A mentor is one of the most important individuals you will ever form a relationship with. A mentor can help shepherd you through the awkward teens of your career and beyond. The relationship can be an anchor in both your professional and personal life.
This article is part one of a series on mentorship in our bar industry. Subsequently we’ll talk about how to find a mentor, how to become a mentor and more. But for now: why do you need a bar mentor anyway?
In the rush of modernity the importance and ritual of a mentor and protege relationship has been largely lost to memory. Traditionally, a craft or skill would be passed down over the years in an apprenticeship. But for many bartenders nowadays, years and jobs blur together, without an appreciation for the figures that helped guide us along our paths.
Humanity advances by standing on the shoulders of giants, and so too does the art of craft cocktails. It is by cultivating and fostering a strong relationship with a mentor that you too can advance. The secrets, skills and traditions of one are transmitted and carried into the future, where they are built upon, reaching ever closer to an unattainable perfection. As such, seeking out a strong relationship with a mentor is helping hospitality and the bar industry along its way.
Every technique passed along raises the standards of cocktails the world over. The bartending world is at times very much like a private club, and many secrets remain out of the reach of the novice barkeep. A mentor offers a longer reach to pull down those top-shelf pearls of wisdom that can help bring an entire career together. Working behind the bar is all about spinning plates while smiling, making it look natural.
Tending bar will never be an easy job, but a mentor can help make it a little less difficult while helping you improve your skills and advance your career.
Navigating the Bar
In a very immediate sense, your mentor will be able to help you steer through the ins and outs of your bar. More so than the five-cent tour you received during training, a mentor can explain the how and why behind a bar’s layout, beverage list and standard operating procedures.
Even if they don’t work directly with you, they’ll still be able to call upon their years of experience and help guide you putting standards into place that will make you a faster, better bartender. Not all bars are created equal, and having a few positions under their belt makes a mentor the perfect resource for figuring out the best methods for your specific bar.
If they work directly with you, that’s even better, as you can watch as they continually develop and re-work their own methods for efficiency in hospitality. Whether it’s the introduction of a new tool, technique, or spirit, pumping a mentor on their thought process behind implementing it will only help prime your own career.
Navigating the Technique
Every bar position has its requisite techniques, whether it’s a “beer and a shot” dive or one of the cocktail palaces of New York or London. Watching a lifelong bartender move behind any bar is an expression of poetry in motion. Just like you, they didn’t just walk in the door knowing how to double-stir or pour a proper pint.
A mentor will be able to show you all of the nuts and bolts that keep a night of service running smoothly, from the best way to arrange the beer cooler, to how to properly stock the back bar.
The impossible becomes possible as advanced techniques are demystified and brought down to the level of just another day at the office. Since they’ve been at it longer than you, a mentor will have all forms of tweaks and tricks that you can add to your own collection of skills.
Navigating the Career
Some of the best advice I ever received from a mentor on the subject of bartending was when they told me that it didn’t become a career for them until they started treating it like one.
The next day, I requested more shifts and I had a few books on the way from Amazon. Within a few months, I received a promotion. Years later, I was running the best bar in the city, but it all goes back to those words of wisdom.
Choosing Next Steps
A mentor will be able to give you advice on how to get the most out of a bartending career, and where you can fit in the world of hospitality. For example: not everyone is best suited to being behind the stick, nor is everyone suited for management. The wonderful thing is that thanks to the amazing mentors and leaders in the bar world, we live in a time where if you have curiosity and passion, there’s almost certainly a position out there for you. Your mentor will give you the best advice on how to identify those opportunities as well as their significance.
Last but certainly not least, a mentor can be an invaluable resource for networking and connections to others in the industry. They’ll have deeper professional network, and can leverage that to help you in ways that will prove invaluable when it comes time to take the next step in your career. Not only will your mentor be a great reference for your resume, but they can connect you with others who are farther along on the same career path. They may even connect you with someone who becomes another great mentor!
The Gift of Perspective:
Whether it’s advice on how to set up your mise en place or a chat about the day in the life of a bar manager, the one most important thing a mentor provides is perspective. Your mentor has seen it all. They know the bigger picture of the industry as a whole and how each tiny element of service builds a cohesive bar program. A mentor lets you take advantage of years of bar experience before you’ve personally put in the time.
If you are a career bartender and the opportunity arises to build a mentor relationship with an experienced bartender, I say take it! The time investment will pay off in opportunity, relationships, and possibly even a great, life-long friend.