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Lesson 3 – Behavior and Ethics

The way you behave and the standards of personal ethics you hold yourself to are what really sets an experienced, professional bartender apart from an amateur. The below are our top ten key areas to focus on developing as a personal code of conduct.

1. Be honest: Whether it’s giving a free drink to a friend, scamming customers or pocketing money from the till, there are endless options for bartenders to take advantage of their trusted positions. While you may be lucky and get away with it for a time, this rarely lasts and apart from the potential consequences, the more important question is where you plan to go with your career? Better bars have zero tolerance for such behaviour and employment history, reference checks and the tight industry network mean you may quickly find yourself unable to find work in better establishments if you develop a reputation as a bartender that can’t be trusted.

2. Be responsible: Remember that alcohol is a potentially dangerous thing and serving it irresponsibly or allowing your guests to behave recklessly with it can cause harm to them or others. See the next section on Responsible Service for more tips on how to do this.

3. Be a team player: Even the best bartenders cannot do everything alone. The service industry is a highly co-operative and team driven environment, so it is essential that you learn to work well with your co-workers. The best bar teams elevate teamwork to an art form that is amazing to watch! There is more information on effective teamwork in our Speed and Efficiency module.

4. Be business minded: Understand that you are an important part of a business that relies on sales, human resources, cost-management, marketing, administration and a whole host of other functions in order to be successful. Understand that although you may sometimes feel like the success of the whole business is thanks to you, there are many other factors and team members, each doing their best to help the business succeed. If you try to view things as part of a bigger picture, it can help to guide your own decisions and behaviour and this is the first step towards progressing to more leadership focused roles in the industry.

5. Be professional: Try to leave personal problems at home. It can sometimes be challenging but neither your colleagues nor your guests deserve to have your bad day taken out on them.

6. Don’t discriminate: Treat all colleagues and guests with equal respect. The service industry (like many industries) has struggled in the past with inequality and discrimination but is changing for the better. There is no place in a good bar team for racial, cultural, sexual orientation or gender-based discrimination and in fact, most of the world’s top bars actively encourage diversity to create stronger, more vibrant teams.

7. Be knowledgeable: Your guests rely on you for recommendations and advice on the products you sell. Being knowledgeable about them not only enables you to be a better salesperson but can provide a more engaging experience for your guests. An expert bartender can provide fascinating background information and tailored recommendations that more discerning guests highly appreciate. Expanding your knowledge on wines, beers, spirits and cocktails can also be a rewarding and fascinating way to increase your enjoyment and interest in your job not to mention the higher earning potential and career advancement possibilities that can come with more formal qualifications in these subjects.

8. Never stop learning: Bartenders that have been working in the industry for a while sometimes fall into the trap of thinking they “know it all”. The surest way to fall behind is to think you know everything and don’t need to keep improving your skills. Stay up to date through social media and internet resources, industry events and training sessions. Check out our Resources page for our recommendations of great sources of information.

9. Confidence not arrogance: The best bartenders have an easy confidence behind the bar that comes from being calm, in control and highly knowledgeable about their environment. Unfortunately, it is easy for this to slip into arrogance if you are not careful. Stay humble and non-judgemental, always be willing to learn or see another point of view and balance pride in your profession with the understanding that while you may take cocktails seriously, your guests are often just there to relax and have fun.

Responsible Service

While much of your role as a bartender is to provide a fun and relaxing environment for your guest, it is important to always remember that it comes with responsibility as well. Alcohol is a potentially harmful substance and at times, guests can behave recklessly with it. This can lead to situations where a guest could cause disruption, embarrassment or in a worst-case scenario, even harm to themselves or others. Guests have a responsibility of their own to consume alcohol in a responsible way however there is a simultaneous need for you to encourage appropriate behaviour.

REMEMBER! – Customers must be over 18 to drink alcohol (in South Africa and many other countries, however be aware of exceptions like the USA). If in any doubt, don’t be embarrassed to ask for ID – it is your job to ask and their responsibility to show it on request.

Dealing with a difficult or intoxicated customer can be a tricky situation that often leaves waiters and barmen in a predicament. It may seem that there is no right way to handle this situation, but if done with tact and within the law, both the customer and the staff member can walk away without being embarrassed and prevent the situation from getting out of control.

Refusing service to customers should be viewed as a last resort. Servers should be thinking about managing their bar from the time a customer enters until the time they leave.

Ways to promote responsible drinking include:
• Serving water with every drink
• Ensuring guests are not drinking on an empty stomach. If they are not eating a meal, offer bar snacks.
• Not encouraging increased consumption if a guest is showing obvious signs of intoxication (eg don’t offer doubles, shooters etc)
• Clarifying if there is a designated driver in a group at the start of service. This can be done in a relaxed, joking way however you can then do your best to make appropriate recommendations, ensure that guest is looked after and doesn’t succumb to the temptation of drinking with their friends. Perhaps a complimentary non-alcoholic cocktail or coffee?


Below are useful guidelines for dealing with customers to prevent a situation from getting uncomfortable, particularly if service has to be refused:

• Early Intervention
If the server is alert, they may be able to detect those in the early stages of intoxication and take steps to prevent the situation from worsening. Such steps include:
– Slowing service.
– Suggesting food or low alcohol alternatives.
– Warning the customer.

• Avoid Put-Downs and don’t be judgmental:
– Don’t say things like “you’re drunk” or “you’ve had too much”.
– Don’t reprimand the customer.
– Don’t appear to be blaming them.

• Always be courteous and polite.

• Customer service demands that staff respect their customers. Be polite and use “I” statements like:
– I’m sorry, if I serve you another drink I’d be breaking the law.
– I’m sorry, if I serve you another drink I’d lose my job.
– I’m concerned about your safety.

• Shift Blame:
– The boss is funny about these things.
– There’s been a police crackdown, we could lose our licence.

• Ask “What If”:
– What if you have something to eat and we see how you’re going after that?
– What if your first drink’s on me tomorrow?
– What if I call you a cab?

• Keep Calm
– Your tone of voice is very important.
– You need to have a firm voice without sounding aggressive.

• Do not raise your voice.
– Behaviour breeds behaviour.
– You can calm them down if you remain calm yourself.

• Clarify Refusal
– Explain why service is being refused.

• Remember to focus on the behaviour, not the individual.
– Sometimes a customer may think they are being barred from the premises.
– Explain that they are welcome back another time.

• Offer to call a taxi.
• Suggest customers try low or non-alcoholic drinks.
• A discreet warning that this will be the last drink for a while may allow them to “save face” in front of their friends.


• Make sure all staff are aware of what has happened.
• Keep an incident log book near the bar and record the incident.
• If the customer injures themselves or a third party, after leaving the premises, the record of events may be of assistance.

• If they are a regular customer, staff can quietly reinforce the message when they return.
• They will usually be in a more receptive state to hear and understand why the action was taken.
• The customer may even thank staff for looking after them.

Some Other Good Tips
• Never touch the customer
• Speak to them away from others as a face-saving measure
• Don’t be afraid to involve management

Drink Spiking
There is increasing concern about the dangers of drink spiking in bars and clubs. Staff can help by:
• Getting any affected person to a safe, quiet place and stay with them.
• Call an ambulance if they become unconscious.
• Ensure that the person who is assisting them home is indeed a friend.

Drink spiking is not necessarily placing illicit drugs into a drink. It may well be ordering drinks for people with extra shots of alcohol. This has direct implications in the responsible serving of alcohol.