I started thinking about this when I noticed that bars started installing auto tap systems. These systems are designed to pour an exact amount of liquor into a drink and bar owners install them to minimize profit loss. The problem I have with this is that I always envisioned the classic bartender as being a master of mixing drinks. Each bartender has their own way of mixing drinks and in different quantities, giving each drink a “signature”.
I used to go to a bar when I was in college specifically for the Old Fashioneds that one of the bartenders made. They were to die for and because they were so memorable, that bar got more of my business than any other bar in the area. There are memorable signature drinks like that spotted throughout my adult life and, without hesitation, I will go back to these bars if I’m ever in the area whether I have that drink I remember or not.
If most bars implement this system of hamstringing the bartenders to make a buck, most people will still go to the bars and they will still pay out the nose for these drinks. Just look at the fast food market! Fast food restaurants make their burgers and sauces in a facility far away from the counter you pick it up from. They get sent to the store where the employees make it (ideally) using very constrained instructions and portions. By all rights, that burger in front of you is a hamburger, but it isn’t a good hamburger. If you wanted a good hamburger, you’d go to a pub, or a restaurant you know makes good burgers.
The same thing applies for bars. Most people will still go and drink, but the drinks won’t be memorable. Bar owners will have to rely even more on the ambience of their bar. If you know anything about the bar industry you know that this can already make or break a bar, and what works today may not work tomorrow.
If you’re going to cut off the bartenders ability to add a little flair and tweak each drink specifically for the imbiber, you might as well just started making premixed drinks. Just start a bottling company that premixes the rum with the coke or the gin with the vermouth and send those bottles of perfectly mixed, perfectly portioned beverages to each bar in the country and take the art completely out of it. Heck, let’s just bring back the automat craze from the fifties, fire all the bartenders and just put bottled drinks behind a glass door and let the customer just drop money into a machine to get it! Then we can just sit around in a sterile building getting ourselves drinks that were made in a facility in China… or we could all go home sit comfortably with our friends and a couple bottles of booze, mixing our own drinks.
I really don’t think it will ever get that extreme. Thankfully, there are still some people out there that have some sense and understand what a bartender is actually supposed to be doing. I, for one, will continue to frequent establishments that make me drinks that have a little panache.