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Bartender vs. Mixologist – What’s the difference?

A bartender and mixologist – it’s all the same, right? Wrong! Although these two behind-the-bar superheroes often get mixed up, their roles and skill sets differ. 

While the title of a bartender is used broadly to describe a person who mixes alcoholic drinks, there is another title for master mixers, known as a mixologist. Although there is a slight overlap in the skills required for a mixologist and a bartender, they each have very unique roles. 

The Role of the Bartender

The most common place you will find a bartender is behind a bar, usually at clubs, pubs, restaurants, and bars. 

When tending the bar, they are expected to:

Make popular cocktails and the house specialities
Your typical bartender needs to know how to make all standard, classic cocktails and have a mental recipe book for any in-house speciality drinks the establishment may have. Bars are usually really busy with long lines, and a bartender should be able to pour out whatever the customers order off the top of their head and serve it as soon as possible. While bartenders sometimes create their own signature drinks, they are not required to develop their own recipes for drinks.

Work the register and manage the bar stock
Flipping bottles and mixing margaritas isn’t the only important job bartenders have; they need to monitor their bar stock and man the cash register. To keep the drinks and business flowing, bartenders must ensure their bar is fully stocked. Working the register is also important as messing up can lead to accounting errors and losses.

Keep calm under pressure:
A crowded bar can be an inexperienced bartender’s worst nightmare. A good bartender needs to be able to keep their cool in the most stressful of situations to keep drinks going out in the rush periods.

Be friendly
Bartenders deal directly with customers and need a friendly demeanour to chat with customers, especially when things are slow at the bar, and the customer has had a few drinks. Of course, it’s a lot more complicated in a nightclub setting, but they are still expected to maintain their personality.

The Role of a Mixologist

While there is no set environment for mixologists in the hospitality industry, they can be found in various bars and restaurants, with some even owning their own establishments.

Most mixologists do the following:

Create unique and extravagant cocktails
Mixologists make alcoholic drinks to the next level using high-end ingredients and out-of-the-box methods. As a result, the drinks they mix are usually exceptionally visually appealing and complex. They don’t only have every bar tool available in their arsenal, many incorporate non-traditional items to add their desired elements to their cocktails.

Keep up with industry trends while appreciating the history
Master mixologists keep up with the latest trends in the industry, follow other mixologists for inspiration, and are constantly learning the latest tricks to stay masters in their craft. But they also have an appreciation for the evolutionary journey cocktails have taken.

Work behind the bar
One of the reasons mixologists get confused with bartenders is because you will find them working behind the bar. If they are serving, it’s generally at a high-class bar, which is usually a bit slower, allowing them time to craft their masterpieces for clients or in a supervisory role, so they still have time to spend crafting their recipes.

With their more profound knowledge of ingredients and food pairing over regular bartenders, many mixologists consult for various bars and restaurants by developing cocktail menus for their establishments.

Bartenders choose to entertain the clientele with flair and good conversation while serving their drinks, while mixologists create an experience for the senses with their cocktails. Bartenders and mixologists follow very different passions in the alcohol section of the hospitality industry, and while their roles are different, neither is better than the other ( although they might disagree with that).

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