drinks such as an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan are well known by both guests and bartenders,” explains Robinson. “Because of this familiarity, they do not need to take up precious real estate space on a limited menu.” Menu items can be easy twists on the basic recipes, or to highlight house liquors, like the cocktail made with Michael Jordan’s Cincoro Tequila.


Simplicity doesn’t always mean underwhelming. A fun presentation can make a basic cocktail feel new and exciting. Unique glassware creates a playful feel. Cubed or circular ice never fails to impress and can be made ahead of time. The inclusion of dry ice in a drink adds a mysterious flair. For Robinson, the best garnish serves a purpose.

“It’s important to remember that we first taste with our eyes,” he says. “Drinks that are visually appealing, such as a fun, creative garnish, or perhaps a differed type of glassware, tend to be more favored than a great-tasting drink in a Collins glass. Flowers and herbs are some of my favorite garnishes, as they show color, dimension and add aromatics to the drink.”


Your business may have its own signature drinks, but it’s likely your patrons do as well. Whether it is a martini or a negroni, most people already have a favorite, classic cocktail in mind. With limited time to train staff, focusing on the fundamentals of bartending should be established first. What it all boils down to, suggests Kimura, is to “just make sure that the glass is cold, pay attention to the details while preparing the drink and use fresh ingredients.”


When staffing is low, but drink orders are high, it’s easy to overlook the importance of presentation. To ensure that cocktails are as visually enticing as they are tasty, lean on garnishes. Just make sure that they work in tandem with the drink’s flavor profile.

  • Aromatic herbs, such as lavender, lemon verbena, chocolate thyme and golden mint
  • Nasturtiums
  • Flowers, including mini roses and chrysanthemums (be sure they’re nontoxic)
  • Corkscrew strips of citrus peel
  • Chewy candies skewered with a toothpick that can sit on the rim of a glass, such as Swedish Fish or a row of fruity gummies
  • Fruit leather
  • Cookie or candy sticks
  • Large or small ice cubes with any of the above frozen inside