We just like a good drink. It doesn’t have to be the trendiest thing in the world.

With a decade of experience behind the bar, Andrew Volk had a front row seat to the craft cocktail boom in Portland, Oregon when he worked at Clyde Common with Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Watching that city’s scene evolve from being a great food and beer town into a town on the cutting edge of craft cocktails was, in Volk’s words, “phenomenal.”

A Slower Pace

But when Volk moved back to Maine and opened the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club in 2013, he wanted it to have a different vibe. It is New England, after all. According to Volk, “One thing that I really like about being back in New England, and northern New England, and Portland, Maine in particular, is that while we are aware of what is going on in trends and what people are doing cutting edge, everything up here is a little bit slower.” And that’s just the way he likes it.

I think, first and foremost, it’s about service for us. Cocktails, and the geeky side of things, and technique and all that is a lot of fun but if you can’t make people feel welcome and if you can’t show them a good time and make them want to come back, then everything else is for naught.

For a Good Time

“We want to be a bar first and a place to get good cocktails second. When I say bar, I mean a place where people can hang out and talk and enjoy themselves, regardless of what they’re drinking.” That easy atmosphere comes from Volk’s philosophy on bartending: “For me, a bartender is about service and it’s about showing people a good time.”

Focusing on the atmosphere doesn’t mean they don’t pay attention to their drinks. While they may not be exploring Tiki trends or focusing on obscure spirits, there’s no shortage of flavors to experience on the menu. From making their own simple ginger syrup to crafting cocktail descriptions with a touch of humor, Volk and his staff strive to provide every customer with the best drink they’re ever going to have, and that keeps them coming back.

5 Tips to Improve Your Bar’s Customer Service

  1. Recruit the right talent. To start with, every good bartender needs “a good smile and the ability to talk to all different kinds of people. And talk about not just bartending but just have a conversation.” Test their conversation skills during the interview. Are you enjoying their company? “On top of that there’s plenty of other technical skills. I think for me, a bartender is about service and it’s about showing people a good time.”
  2. Train your staff to anticipate a guest’s needs. The best service is offered before it’s requested. A guest should never be left with an empty glass before being offered another round. Go above and beyond to take care of people like they’re guests in your own home.
  3. Serve what the guest will enjoy, not what you want to promote. Having a trendy feature menu is great, but if your guest is into draft beer, serve the best draft he can get…with a smile. If someone else wants to “sit down and geek out about dilution ratios or residual sugars in vermouth,” be ready for that. But you don’t need to share your resume with every single guest.
  4. Create a comfortable atmosphere. “When I say bar, I mean a place where people can hang out and talk and enjoy themselves, regardless of what they’re drinking.” Create a place where people would just feel comfortable gathering and being with friends.
  5. Stay flexible. Be ready to update your menu seasonally based on what drives your local economy. “[Portland is] a pretty tourist-driven economy in the summertime. You’ll see there are restaurants that some locals won’t go to from June through September because they’re full of tourists. Three months of the year, things are totally different.”

Connect with the Bartender

Andrew Volk owns Portland Hunt + Alpine Club in Portland, Maine, and was named a 2014 StarChefs.com Coastal New England Rising Star Bartender. Connect with Andrew on Twitter, Instagram, and behind the bar at the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club.