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What Do You Need to Know to Be a Successful Cocktail Waitress?

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Being a successful cocktail waitress takes more than knowing how to take drink orders. Cocktail waitresses -- usually called cocktail servers -- need to have a variety of skills, competencies and professional characteristics. Many cocktail servers enjoy a following of regular customers who appreciate good customer service skills and a friendly attitude. Enjoying a cocktail in a comfortable environment with good service is key to success.

Math Skills

A cocktail waitress doesn't need to know complex mathematical equations; however, a successful cocktail server should have the ability to quickly add, subtract, multiply and divide. When there is a large crowd to serve or when a small group is splitting the tab for drinks among several people, the cocktail server should easily calculate the amounts due for their drinks.

Customer Service

Enjoying cocktails with a group of friends or coworkers can turn from a fun social outing to a bad experience, depending on the quality of customer service. Being a successful cocktail waitress requires knowing how customer service can affect your customers' experience and your take-home pay. Knowing effective customer service skills is important for any cocktail waitress. While poor customer service can result in losing customers, providing excellent service can mean the difference between many repeat customers and, possibly, better tips.

State Law

In some jurisdictions, establishments that serve alcoholic beverages may be held liable for incidents that arise from customers who consume more liquor than they can handle. Successful cocktail waitresses need to know applicable state or local laws that determine to what extent they can be liable for an inebriated customer's actions as well as the safety of other customers. In addition, most states require that alcoholic beverage servers have up-to-date Training for Intervention Procedures (TIPS) certification on what to do when someone has overindulged.

Common Drinks

Knowing the difference between whiskey and bourbon or being able to describe the subtle differences between two red wines are the qualities of a successful cocktail waitress. In addition, you should have the knowledge to explain to customers the ingredients in certain mixed drinks or trendy cocktails. The ability to recommend specialty drinks or cocktails based on a customer's preferences is also helpful.

Value of Memory

Many customers like to be acknowledged when they visit the same establishment; they're called "regulars." A successful cocktail waitress should recognize the value of a good memory by remembering regular customers, what they like to drink or how they prefer to be served.


Alcohol has the potential to make some customers lose their inhibitions. When this happens, a customer might make a proposition or act in a manner that's uncharacteristic. If this happens, a successful cocktail waitress should know how to discreetly handle the customer without offending him. A successful cocktail waitress knows when to address matters like this in a firm and professional manner.


Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In addition, she earned both the SHRM-Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), through the Society for Human Resource Management, and certification as a Senior Professional Human Resources (SPHR) through the Human Resources Certification Institute. Ruth also is certified as a facilitator for the Center for Creative Leadership Benchmarks 360 Assessment Suite, and is a Logical Operations Modern Classroom Certified Trainer. Ruth resides in North Carolina and works from her office in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

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