Linda Robinson began bartending nearly three decades ago at the age of 19 in the now defunct club, Celebrations in Boston’s Kenmore Square. Twelve years ago, after moving back to New England from Ontario, Canada, where her husband Dean’s family owned a hotel, she decided to get into the education business. The Robinsons now own the Dracut and Nashua locations of the Boston Bartenders School, imparting their knowledge of the business to a new wave of budding mixologists, everyone from college students to middle aged people changing careers and retirees looking for a fun job a couple nights a week.
What should a bartender do if a customer orders a drink that they do not know how to make?
They should always have a guide book at the bar with them. There are thousands of drinks and you typically memorize a couple of hundred of them that you are making all the time, so if they ask you something a little odd, I would simply grab my guide and look it up.
What is the most popular mixed drink?
Cosmopolitan. Absolutely the number-one drink in the country, From what I understand, the margarita is the number-one drink in the country all summer long.
Shaken or stirred?
Whatever looks better. Definitively stirred for martinis, regular ones, but all flavored martinis are shaken.
What is the most difficult component for students to learn about becoming a bartender?
People skills. Excellent people skills. A lot of people coming into this field new, assume that knowing their drinks would be the most important thing. But if we make a drink wrong, it is not relevant, if we’re very quick, if we apologize and treat people like the kings and queens they are supposed to feel like when they come out.
How important is the type of glass that you serve a drink in ?
Extremely important. When something looks attractive, people are more likely to continue to buy it. But, more importantly, from a service standpoint, if somebody were to get a frozen mudslide in a hurricane glass and pay $7 for it, and then come up and get a mudslide from another bartender who put it in a highball glass, for the same price, the person would feel like they were gypped. I drink wine and, honestly, if you pour a beautiful bottle of wine into a plastic cup at a barbecue, it does not taste as good as it does in a wine glass.
How do you know when to shut someone off at a bar?
That is always the most challenging part of our job. We always prefer to slow them down first, not force alcohol on them and try to make sure they eat when they are drinking as well. If we do have to shut someone off, we say “sorry, we can’t serve you anymore tonight,” and offer them something nonalcoholic. We always try to tell them why it is beneficial to them not to have anymore. I will tell them that I don’t want them to get into trouble, or hurt themselves or someone else.
What is the funniest or strangest thing you’ve seen as a bartender?
I’ve seen people do the body shots. Unbelievable. People start to put whipped cream in their bodies and are sucking it off each other. Body shots are definitely the thing that was unbelievable to me.
Do people typically tip more or less as they start to get a little tipsy?
This is a misconception among many people, including bartenders. People tip less if they’ve had too much to drink, because their judgment is no longer there. When they cannot think clear, they leave less money.
When you are at a function or a bar, do you find yourself continually critiquing a bartender’s skills?
Absolutely. We go out all the time, the two schools, all the different instructors will go out as a group. We definitely do watch the bartenders. We are terrible. You’ll see excellence and then you’ll see extremely poor skills and you wonder why someone is bothering to do it if they don’t have good skills, but I feel like that about all work.
What do you drink?
Australian wine I love. It’s really nice. And I like Chilean wines too.
What is your least favorite drink to make?
Frozen drinks because they are time-consuming. They take about two or three minutes to make, where you can make a 7 & 7 in 15 seconds, or a White Russian in 20 seconds.
What is in sour mix?
When it was first made, it was fresh lemons, and sugar with egg whites. It was made by scratch at one time. Today it comes either in a bag in a box already mixed, or in a dry powder form that you mix with water. It is probably sugar, the flavoring of lemon and dry egg whites, I would think.
On the rocks, or neat?
Neat, with rocks on the side.
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