Why Bartender Respect Is Important For Your Spirits Brand Marketing

  • by Andi Whiskey
Why Bartender Respect Is Important For Your Spirits Brand Marketing

We see mistakes made all the time in spirits brand marketing. And how we know a spirits brand mistake was made? A bartender friend will send us the photo, making fun of the brand for not understanding the basics of bartending.

That’s why everything I’m about to share is so important for your brand. 

Bartenders’ Respect Goes A Long Ways

We had a spirits brand tell us once, “bartenders aren’t my customers, so I don’t care.” 

They were right. Partially. Bartenders aren’t spending money on your bottles. 

Their guests are. 

Bartender photography

And their guests’ experiences are directly reliant on the bartenders’ respect and knowledge for the bottles on their shelves. 

According to Nielsen data, nearly ⅓ of cocktail drinkers regularly opt for a “signature serve”, meaning a cocktail on a bar or restaurant’s signature menu. This is how you get your bottle to really move in on-premise locations. And to get on menu, bartenders need to respect your spirit enough to put it into a cocktail.

At the end of the day, bartenders understand how your spirit is consumed by customers better than you do. They know the nuance, if guests prefer it chilled or neat, with 1 olive or 3, light on the simple syrup or sweeter, in citrus or spirit-forward cocktails, etc. They know what keeps your bottle from collecting dust on shelves.

So earning their respect should be one of your goals and considerations in your digital marketing. 

Is Your Digital Marketing Bartender-Approved?

Bartenders are watching. When new bottles pop up on shelves, the social media-inclined bartenders will check you out. Many bartenders took to creating platforms for themselves on TikTok and Instagram, so they’re active and always looking for new brands to work with. So they’ll look into you.

When they pull up their feed, will they like what you have?

Here’s a quick list of things we recommend brands keep in mind, so as not to disrespect bartenders or lose bartenders’ respect:

  1. Don’t talk shit about cocktail prices in bars. What we mean is we’ve seen brands say things like, “Here’s how to make an old fashioned at home without the $20 price tag.” It shows ignorance to those in the industry, because that price point may be to accommodate pricey craft spirits, like your own. It may be because that bar pays their team better. It may be more about the experience. If you say that, it just sounds like you don’t know anything about the places your spirit lives.

  2. Along the same lines, stay away from saying something like, “Here’s how to make a ___ cocktail better than a bartender.” Sure, we get the sentiment, but have you checked that recipe with a bartender? Because you just challenged them, and if your recipe doesn’t hold up to snuff, you’ll lose their respect.

  3. Don’t show overpoured glencairns or rocks glasses. Bartenders laugh their asses off at this. And many bartenders are frustrated with the ignorance from brands. What happens is your brand posts a photo of overservice, let’s say 3 or 4 ounces of alcohol in a Glencairn. Then when the customer goes into a bar and gets half that in a glass, they think they’re being stiffed, when really, they’re being served the legal and correct amount. This is a HUGE problem in the industry. When in doubt, pour with a jigger and measure every single pour.

    An extra note on this:
    Neat pours should always be 1-2 oz of the spirit.
    Cocktails should usually be at most 3 oz of alcohol total in the cocktail. What this means is you should add up all of the ingredients that have alcohol, excl bitters (base spirits, secondary spirits, liqueurs, etc.). If you’re posting a cocktail recipe from a home bartender or any bartender, really, double check this.

    We’ve heard of brands getting in trouble for promoting overservice. And big name brands that we’ve worked with from beverage groups like Brown Forman have a legal team that are strict about adhering to the no more than 3 oz alcohol rule. Just something to think about.

  4. Don’t shake a cocktail that should be stirred and vice versa. If you post a cocktail recipe with coffee, cream, or citrus, it usually should be shaken. If it’s opaque/cloudy, it probably should be shaken.

    Otherwise, stir. Looking at you, martini shakers. Don’t do that. Bartenders roll their eyes so hard, they can see the back of their skull. 

