Whether it’s due to poor planning, an unexpectedly large guest list or a coworker calling in sick, at some point as a private bartender you’re going to find yourself working a large party completely single-handedly. It makes for a challenging evening, but have no fear. It can be done well, and might even be much more profitable!
Hopefully you will have some advance notice if you’ll be working solo and you can plan accordingly. But even if you don’t find out until you show up at the venue, there’s quite a bit you can do before guests arrive that will make a huge difference in your ability to keep up with guests’ demand.
If there are several cases of wine, open up bottles for a few cases before the event starts, so you will be ready to pour. In some instances, (especially if the event is beer/wine only), pour a few dozen glasses and have them at the bar for guests to pick up. Perhaps even put some full bottles on the bar for guests to refill their own glass as the first drink always goes down fast. Always remember that the beginning of the event will be the busiest time, as everyone needs a drink! You must be ready for the rush.
If it’s possible, have a self-serve area with beer and a bottle opener for guests to use. Check with your client first, but this is a great option for keeping up with demand, and guests tend to love it! (Make sure you tie the bottle opener down somehow so it doesn’t disappear!)
If you’re serving draft beer, have pitchers and / or glasses already poured and waiting for guests at the beginning of the event. But remember to make sure drinks stay cold! If you can have an ice bath for beer pitchers, that’s ideal.
If you can have your pourers on several bottles ready to go, you’ll save yourself valuable seconds in making that transition to a new bottle. We all know that time is precious at the bar! The less time you spend managing your bottles, the more drinks you can pour and the more guests you can serve.
Sodas / Mixers
Like beer, if you can pour these items in pitchers, it will also save you time. If your sodas are in cans or individual bottles, consider a “self serve” area for guests, just like we mentioned earlier with the beer. Every guest who can serve him/herself is a guest that doesn’t have to wait in line at your bar!
The Wedding Toast
Normally at weddings, there will be a lot of wine served and typically a champagne toast. These are great items to prepare ahead of time. Normally at a private party, we try to open only one bottle at a time as not to waste the client’s liquor, but if you’re working alone the client is much more likely to prefer quick service rather than saving a few bottles.
When working alone, your hands should always, always, always be pouring. Use body language to acknowledge each order and signal to the next guest when you’re ready for their order as well. Try to take the next order while you’re still pouring the last.
Staying Positive and In Charge
You will get comments from guests like: ‘They have your working alone?’ ‘Where is your help?’ ‘You’re really outnumbered tonight, huh?’ ‘Can I jump back there to help you?’
Your reply should be something positive and confident: let them know that you are competent, capable and fun! Remember to say it with a smile directly at guest:
‘They have your working alone?’
‘Of course, my middle name is Superman…’ or ‘Of course, these hands are registered in the bartender’s Hall of Fame.’
‘Where is your help?’
‘I locked them in closet, don’t tell anyone….’
‘You’re really outnumbered tonight, huh?’
‘Juuusttt…the way I like it!!’
‘Can I jump back there to help you?’
‘Thanks, but I’m good……my jam is pumping!!’
Asking for Help
Let’s say you’re having trouble opening a bottle, and it’s taking time away from mixing. In many circumstances you’ll find guests offering to help you open it. LET THEM! If they open two or three bottles of wine for you, great! That’s a huge time saver and it builds rapport with the guests.
Of course, this may not make sense in a more formal setting but in most events it’s perfectly OK to let guests help with small simple tasks. Under no circumstances is it a good idea to let them come behind the bar, however. (This can even be illegal in some states!)
Service with a Smile
You should always smile as much as possible, even if you are concentrating on your work.
It’s important to say it again: you must remember to have a smile on your face as much as possible. When you are bartending a massive party alone, it’s easy for your face to look frustrated or annoyed, when in reality you’re just concentrating and working hard. Actively manage your facial expressions to stay confident and positive – it makes a big difference to the guest experience!
Here’s why it matters to you: you are single-handedly working a massive party. If you are super organized and prepared, the guests see this and appreciate that you are kicking it hard to get the drinks out. They will tip you more in appreciation of your hard work and efforts.
Remember: for you, this is a hard day at work. But for your client and more importantly your guests, this is a fun night out! It can be challenging to stay super upbeat when you’re deep in the weeds, but nobody brings a great party down like a grumpy bartender. Keep a smile on your face and you’ll probably see higher tips and you’re much more likely to book the client again.
You survived the initial rush, kept glasses full and guests happy and all with a smile on your face. Congratulations, that’s no small feat!
You’re at the the tail end of the chaos and the party is winding down. Now is the time to break out pitchers of water and keep them on the bar with glasses or cups. People will help themselves while you do your cleaning. You’ll probably go through quite a bit of water so keep an eye on the pitchers / glasses and always keep them full.
At the end of the night, your tip jar will be full and your energy completely gone. But it can be such a rewarding feeling to know you handled the whole party all by yourself!