Bartending Guest Shifts: My Experience

 


First, a little background. When I joined the prestigious Bacardi Legacy in the Philippines in 2015, one of the biggest challenges in that competition was how to market my cocktail. Incidentally I had a friend who used to be my client who asked how much I would charge for a “guest shift.” I actually said it depends, as I probably had to consider my transportation expenses, food and labor at the time. But in my head I did not really have a clear concept of what a guest shift was.
So I asked around and did some research and soon realized that there are some bartenders who actually do guest shifts for a living! It really got me interested. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense—see, I myself would jump at the chance to see an international bartender like Luca Cinalli, Shingo Gokan to Peter Chua and Din Hassan, for instance.
Locally, guest shifts were still not a thing, but I thought why not try it out, for free, even, since I also wanted to promote my drink anyway? And so I did.
More Guest Shift Opportunities Roll In
Then in November 2016 I had my first trip to New York and Adam Seger of Tuck Room gave me a spot in his bar for a shift which I was pretty damn excited about. First of all he took me to a tour of his place and wow it was pretty awesome. He even had a secret room for VIPs! Here was where I got introduced to the Heizenberg which is a tower of beakers with ingredients and this would be infused by pouring liquid nitrogen several times until the right infusion is achieved. I already have my own here but haven’t launched it yet.
Then the following year, brother Aki Wang of Indulge Experimental Bistro invited me over to do a two-day guest shift in both Indulge and Marco Polo. This was a bit more intense since my cocktail had a lot of prepping and squeezing involved. In any case it was a great experience. I also met some talented bartenders in both establishments. In fact Kevin of Marco Polo even joined Bacardi Legacy.

I afterwards did a guest shift in Boracay in Prisma and I was actually overwhelmed by the Filipino bartenders who came to attend. I wasn’t really expecting that turnout since I didn’t really think of myself as a superstar and I haven’t really been mainstream but just in my own little corner of the world. I was honored and humbled to be in the line up of brother Agung, Andrew, Sam, and Sandeep.
Then my second trip to New York where I had a shift at Von bar featuring Pinoys! It was pretty humbling because it was industry night and all proceeds go to charity.
My most recent guest shift was in Singapore, which I talked about in my blog My Singapore Trip from May 5-11, 2018. This one was really a spur-of-the-moment thing but I did welcome it with open arms and now I have a deeper understanding about what a guest shift is.
So What is a Guest Shift?
A guest shift is when a bartender gets to work behind the stick of his friend’s bar whether he gets paid or not. He has an option to be invited or invite himself. There is nothing wrong with inviting yourself since the worst answer you can get is a no.
But why do a guest shift?
My answer is you learn a lot of things. From the bar, the bartenders that are your friends and you develop the friendship more because of that, the guests there and yourself as well as the culture of the country. Of course if one reaches a certain status in the industry then he will probably get paid to work behind the stick or even just have his plane fare and accommodation taken cared of by the host.
But let me tell you this, GUEST SHIFT is OPEN to everyone. In the end it is who you know and how close you are to this person or bartender. If they trust you then by all means they will invite you.
Are You Guest-Shift Ready?
Needless to say, however, is to not embarrass yourself: you should really deliver the best level of service that you can. You should be ready yourself before attempting to do a guest shift. Obviously since you will have guest contact you do not want to be a laughing stock or to compromise yourself in any way.
From your bio, to list of ingredients of your cocktails, to preparation, set up until breakdown everything must be flawless.
But do not be ashamed to say if you do not know something. In my case at the time I didn’t know how to use a sous vide yet but I do know what a sous vide is. And of course now I will buy one to test what I have learned. Nobody is perfect but doing a guest shift lets you exchange ideas with your host.
So how do I end this? A guest shift is a good way of learning and testing your skills and your cocktails. It also shows if people trust you or are willing to give you a shot in their “home.” Do not be disappointed if you get rejected. That only means two things, slots are full or it’s not yet time.
This is just my two cents worth and each bartender has his own opinion on this matter.
So, that said, if you guys know of any current open slots for guest shifts, you know where to find me! Learning never stops, and at 42, there is more to do.
Peace out!

 

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