Many of us don’t have the ability to build a well completely from scratch, often being limited by existing structures, menus, or budgets. What this means is that crafting a well that is both stylish and utilitarian is truly a challenge. However, it is one entirely worth undertaking. As we covered in part one of this blog series, choosing a well is as much about strategy as it is about style.
Beyond the practical aspects of your physical well set up, what your well stocks says a considerable amount about the taste level, intent, and structure of your place. The big questions I asked in the first part of this two-part article series addressed practical concerns. A more organized, ergonomic speed rack creates a greater sense of ease when crafting cocktails, which translates to an overall mastery of space. There is nothing more appealing as a bar patron than to see a confident, relaxed bartender.
We behind the stick know that the creation of this persona has taken years of training, a careful balance of grit and charm, and a true love of cocktails, spirits, and service. Keeping this in mind, style, service, and staff must all be equally considered when perfecting your well. This means asking questions like:
The tone of an establishment justifies and enhances the style, menu, and price point set by the space. While not as obvious as a bar’s “theme”, a purposeful tone sets the mood within a space and guides guests towards comfort and enjoyment.
To build towards a thoughtful tone for your establishment, the translation of style from well selection and construction should appear effortless, yet purposeful—just like each touch your bartenders complete in making a row of perfect cocktails. Whether or not the majority of your guests are the type to judge—or even notice your well selection can all be made irrelevant with the one guest who decides to Yelp about your plastic handle of vodka, off-brand mixto tequila, or janky cheater bottle.
The difference between a well gin martini at a dive and a well gin martini at a cocktail lounge is like night and day (or Monarch and Beefeater, for those who know their gin). For example, a craft cocktail bar may stock creative house syrups and infusions in their well, while a classic cocktail bar will generally stock absinthe, cognac, and chartreuse.
Personally, I have fought for slightly higher end well pours at my bar with the thought of style and tone in mind. In my opinion, Beefeater is the most versatile, respectable gin in its category when it comes to crafting cocktails and, therefore, worth investing into the higher price point, because it fits the creative and cocktail-forward character of the bar.
Similarly, there have been times when I have perfectly happy with a slightly cheaper tequila in the well, providing that it is 100% agave and, again, amazingly versatile in cocktails. My bar has gone out of its way to stock Squirt to make classic palomas, and we are all proud and happy to serve Pueblo Viejo blanco in those palomas. Is PV the sexiest, most expensive 100% agave tequila on the market for cocktail use—no—but it is clean and reliable, which is most important to my bar!
Is your space focused on two for one jello shots, or tableside wine service? How are these nuances represented monetarily on the menu? A bar with $2 well drinks says “hey, we’re happy to let you toss ‘em back and have a great time playing ski-ball”, while a bar whose cocktails run you $15 a pop says something more like “hey, we’re happy to serve you perfectly prepared craft cocktails, so take your time and enjoy them.”
Make sure your menu pricing is consistent with the tone of your establishment and falls in line with the numbers you need to hit.
If your bar’s wells are set to accommodate your bartender’s needs, their job becomes infinitely easier. If the ergonomics and economics of the well are all set up for your staff, they can focus 100% of their energy on truly bartending. Ease behind the bar comes, of course, from skill and experience, but also from a cohesive work station.
Working in cocktail bars has taught me time and time again that although a good cocktail is always memorable, a great customer service experience with a talented bartender creates a more secure and lasting bond with guests. Creating a welcoming and appealing tone in a bar setting comes from staff that feel comfortable and confident in their environment. Crafting a functional and stylish well setup facilitates this environment.
In many ways, the art of bartending has been devalued. Do not let a difficult well situation hold your bartenders back from fulfilling their role as the best bartender they can be for your space. Establishing a set of well spirits that your bar staff feels confident pouring neat, as well as utilizing in cocktails goes a long way towards smooth service, from both sides of the bar. What all of this well selection talk boils down to is the idea that style, consistency, and smarts matter. If your physical well is tight, your spirit selection is consistent, and your space reflective of your brand, then your staff will work better and your guests will leave happier.