John Barkley
Ti Adelaide Martin, co-owner of Commander's Palace in New Orleans, addresses an audience of foodservice pros at The Greystone Flavor Summit.
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Ti Martin Sounds Off at The Greystone Flavor Summit

Janet Fletcher - April 11th, 2014

New Orleans’ reputation as a drinking town doesn’t need any burnishing, but Ti Adelaide Martin can’t help herself. The dynamic co-owner of Commander’s Palace and self-described “cocktail chick” recently shared some tips on running a bar that prove she’s as expert at serving a drink as she is at making one.

Addressing an audience of volume foodservice pros at the Greystone Flavor Summit that Food Arts organizes and conducts in conjunction with The Culinary Institute of America, Martin—daughter of the legendary restaurateur Ella Brennan—listed some of her bar pet peeves, the annoying behaviors that she won’t permit at Commander’s.

Then she turned the stage over to Lu Brow, executive bar chef for the Commander’s Family of Restaurants, for the flip side: the little touches that make customers glad they came.

First the turn-offs:

• Attitude. Bar staff should be warm and hospitable, never condescending.
• Upselling. “None of us likes that, and we preach against it,” says Martin.
• Dirty bars or bartenders.
• A bartender more interested in the baseball game than in the client. The television may be de rigueur, but most people are “looking for a connection” when they come into a bar, says Martin.
• Stupid drinks. “If they order the stupid drink, OK, you take their money,” says Martin. But be an advocate for good taste. The smart drinks, presumably, can be found in Martin’s recipe collection, In the Land of Cocktails: Recipes and Adventures from the Cocktail Chicks.

And now the turn-ons:

• Acknowledge customers immediately. Make eye contact and let them know you’ll get to them as soon as you can.
• Involve guests in your R&D. Ask their opinion on a cocktail in development or their help in naming a new drink. “It’s a great way to start a conversation,” says Brow.
• Give every guest a glass of water, before they ask.
• Treat all guests equally. In her own experience, says Brow, women often get inferior service in bars.
• Look for ways to demonstrate hospitality. Brow’s bar staff will offer to take the camera and snap a few pictures when appropriate. “It doesn’t cost a dime,” she says, “and you’ve created a memory.”
• Encourage employees to remember client's names, favorite drinks, and special occasions.

“And, of course,” adds this experienced bartender, “to not remember when they don’t need to.”