Len Fragomeni, an instructor from the Toronto Institute of Bartending, says there are some skills a bartender needs that just can’t be taught. A personality, for instance: “You can teach somebody how to make a Manhattan, but you can’t teach somebody how to offer great service.”
“At the end of the day, you have to be willing to take care of people, you’re in the hospitality industry.... Quite frankly there are lots of bartenders out there that are not that hospitable.”
But an easy smile and fast pour isn’t enough for an aspiring bartender. Len Fragomeni: “It’s not a quick and easy way to make a lot of money. As cocktail culture continues to grow globally, more and more establishments are looking for even better qualified bartenders. So if you think you are just going to take a bartending program and start working in the city’s hottest clubs and make $350 a night, it’s pretty far-fetched.” A bartender has to work their way up, and this inevitably has to start from the bottom up.
Enjoyment of alcohol may be universal, but tastes are not. For a bartender looking to be successful in their trade, having a perception of trends, and “taste profiles” can be a tremendous asset. “Ten years ago we used to drink Molson Canadian, and Coors Light, you hardly see that stuff downtown anymore.” Microbreweries are the new thing and, according to Fragomeni, they are here to stay. “There are so many beers here in Ontario, so many options for great beers and lots of new microbreweries popping up.”
Gone are the days when the choice was imported or domestic. Tastes change, and for bartenders and bars to be successful they must be able to anticipate and adapt to trends. “A lot of Toronto bartenders are stuck in the fact that we are in Canada’s biggest city and think they are the be-all, end-all of bars… but we are quite behind the cocktail culture in places like Vancouver.”
Above all, whether someone is pouring beers in a hole-in-the-wall or mixing drinks in a hot downtown club there is one defining trait of a good bartender: personality. It’s all about genuinely wanting people to have a good time, and that begins with being nice. As Fragomeni says, “If you don’t want to be nice to people, go work for the government.”