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Zee says: Guest bartending, not guess bartending

Zdenek (left). Photo: Facebook

 The industry expert and guest-bartender-many-times-over schools us on the good, the bad and the ugly of guest shifts.

Good day to all fellow readers, barkeeps, drink enthusiasts – and, this time around, all guest barkeeps. I would like to talk about bartending, or the fine drinking movement, and its very speedy evolution. As discussed on multiple occasions within this column, it seems like we might be moving too fast. This has been a hot topic among our industry peers globally, who agree that we’re maybe not capturing all that there is to learn, nor progressing towards becoming a strong, professional and passionate collective. I was on the panel at the recent P(our) discussion in London, debating awards and their impact on our industry. That day, part of the talk revolved around being impatient, and why it’s important we all realise how young the industry still is, even in its new Golden Era. Another good example is guest bartending (which I’ll call “GB” from here on). We have moved from GB being a rare, special occasion to venues hosting barkeeps pretty much every night of the week. It has become standard practice – and all within the last five or six years. Is that a good or bad thing? Does GB weaken your bar, because of the constant travelling stretching your team? Or is that travelling great, because it brings much-needed PR for your bar and helps enhance the skills of your bartenders?

There are two positive ways of looking at GB. A, it brings attention to your bar or you, personally. And B, you gain experience from working under a different system, with a different team, serving different guests and being exposed to different cultures. We’ve seen over last few years that PR and social media-active bars do seem to get considered for all sorts of bar and hospitality accolades quicker. And yes, awards can help retain staff, gain sponsorships from alcohol brands and boost your working capital. But from my personal opinion, example B is much more important for the longevity of your bar and your career. Learning about other set-ups will open your eyes and make you look at your front and back of house with a fresh perspective. Muscle memory is a good thing, but not switching things up will prevent you from seeing flaws and hold you back when it comes to updating your systems. Shaking with a new team, new bartenders and in a different style of bars is critical for becoming a well-rounded professional. Working in a craft cocktail bar without exposure to other types of establishment is like being a chef and only knowing how to cook on a grill. Last but not least, sharing is caring, and so the camaraderie you create among colleagues from other bars by sharing your station for one night will go a long way. In many ways, camaraderie is the reason I love this industry.

Agreeing to a GB shift brings you the prestige of representing your bar. But that also means a heavy responsibility – and that’s the only way you should look at it. Be professional, and approach all GB with care and seriousness. Plan your menu and communicate clearly (and within a set deadline) to help the host bar get ready for you. On the day, be in position well ahead of time so you can get familiar with the bar, back of house and your station. Be part of the bar’s briefing – remember they have daily operations to run too, and bills to pay – and make sure you have time to sit down and review all aspects without rushing. Have a bite to eat before what will inevitably be a long night. And last but not least, take a moment to appreciate how special each of those nights are. That’s more important than anything.

With shakes and love, Zdenek.


Zdenek Kastanek is a resident bartender at 28 HongKong Street, Singapore and GM at Proof & Company, Singapore.

This article first appeared in Issue 47 of DRiNK Magazine China and Issue 05 of DRiNK Magazine Southeast Asia and Hong Kong. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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