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Food & Drink21 ways bars have changed forever, according to bartenders

21 ways bars have changed forever, according to bartenders

Getting back to your favorite bar after months away is a special kind of joy and a total sensory experience. There’s the clink of bottles, the feeling of holding a beautiful coupe glass in your hands and the taste of a complex cocktail you could have never made at home. After all, there’s nothing quite like having someone else – a real-life bartender! – fix you a great drink.

And the feeling’s mutual: After a rollercoaster ride of closures and restrictions, bartenders and bar owners are happy to get back to doing what they love most. Like many of us, they’ve been through some changes over the past 18 months, too. We chatted with 25 of the world’s best bartenders, bar owners and drink experts about what’s different at your favorite bar. There are carryout cocktails, Instagram Live classes and QR code menus, sure – but there’s also stuff happening behind the scenes, like an investment in mental health and work-life balance.

Take a look at the many ways your favorite bar may have changed – and next time you’re grabbing a drink, be sure to tip these folks generously.

Some quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Thirsty for more insider insight from the world’s best bartenders? You’re in the right place. Running throughout August 2021, Talk to the Bartender! is a weekly series that taps into the minds of drink pros around the globe. The conversation changes often, and we’ll chat with bartenders about everything from underrated cocktails and must-have bottles to top drinking cities.

How bars have changed forever

Essential workers

Photograph: Stephen Kang

1. Essential workers

‘In my opinion, there’s a newfound appreciation for bartenders and how essential they are to our communities. Over the past year, I feel like hospitality workers in general started to get the love and admiration they deserve, which will change the way we interact with them forever.’—Camille Wilson, founder of The Cocktail Snob

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Bring on the day drinking

Photograph: Courtesy 1862 Dry Bar

2. Bring on the day drinking

‘Forever is too long, but I’ve noticed a change in our patrons being much more receptive to day drinking – both with an apéritif before lunch and early-evening drinks before dinner. The only other change I’d note is an increased interest in quiet, sit-down moments instead of bar-hopping.’—Alberto Martínez, owner of 1862 Dry Bar in Madrid

A new way of doing things

Photograph: Courtesy American Bar

3. A new way of doing things

‘The pandemic forced bar owners, directors and employees alike to challenge themselves to be nimble and creative in ways we never imagined we’d need to, simply to keep the doors open and the lights on. I feel this was a silver lining because unless we’re continuously questioning why we do things a certain way, we’ll never put ourselves in a position to improve or innovate. The most dangerous answer to the question “why?” is “because that’s how it’s always been done.”’—Shannon Tebay, head bartender of American Bar in London

‘In the bar industry, we like to be in control. In control of the crowd, the food, the drinks, what’s on TV, when we open and when we close. And then we had to adapt to something that we simply couldn’t control. I think that adaptability is a skill we have all honed in on and it will move us forward, allowing us to be bigger and better than we were before.’—Matt Harding, beverage director at Time Out Market Boston

A social media surge

Photograph: Courtesy Sidecar

4. A social media surge

‘Although each and every one of us has used it, social media usage has increased tenfold, and the bar industry has discovered new ways to use and benefit from it. I strongly feel that this is going to stay and we will be using the influence of social media to provide the finest experience in the cocktail space today and forever.’—Yangdup Lama, co-owner of Sidecar in New Delhi

Honestly, we’re tired

Photograph: Jeff Marini

5. Honestly, we’re tired

‘I think that a lot of people have left the industry, and that’s been a struggle. Right now, the people that are still here are lifers, but we’re tired. Our staffs have dwindled, and I think it’s going to be a long time until we’re all at full steam again. Until then, as guests, we’ll have to be patient, as food and beverages may take a little longer, reservations may be a little tougher to get, and servers may be running a little ragged. We will get back to “normal” but it may be a little bit.’—Liz Pearce, lead mixologist of Aba in Chicago

The bar as a classroom

Photograph: Courtesy Club 5

6. The bar as a classroom

‘I’ve noticed that more and more guests are now showing interest in learning about drinks and spirits. The bar industry has gone above and beyond to cater and invent creative ways of coping with the pandemic. With more people staying at home, we see cocktail DIY kits, bottled cocktails, and cocktails in interesting packaging. For the bar industry, part of it is the convivial hospitality as well – this can be translated to personalising cocktails for guests.’—Jun Han Ong, head bartender of Club 5 in Singapore

Renewed value in staff

Photograph: Jessica Desforges

7. Renewed value in staff

‘With the massive staff shortage, hopefully owners and managers have learned to value their employees and will work with them to grow and learn and care about this industry as a career instead of a stepping stone to other things. In other words, they’re learning to pay their employees appropriate wages.’—Sam Treadway, co-owner and bar manager of Backbar in Boston

Your place or mine?