    When in doubt, ask a bartender. (Or hit us up. For real, Nemo and I love to answer these questions for spirits brands. We get that you might not have bartended. We’re here to help.)

  5. Stop saying your spirit won’t cause hangovers. This just isn’t true. Alcohol is poison. At the end of the day, bartenders are poison-peddlers and they’re well aware. They get to see the effects on the daily, more than most.

    So don’t have pretentions about it. You’re not selling health elixirs. And definitely don’t mislead your customers. Google it. Alcohol causes negative effects, no matter how you distill it, cut it, whatever. Just because you removed the heads and tails does not mean it won’t cause hangovers or bad effects. That’s just how good distilling works, and you sound silly. 

At the end of the day, don’t disrespect the industry. They are your frontline with the customers. They need to be on your side, and you need to be on their side, because you’re all in it together to better the industry.

Let Go Of The Tight Hold On Your Branding

You’re in the spirits world and part of the industry now, whether you have prior experience in it or not. 

I give this spiel all the time, so I apologize if you’ve heard it, but it’s worth hearing again anyways.

Your brand is your baby. I get it. But just like a real life baby, for it to be a successful kid, it needs to grow up, leave the house, and grow a personality of its own.

You can instill your core values into your brand baby as it grows. That’s important. And make sure those core values stay a disciplined part of its existence. But you have to let others speak into its life. 

Now that it’s grown up, the bartenders are the people your baby’s hanging out with the most. They’re introducing it to others, learning all about it and supporting it in ways that help it grow in the industry. 

Is this metaphor getting weird for you yet?

The key point here is that bartenders know your spirit better than you do once you get it out there, and the best thing you can do for it is to let it grow up. You might have made your gin to be the best gin in gimlets, or you may have thought people would be sipping your vodka neat. Bartenders know the truth, though. 

Here’s an example of how a good bartender may greet a new guest at their bar, and the journey they’ll take them on to find the best thing to put in front of them:

Cocktail photography


Are you looking for a cocktail?

What’s your preferred base spirit?

Would you like something more spirit-forward (stirred and boozy) or citrus-based and refreshing?

Bitter, sweet or dry?

Balanced or Dynamic?

Are there any particular notes that are a must have in your cocktail? (Our Creative Director, Nemo, had a guest once ask for a cocktail that tasted like a freshly mowed lawn.) Grapefruit or coconut would be examples of slightly unique flavors a guest may want included.

Any allergy restrictions?

“Usually at this point I have a good idea of what the guest wants. If applicable I may give my music spiel and ask if they want their drink to live in the low, middle, or high note section of the scale. This is only if I have time with the guest, but I do find that this step allows them to really talk about their cocktail and their experience with those around them.” - Nemo Whiskey, Twist & Tailor Creative Director

While the guest is answering those questions, bartenders are thinking through the bottles they have on the bar that would provide the best experience for the guest. 

Your bottle is at the mercy of the bartender at that point, and the best you could have done was get it in their hand and had them try it so it was in their rolodex of spirits in their head. 

But now, the most responsible thing you can do as a spirits brand is listen to the bartenders. What are they saying about your spirit? What are they doing with it? What can you learn from them?

Ask questions. Get liquor to lips, then ask their thoughts and really listen.

Cocktail photography

This is Why Twist & Tailor is Made Up of All Bartenders

Shameless plug time. All of this is exactly why we only hire bartenders-turned-marketers for every role at our marketing agency.

If we’re going to bat for your spirits brand in the marketing environment, I want to make sure that our team is equipped to make sure your brand sounds like it knows what it’s talking about. We hold our team and ourselves to high standards, because at the end of the day, our mission at Twist & Tailor is to elevate the industry. We want to make sure we’re doing what we can to make it better, across the board.

If you want help from our team of bartenders with your digital marketing, schedule a call with us. We’d love to talk!

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