Although it has more than doubled its membership in the last few years alone, the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) is still an unknown entity to many in the industry—but perhaps not for much longer. With a mission of “uniting the hospitality community to advance professional bartending” and boasting more than 60 local chapters offering affordable membership benefits like education, camaraderie, and career growth opportunities, it can be tough to imagine why you wouldn’t opt to join your local chapter—or start one, if it doesn’t exist yet.
Almost 70 years ago, the USBG started as a small, exclusive, jackets-and-ties organization in Northern California. About two decades in, the USBG applied to become a 501(c) nonprofit organization, and succeeded. The club ultimately evolved into a nation-wide organizational force for empowering bartenders “to take charge of their careers” through education and enrichment programs. The USBG now welcomes any and all to become members and to run for leadership roles during election periods in their local chapters or at the national headquarters in Henderson, NV.
Its three branches offer education, networking and competitions, a charity arm focused on bartender wellness programs and relief funds, and an accreditation program going up to Master Mixologist. The USBG also offers the added benefit of providing members with an instant network when they relocate to a new city or state, and its presence helps with the overall public perception of those who tend to view bartending as a college or in-between-jobs gig rather than the honed craft and lifelong profession that it is for many.
Frank Martucci is General Manager of Beverage Operations at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, RI and was one of the founders of the Rhode Island USBG chapter in 2011—the 22nd chapter to open. A year later, Martucci ran for national office and was elected national vice president. He later took over as president of the USBG national charity foundation in 2014, and now recently stepped down and was elected treasurer for the national board.
We asked Frank a few questions about his experiences with the USBG:
BevSpot: What does the USBG do, in your own words?
Frank: It unites beverage professionals across the country to continue showcasing and improving our craft through competitions, education, and networking. It’s a great time for it, especially right now, because there seem to be constant revolutions of spirits—both new and coming back. The consumer is also much more willing to learn, understand, and gain knowledge about things that they intake, so it’s important for bartenders to know these things. The USBG also brings people together both personally and professionally; it gives opportunities to network, travel, explore, and learn. It has been amazing for myself and others who have joined.
How has the USBG evolved over the years you’ve been a part of it?
Aside from doubling our membership and chapters, we’ve seen more of that old-school passion and appreciation for the craft of bartending returning overall. People want to be the best professional bartender they can and are trying to hone that, but not in a way that is stuffy or has an attitude. Bartenders really want to know what they are doing more and more—how can I make the best cocktail? What are the best spirits to use? There are so many different options, and [as] America’s palette continues to change and become more flavorful and full-bodied, we feel it’s more important than ever to understand the consumer and who we’re talking to.
Is there a lot of back-and-forth between the local chapters and national levels?
Yes, we are very hands-on with local boards. We hold five regional conferences a year and one national conference every two years. Members have the chance to go to regional meetings for education and to understand what’s going on locally. All elected positions are non-paid, including four executive board and then five regional VPs. I do it, because I love giving back to the industry and also to help show that a very small state like Rhode Island can be very active nationally. It’s also cool to visit different cultures and cities to see what’s working in various areas.
Are there any events coming up in the immediate future?
There’s so much going on in the industry these days with technology, new house spirits, and service techniques, and we encourage every chapter to be creative and tailor itself to what its own members want. I’ll be hosting an event called “A Bitter Affair” in February at Twin River. It will be focused on bitter aperitifs and digestifs as well as sour beers, and a portion of proceeds will go back to the bartender relief fund. We’re bringing in members from Boston and New York. Ten years ago, this sort of thing wasn’t happening. In Las Vegas this March, there’s the national Nightclub and Bar Show competition, and we’ve also launched the Star of the Bar competition in partnership with the National Restaurant Association, which holds its finals at the Bar Show Chicago this May.
What advice would you give to those interested in founding a new chapter?
Be patient, do your studies, and don’t rush it. The more organized you are, the better; we waited a year and a half before founding RI. A lot of people just aren’t gung ho enough to really get a chapter going, but the more you give back to it, the better it is. Make sure you have a strong board that understands it’s not just one time thing, it’s a minimum two-year commitment to get a chapter up and running. You are representing your local chapter, but also make sure you have people behind you to help you out and you’re not all on your own. Fortunately, the USBG offers lots of tools you can utilize to make it a successful launch—you just have to take the initiative.