Photograph: Courtesy Yinying Leow

8. Your place or mine?

‘Over the past year and a half, the bar industry has been challenged to think outside the box. We had to think of creative ways to keep our businesses afloat and continue making cocktails. So, we invited guests into our world with virtual cocktail classes at home. These classes have made cocktail making more accessible and exciting for all.’—Heidi Turzyn, mixologist of Contento in NYC

‘One thing that has changed forever for the bar industry is the need to come up with innovative bottled or packaged cocktails to go. Almost every bar in the industry now has to do takeaway cocktails, and the general public has shifted their views against pre-batch drinks, too.’—Yinying Leow, principal bartender of Live Twice in Singapore

It’s all about the experience

Photograph: Courtesy Moneygun

9. It’s all about the experience

‘I think that people are definitely more concerned with the experience and less about the intricacies of the food and beverage options. People are very fortunate and grateful to be able to be out amongst their friends again.’—Donavan Mitchem, beverage director of Moneygun in Chicago

Travel is grounded

Photograph: Courtesy Marta Ess

10. Travel is grounded

People might not know how essential the ability to travel can be to our global bar community. Through cocktail conferences, speaking on panels and cocktail competitions, bartending has afforded me countless opportunities to travel abroad over the years, where I could connect and reconnect with my international peers, learn about their lives and work, and be inspired by their respective markets and trends. Seeing the move of these in-person activations and experiences to online formats since early 2020 has illustrated the resilience and innovation this industry has when it comes to curating community-building experiences – but man, do I miss the hugs and late-night heart-to-heart conversations with fellow bartenders from across the globe.’—Marta Ess, bartender at Dear Friend in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

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11. More hyper-local ingredients

‘With borders closed and international commerce struggling to get booze and other products from country to country, bar owners and mixologists are working with more local products. This trend starts with distilleries and will carry over to syrups, fresh herbs and more. New local players are already offering a wide range of amazing handcrafted, local products that fully support their communities.’—Hugo Deligny, beverage director of Time Out Market Montreal

Loading new talent

Photograph: Courtesy Max Stampa-Brown

12. Loading new talent

I’ve seen a great deal of those who have come to this country to work the more difficult jobs step into newer roles where they feel more personal value and have earned their seat at the table. When it was finally time to walk up to a bar, it was thrilling to have a guy who barbacked for years take my order because he finally made it to bartender.’—Max Stampa-Brown, beverage director of Bandits in NYC

More than just a bartender

Photograph: Addie Chin (L) and courtesy Sandeep Hathiramani (R)

13. More than just a bartender

‘Just like the rest of the world, we have understood the importance of work-life balance and how important it is that hospitality serves the rights of its workforce for the greater good. The mentality has changed so it will come into motion, and it is a great thing to showcase hospitality as lifetime careers.’—Mia Johansson, managing partner of Swift in London

‘Bartenders work all seasons and holidays, away from loved ones and missing special occasions. Lockdown helped us focus more on our health and passions. I personally picked up playing cricket again, while some of my peers have a small hiking group together. It’s great to see that we all have other interests outside of our work.’—Sandeep Hathiramani, co-founder of The Wise King in Hong Kong

Slow-down service

Photograph: Courtesy Nocturne

14. Slow-down service

‘I believe that our social interactions have changed a little more toward the “European style” of bar culture. Table service is utilised more than people queuing at the bar. We are also seeing people embrace a slower pace and spend more time at the table, partly due to the planning and reservations necessary to enjoy a bar outing. Light bites to enjoy while having a few drinks have also become more popular.’—Steve Pineau, owner and barman of Nocturne in London

