Bartending might be just the career you are looking for if a life that channels your inner chef, an ability to read people and love for beverages is what interests you.
Bartending or serving beverages behind a bar is a potent combination of art, science and technique to concoct the right drink and has now emerged as an important part of the hospitality industry. Part psychic, part chef, and unleashing their gift of the gab, bartenders must mix-match and blend flavours to come up with the perfect drink.
Chanchal Das, lounge manager at Afraa, feels bartending is one of the world's most elite professions.
"It involves experimentation, innovation and, most importantly, the art of understanding the mood of the patrons in a jiffy and creating the right drink to make it a great experience for them," Das told IANS.
Bartending is not recognised as a 'serious' profession in India yet, though worldwide it is acknowledged as one of the most respectable professions.
"The view is now being understood in India but very slowly. Sure, there is some prejudice; that's because of lack of awareness and closed minds. It's up to us to break taboos and portray the right image," says Shatbhi Basu, who initiated and currently heads the first institution for professional bartending in India, STIR Academy Of Bartending, Mumbai. So what egged on them to buck the trend and go behind the bars?
"It appealed to the chef in me and gave me the chance to showcase my knowledge and skills," Basu told IANS.
For Shael Bhardwaj, assistant bar manager at the Plush lounge of the Astor hotel, it's the popularity and respect that fires his passion.
But it takes a lot of effort and skill to live such a life of glory and glamour.
"You have to be polite and smile, always. And be prepared to cater to a mixed crowd. Talk to them to get them to open up, but don't make them feel uncomfortable. You must know where to draw the line," says Shael, whose family was initially hesitant of his career path but then came around after seeing the respect he got.
Knowing when to draw the line, alcohol consumption wise, is another aspect.
"Educate them to drink responsibly, no crossing limits," emphasises Das.
Besides, one must hit the bull's eye when it comes to public relations.
"Maintaining contact with customers and knowing every regular by name and drink should be a priority," Shatbhi said.
Besides being in the right spirits, the technical aspect is the most crucial weapon when doling out class in a glass.
"A strong knowhow about beverages is a must and the idea about mixing what with what is also essential," affirmed Das.
Keeping up with what's in and what's out ensures crisp service.
"One has to make sure everything is available as per menu and beyond," said Shatbhi.
Shael agrees. Not all patrons ask for the regular items on the menu.
"See what is available, see what you can use that suits their taste," said Bhardwaj, who believes in instant recipes.
Although most of the action happens at the bar counters, behind-the-scene nitty-gritties are equally important.
"Keeping the bar completely ready for operations, and checking all equipment are safe and in perfect working condition are one of the many responsibilities," reveals Shatbhi.
As the captain of the ship, bartenders also face the task of managing their subordinates to keep the bar working like a well-oiled machine.
Moreover, they have to keep abreast with world trends, such as flair bartending and molecular mixology, to cater to patrons from abroad who form a large chunk of their clientele.
"Easy access to the web allows them not only to keep abreast of current developments but also to connect with people in the fraternity from across the globe," remarked Shatbhi, who has pioneered the art of flair bartending (art of entertaining that involves bar tools and liquor bottles, includes juggling or flipping acts) in India.
The new crop of friendly bartenders also spread the word via social networking sites.
"I regularly post about the new drinks that I come up with so that patrons can come and request them. Besides there are online groups for bartenders to exchange ideas," said Shael.
With increasing demands for professionally trained bartenders, specialised bar schools have sprung up and youngsters are eager to take it up as a full-fledged profession.
"It is a growing sector. With proper training, both academically and on-the-job, one can make a mark," assures Das.
Emphasising the importance of academic training, Bhardwaj thinks a lot can be learnt if one has a good mentor.
"I trained under a veteran and observing him at work helped me," disclosed Bhardwaj, who holds a degree in hotel management.
Inspiring both men and women with her skills, Basu advises: "Do it because you have the passion. Not because you think it's different or glamourous! You will then find a way to make it work for you."
(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at [email protected]