Restaurants and bars all over the country just closed out what was likely a profitable Cinco de Mayo weekend of serving margaritas, Corona and other colorful cocktails to revelers who may not have any cultural connection to the holiday, but who just enjoyed the good times and merriment with friends and strangers.

In honor of all of the bartenders who raked in the tips over the weekend of the 5th of May (and every weekend thereafter now that warmer weather is here), I thought I’d make a case for the untapped power in the restaurant bartender to boost profits and customers.

When done right, the men and women behind the bar could possibly mean the difference between a restaurant’s success or failure. Don’t believe it? Just think about the margins on drinks alone; liquor and beer generates anywhere between 75% and 90% profit margins, according to sources I’ve looked into. For example, a Moscow Mule (vodka, ginger beer and lime juice) can yield a 90.6% profit (at just a 9.4% pour cost), according to The Cocktail Profitability Handbook, published by Bevspot.

Lots of reputable industry sources point out the benefits of a good bartender. However, I also asked Mark Goyetche, one of my favorite bartenders at one of my favorite neighborhood eateries, Lopez on Lee, to verify the ways that the restaurant bar can be a godsend.

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, Mark and I narrowed down the following 5 ways that a good bartender can rake in profits for restaurants.

  1. “Where everybody knows your name…” Seriously, while all restaurant bars can’t be as cool, fun and welcoming as the fictitious “Cheers,” the fully bought-in bartender can single-handedly keep regular customers and cultivate new ones just by engaging them: knowing their names, what they like to drink, suggestive selling and, probably most importantly, remembering them when they return. Bevspot, once again, reported that regulars can make up between 60% and 75% of a restaurant’s customer base.
  2. Part bartender, part restaurant spy. Yes, spy. The bartender (good ones, anyway) usually has a keen view of what’s going on in the restaurant. He can observe customer behavior in the bar and dining room, the condition of the restaurant, note customer favorites, length of customer visits, and more, and report these to management for necessary changes or improvements in the operation.
  3. Stay on top of inventory. A good bar manager, or responsible and dedicated bartender, can save restaurant management a lot of time and trouble if appointed to the duty of checking in deliveries. Also, he or she can be a huge asset toward the restaurant’s bottom line by being a partner in taking care of and maintaining the liquor inventory.
  4. Food, glorious food. Adding more food items to the bar menu (along with a little suggestive selling on the part of the bartender), can lengthen and increase customer visits and increase their spend in the establishment.
  5. Oh yeah – make a good cocktail! This may seem self-explanatory, but a good bartender should be able to not only make all of the basic mixed drinks – but have the freedom to make up new and fun cocktails. The term used a lot in the bartending world now is “mixology,” the art of crafting exotic and new cocktails with perfection. According to The Restaurant Times, a star bartender or “mixologist” can draw and keep customers just by employing a little flair and theatrics with a cocktail shaker.

The bar and restaurant shouldn’t be in competition with each other. When management of both sides of the house work together, it can be pure magic for restaurant profits.