The future is still uncertain

Photograph: David T White

15. The future is still uncertain

‘Personally, a major change I’ve seen is the inability to offer upskilling opportunities and hands-on experience to front-line staff with the incumbent layoffs. Ensuring new green bartenders can beef up their resumes and increase their probability of securing a job at the time our industry gets brought back to full force. The future of young bartenders or hopeful newstartes to learn and be thrown in the deep end seems up in the air – there is a huge difference between online learning and learning from your mentor in their natural habitat.’—Sabrina Medcalf, general manager of The Duke in Sydney

A new guard

Photograph: Courtesy Keyatta Mincey-Parker

16. A new guard

‘I think it was the breaking point for many, and for some at a crossroads in their career, this was it. We lost a lot of heart when people walked away from the industry, but I am hopeful we will build it back. We are a tough industry – one of the oldest professions – and I’m hopeful leaders in our industry will come together and work with us and help develop systems to protect us from the next big thing. It’s scary, but this is an opportunity to redefine our impact.’—Keyatta Mincey-Parker, founder of A Sip of Paradise

‘I have seen so many friends and colleagues reexamine and renegotiate their relationship to hospitality and service. So many wonderful professionals have taken the pain and uncertainty of the pandemic as a catalyst – and necessity – to pivot and embrace the pieces of their profession they truly love, while discarding the pieces that are not working for them personally.’—Austin Power, owner of Accidental Bar in NYC

Bartenders as entertainers

Photograph: Kailley Lindman

17. Bartenders as entertainers

‘We realized our worth as entertainers, which means that whether standing at a bar with guests in the bar stools, or standing in front of a computer screen speaking to a group of 100 people around the country, we have the skills to hold an audience captive, to tell stories through our drinks and to keep getting paid to bartend no matter the circumstances!’—Julia Momose, partner and creative director of Kumiko in Chicago

Long-distance service

Photograph: Courtesy Hayden Lambert

18. Long-distance service

‘We have all been forced to make changes and sacrifices we were not expecting. The biggest thing that has changed is that the face-to-face service we know and love has been taken away from us. We have ventured into a new world of online interaction and take-away cocktails at a distance. It has changed the direction of the industry as we know it.’—Hayden Lambert, owner of Above Board in Melbourne

Community over everything

Photograph: Courtesy Helen Kim

19. Community over everything

‘Over the past year and a half, people have definitely realized how human connection was taken for granted prior to the pandemic. Especially in the hospitality industry, we have now taken a step back and taken note of how we can service the community and how they have supported us in return. Everyone in the industry has been immensely grateful for the community that they have developed throughout the years and how big of a role they play in society.’—Helen Kim, founder of Liquid Culture in Miami

Better working conditions for all

Photograph: Bernard Zieja (L) and courtesy Four Seasons (R)

20. Better working conditions for all

‘It’s difficult to highlight only one way the industry has changed over the past 18 months, but one change I have noticed – and which I hope will continue to be emphasised going forward – is the need to find better ways to provide security for those working in our industry. I know it’s different everywhere, but certain things could and should become mandatory: fair pay, good working conditions, proper legal protection and contracts. I find it surprising how an industry that is built on taking care of people sometimes struggles so much to take care of its own – and hopefully we can be part of changing that.’—Monica Berg, co-owner and bartender of Tayer + Elementary in London

‘The whole hospitality industry has had to look within itself and adapt. Mental health, staff wellbeing, being wasteful with resources – those are things that we’ve had to really focus on, whereas before, it was a system built on pressure to succeed at all costs. What we’ve been seeing is bars and restaurants actually wanting to adapt quicker than the people in power would allow them to. Looking to the bright side, I think there will be an appreciation of hospitality personnel in general. You never know how great something is until it’s gone.’—Keith Motsi, head bartender of Charles H at the Four Seasons in Seoul

An investment in the future

Photograph: Shannon Sturgis

21. An investment in the future

‘I think the biggest impact I have seen is the dedication to the craft from my teams returning. It has been an insane time, and the bartenders who have come back are really invested in the craft and want to grow and change the way we interact with each other and guests. We did a Speed Rack event for the first time in 15 months, and the women who competed expressed how good it was to have a goal and complete it. To be back with their community. It was very touching.’—Lynnette Marrero, co-founder of Speed Rack and bar director of Llama San and Llama Inn in New York

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