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Patience vital for cocktail movers and shakers

Published on Thursday, 05 Jul 2012
James Leung
Photo: Thomas Yau

Bartenders are the heart and soul of a bar. Besides being able to make a mean cocktail, however, they also need a number of other skills to progress in their careers.

James Leung is manager of Tiffany’s New York Bar at InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong. He says that while a bartender’s main duty is to make cocktails, they will become more involved in management duties as they work their way up. “As a bar manager I have to think of marketing and promotion strategies for the bar, supervise staff and create signature cocktails. Despite all these duties, I still spend time making cocktails because this is my passion,” he says.

Creating signature cocktails can be a mind-boggling process. Leung says he needs to come up with new cocktails every three months to keep things fresh for his patrons.

“Customers get bored drinking the same thing so I have to give them something new. I read other bartenders’ blogs and do research online to look for ideas. I have to experiment several times before coming up with a satisfactory product,” he says.

Like a chef, a bartender has to have a good memory to remember recipes and ingredients, though this is not all they need. “Having a good memory certainly helps but the key to success in the industry is to be hard-working and have the desire to learn. The industry is ever-changing and a bartender has to learn continuously to keep up with the latest trends,” says Leung.

Most bartending skills are learned on the job, but for beginners, there are training courses offered by the Hong Kong Bartenders’ Association.

The working hours for bartenders are long and often involve overtime. Leung officially does nine-hour shifts but he often works from 3pm to 3am. “The bar is like my second home. As a bartender you have to adjust to working late into the night. Weekends and holidays are the busiest times. When people are having a good time, it is time for us to work, so bartenders tend to only take days off during the week,” he says.

Many young people are attracted by the glamour of the job but few have the patience and persistence to succeed, according to Leung. “The industry is never short of young talent but many give up after a year. Youngsters are too aggressive – they think that with a year of experience, they should be in management.

“My advice to them is to stay patient and learn as much as possible. There is no limit to the things to learn in bartending. I have been in the job for 12 years and every day, I am learning,” he says.


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