Mastering the Art of the Deal at the Bar

A bartender muses on one regular's skillful courting of customers.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the July 2011 issue of . Subscribe »

Even though it may strike you as simple advice, it bears repeating: Get to know your bartender. Of the cast of characters in your life--friends, doctors, lawyers, real estate agents and so on--bartenders rank among the most useful, especially for business professionals.

Take it from someone who has seen it all: Your performance at the bar can render the old mahogany a ladder or a slide, either raising your profile or eviscerating it. This truth was never more evident to me than when I met a soon-to-be regular who mastered the art of the deal at the bar.

His name was Frank. He walked in, sat down and placed an order at my bar: bourbon, rocks. He was a tall, impressive figure with an easygoing demeanor. Instantly likable. During a lull, he asked me about my favorite drinks. We got to talking about a classic Old Fashioned, sans fruit--just rye whiskey, a little sugar syrup, bitters and a thin lemon peel.

It's a drink everyone thinks they know, but often they only know its fraudulent imitation, drowned in soda water with neon-red cherries and half-perished orange slices. I made the classic version for Frank and he loved it. Upon leaving, he thanked me, handed me his card (along with a generous tip) and promised to return with friends.

It was a few weeks later when he did. He introduced me to his guest and asked for an Old Fashioned, which he described in detail to his companion, just as we had discussed (giving credit, of course, where credit was due). He railed against the syrupy-sweet mess most bars call an Old Fashioned and likened the classic to drinking a piece of history.

Frank was a consultant whose business style was similar to an Old Fashioned: classic and service-oriented. To Frank, the drink wasn't just a drink--it was an indication of quality. At that point, there was no need for him to make a pitch for the client's business. He already had it.

Frank brought in many more guests. Every time he strode through the door, it was like seeing an old friend. The clients he brought weren't just there for a pitch: They were among friends. Or at least that's how they felt. I would start the drink as soon as I saw them walk in. Within seconds, he'd have two Old Fashioneds waiting for him.

It was a mutual relationship. I enjoyed Frank's enthusiasm and being in on the deal. And, every time, he nailed it.

-- Self-described "booze nerd" Derek Brown co-owns Washington, D.C.'s The Passenger and Columbia Room. he is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild.

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