Behind the Bar

How an Award-Winning Vegas Cocktail Bar Nails High-Volume Service

The Herbs & Rye team at the 2016 Spirited Awards
The Herbs & Rye team, fresh off their 2016 Spirited Award win for Best American High-Volume Cocktail Bar. Photo by Doron Gild for Chivas.

Nectaly Mendoza, owner of Las Vegas bar Herbs & Rye, knows a thing or two about doing high-volume service well. Not only did his bar win Best American High Volume Cocktail Bar at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, but he himself was named Bartender of the Year at National 2016 Nightclub & Bar Awards.

Mendoza’s passion for hospitality and his team is evident in his voice as we talk over the phone about how he runs the country’s best high-volume bar. For him, communication and organization are key. “Since you're doing such high volume, such a large amount of coverage and guests, there really is no room for flaw,” he says. “Everything boils down to your check sheets, your checklists, and how you're executing everything top to bottom on a day-to-day operation making sure that your program is extremely on-point.”

To facilitate communication and organization, they have a system in place that interlocks each aspect of the bar. “Instead of just having somebody who places orders and writes them down on a sheet, having them go from having that checklist be the order sheet, and the order sheet matches the shelves on the actual liquor sheet,” Mendoza explains. “Just having everything organized, top to bottom, that way everything is in the same spot every single time, making sure that everything is completely dialed in and under control by every single person on your team.”

When you’re doing high volume, this kind of system makes everything easier. “Communication is there because you have checklists upon checklists for who has to do what, when, where, and how to execute it instead of just going out of sheer muscle memory,” he says. “They have to go off of the sheets that they have to re-evaluate and re-look at every single day; therefore, there's zero room for error.”

The cocktail menu at Herbs & Rye is structured by the different cocktail periods: Gothic Age (1776–1865), Golden Age (1865–1900), Old School Age (1900–1919), Prohibition (1920–1933), Years of Reform (1934–1949), Rat Pack Era (1950–1968), Tiki Boom (1969–1989), and Revival (1995–Present Day). There are four to eight drinks in each period, with “Revival” simply being bartender's choice. When asked whether that menu has anything to do with Herbs & Rye’s success, he says, “I don't think it really boils down to the menu. Of course you can put a bunch of three-component cocktails on there and hurry up and pump out drinks. It doesn't really make you high-volume. That just makes you somebody who can pour gin and tonics really fast.”

What they’re doing, without any pre-batching, is simply trying to execute an amazing cocktail program. “We do five- or six-component drinks all the time,” he explains. “To me, it has nothing to do with the cocktail list. It has to do with the execution.”

I ask if there are specific traits that make a bartender better suited to the challenges of doing high-volume. He deadpans: “Yes. They’re not assholes.” He laughs and elaborates on what that means: “You have to have open-minded, not pretentious bartenders who don't let things get to them and who most importantly know how to keep the balance of their sanity. Nobody can take you out of your element besides you.”

For Mendoza, then, it all comes down to organization, communication, and having the right team. “Understand that everything is everybody's job, and we are all here to complete one large task, and the way that we do that is by communicating and performing as a team—one solid unit opposed to individuals,” he says. “Bartending is like fingers on a hand: It's easy for one of those fingers to point. But if you ball them all together, you know you're going to create a bigger impact on the punch.”

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