John Collingwood: The Humble Bartender?

A few months ago I was working at the Hotel Du Vin in Newcastle, and a chap came into the bar with an aura of arrogance about him.

We imagine Mr X looks a little like this. Only with Cognac.

You will know the type I mean…the ones that think they know it all, flash the cash and think they are above every one. I have been brought up to be polite, sincere, take everyone on face value and not to pass judgement.

He sat there sipping his expensive cognac, giving his views about everything and anything, and completely unprovoked he said:

‘What do you know, you are only a humble bartender!’

I was dumb struck and very insulted, but being the professional, I just politely ignored it and decided to clear up and go home. What really struck me is that why in this new golden age of cocktails are bartenders still seen as humble?


  1. Low in rank, importance, status, quality, etc; lowly: of humble origin
  2. Not proud or arrogant, modest: to be humble although successful
  3. Courteously respectful: In my humble opinion you are wrong

What leaps out to me is that I like to think that I act in a manner that is numbers 2 and 3; however Mr X (as we will call him now) saw me as number 1.

How does that work? How can someone make a HUGE judgement about me, simply because I am working behind the bar?

Bartenders behaving badly

I think that a lot of preconceived judgements manifest from guests having had bad experiences in a bar that linger in the back of the mind.

Mr X could have had a bartender that:

  1. Thinks they are gods gift, who knows everything and will disagree with any drink he orders
  2. Who doesn’t actually give a monkeys because they are hanging out their arse and just want to lie on their sofa eating McDs, writing on Facebook how bad they feel and will never touch Uncle Wray again!

If you don’t agree with a drink choice, don’t be rude, be humble and suggest some other ideas…if you like that sir, have you ever consider this?

I am not trying to tell you how to suck eggs, but if we are to change the opinions of the countless Mr Xs out there, then maybe we need to follow some advice my Mam gave me:

‘Treat someone like you want to be treated yourself’

Bartenders vs Chefs

Everyone knows chefs are dishonest and not to be trusted.

There is something that I have had a bee in my bonnet for a long time. How is it that when you start your career in the culinary world you have a clear and defined career path, but in the drinks world we don’t?

Wannabe chefs firstly go to college and spend a couple of years learning the building blocks of their craft. Everything from techniques to classical recipes, honing their skills; so they are prepared for the big wide world.

Whereas my first experience of working in the drinks industry was pulling 95p pints at a Hall of Residence Bar in Manchester, hardly the place to inspired and learn best practise; but I was hooked!

Therefore is it time that colleges need to appreciate that some students may be interested in a career in the drinks industry?

Are we at a stage where we need to breed best practise from the start?

£12,228 (really?)

The problem I believe the drinks industry faces in attracting career bartender is the salary above. According to the Guardian online, the average salary for a bartender is £12,228, which works out at £235.15 per week, before tax. It is the 2nd worst paying job in the country. Which is hardly attractive is it?

No place to hide

After being in the drinks industry for over 13 years now I would like to think that I am a confident but humble bartender. My one gripe though is that sometimes I think that the powers that be under appreciate what that experience brings.

I will explain…

Going back to my comparison with the culinary world, as a Head Chef you have a team that works under you, you have time to prep and you work to a specific menu.

As a bartender you do and your don’t. Yes you prep your garnishes, have a cocktail menu and drinks list but that is where the comparison ends.

Why? Well the thing is you never know who is going to walk into your bar; you will never know what they will ask for, yes you can make assumptions by your guests gender, age and the way the dress. However I have learnt that they can be completely wrong.

The big difference between being a chef and a bartender, is that we can not hide away from our customers, we are there stood in front of them and in some ways we have to perform, entertain and deliver professional and courteous service.

How we ‘perform’ will go a long way into how the guest judges the bar, hotel or restaurant they are visiting, if it is great they will tell 6 of their friends, if it is bad 20.

Food for thought

If you were sat looking at a food menu and decided there was nothing on it that you liked, I can guarentee a chef would not be the most receptive to a guest asking for some of their own choosing. It is just not practical or cost effective.

As a bartender this is what we thrive on, asking the questions to get to answers, to deliver the perfect drink for a customer. What spirit do you like? Do you like it to be booze heavy? Do you like in a long, short or martini class? If a waiter did this with a guest, the kitchen would go into meltdown with all the different dishes that would be required.

This is what is magical about mixology, that with the right training and level of self confidence, you can easily deliver world class service.

Therefore I will leave you with a question to mull over:

Why is it that there is such a wide gap between the salary of a Head Chef & Mixologist?