Bartender Ambassador Series: A Conversation with Troy Clarke
Troy Clarke is the founder and co-owner of Twelve24 Cocktail Gear & Accessories and a former president of the US Bartender’s Guild. An award-winning mixologist and expert in bar design and bartender training, Troy has over 20 years of experience, and has worked with Ritz Carlton, Starwood Hotels, and others. We asked Troy about being a bartender, ideal bar design, running a profitable bar, and what mistakes he sees most often.
Can you give us an idea of how much you’ve seen in your career?
I came up starting as a dishwasher and worked in all facets of the industry. I was fascinated by how everything had a place and I loved learning about large scale events at hotels and understanding how to handle 2,000 to 3,000 people.
I really fell in love with the beverage side of things, there were so many layers to understand. Now I’m involved in designing and developing tools and making things better from a quality standpoint.
Is bartending a demanding job?
I think being a bartender is probably one of the most difficult positions of the food/beverage industry. I say that not to lessen any of the other positions, but when you think about what a bartender has to do; they have to know the food menu, they have to know the specials of the night, they’re creating on demand.
They’re keeping the flow of the restaurant. They’re keeping order behind the bar, keeping people entertained, and making sure that it’s a place they want to come enjoy. They might even be their own barback, too.
If the food is coming out a little slow, you need to send a drink over, you have to get orders out, you have to control the service bar, you have to make sure you don’t run out of things, you have to make sure your team is fully stocked, etc.
If you don’t have an organized workstation and all the right tools, it might be chaos behind that bar. It might also be very dirty.
How does having an ideal bar setup make life easier?
It lets you know what you have. If your kitchen isn’t organized, you don't know what's available to you, you don't know what you've prepped, you don’t know where things are.
A guest walks in and asks, “What can you make me?”
If you look down and everything’s all over the place, you don’t really know what you really can do for that customer.
My slogan is, “The least amount of steps is the most amount of money.”
It allows you to make things faster and more efficiently and create better experiences for your customers. Having your garnishes cut, your liquor organized and your glassware within an arm’s reach; there are so many things that are imperative to having a really good workstation.
What are some examples of unproductive bar setups that you’ve seen?
Unproductive could mean having one well with three bartenders working, so there’s only one place where people can make a drink. How productive can you be in that scenario? Maybe the POS is blocking service to the guests, or you don’t have enough of them. If things aren’t levelled and sealed behind the bar, you can have issues with cleanliness and cleaning.
If you don’t have enough space to put bottles you’ll have problems. You’ll see that a lot where someone didn’t stop and think, “What type of establishment am I going to have?”
Sometimes people are plugging and playing with different pieces of equipment and there’s no flow. They’ve got all the beer coolers, but they didn’t leave enough space for the cocktail menu. You have to understand what it is you’re trying to achieve when building a restaurant.
What’s the DNA of my concept? What am I trying to achieve? That helps identify the space you’re going to create.
What do restaurant owners often overlook in designing their bars? What are the consequences?
I often see missed opportunities in the layout of the equipment. Sometimes they’ll get the right equipment but they don’t put it in the right place. If the sink is in the wrong spot, every time you shake a drink, there’s nowhere to dump the spent ice or rinse your stuff. It throws off your whole flow every time you’re making a drink.
Lots of places forget the drip rail. That gets left out because of the aesthetics, or maybe they were getting a special marble top and forgot and it was too late. A lot of times this is because bartenders haven’t been involved at all in the design.
What do you think is the toughest part about owning a bar?
There are so many things. One of the hardest things, and I’m not speaking from an owner’s standpoint, is hiring the right people. If you have good people, they’re going to look after you. If you take care of them, they’re going to take care of you.
Owners will probably tell you that making enough money and profit is one of the hardest things.
Also, it’s the competition. Today it’s very social media-driven and it’s becoming more important than ever to develop your online presence to separate yourself from the pack.
How will having happy bartenders make your establishment more profitable?
If you’re not taking care of people and providing opportunities to grow within your organization, people are going to go somewhere else where they can get that.
I also think that equality behind the bar is extremely important; holding people accountable and making sure that the expectation is the same for everyone. It doesn't matter if you’re male, female, if you’ve been doing this for five years or one. Everyone is held to the same standard behind that bar.
A friend of ours who owns multiple places and is part of our team, he has a system in place where they put money aside every month for the year and they go on a trip. It’s an educational trip that they take the whole team on. They have a different bar come to do a pop-up so their employees can get away. Everyone looks forward to that every year to a new location. That’s just one of those things that makes you want to be somewhere.
What would your ideal setup look like?
For me, the ideal bar would be completely organized and super, super sanitary. I’m one of those neat freaks that has everything really clean and organized. It would be ergonomically correct, and it would have all the bells and whistles for sure.
Why did you decide to partner with Krowne?
I think that their approach to designing and building a bar is absolutely first class.
Their BarFlex 3D concept, to be able to know exactly what you’re walking into without spending a dime, to make sure it’s done the right way, I think that really shows that they care about the end result more than anything.
Before they build anything, you can feel it, walk it, and make sure everything’s in the right place for the type of establishment that you’re building. Whether that’s super high volume, cocktail-driven, just a beer/wine bar, or whatever the case may be. Nobody else is doing that. I’m excited to help build on what they’ve created there.
I also got to tour the Krowne facility, talk to the team members, understand how they do things and the quality control that’s in place. It was quite impressive to say the least.
What do you look for in terms of the bartender efficiency specialists at your company, Twelve24?
We work with bartenders all over the country. We look at their working relationships, how they treat other people, and their thought processes.
We want people that bring a different perspective, people that don’t cut corners, and people that want to help push our industry forward. We’re all about positive changes for our industry; making better equipment, better gear, and better bar designs for the people behind those bars.