Bartenders vs. Mixologists: What’s the Real Deal?

Culture | by Kathryn McDermott | 06.28.2019

Society loves to declare fancy words and titles for almost anything—descriptions that are meaningless dribble, deluding us into nonexistent grandeur. Our sensibilities, fine-tuned to continually intercept buzzwords like ‘small batch,’ ‘fair trade,’ and ‘organic or non-GMO,’ have desensitized us—it’s an artisan world today and we are all seduced to buy-in. ‘Craft’ doesn’t necessarily mean better quality; it will just cost you more for the illusion. So how do we distinguish what is reality and what’s façade when it comes to the superiority of our food & drink choices?


There is heated debate over what to call the person who pours your drink. A dissonance has emerged within the service community as of late over the use of the term ‘mixologist’ versus the more traditional ‘bartender’ moniker— and opinions are definitely split within their own circle.  HuffPost Taste recently, and quite pointedly, touted in the title of their article: Don’t Even Think About Calling Your Bartender A Mixologist. Here’s Why. –and it makes a good case.


Speaking with a variety of industry pros, opinions sway both ways— however, one comment in particular from a head bartender was quite astute and drives home the sense of camaraderie and comfortability that is supposed to accompany great service:


“Personally I prefer the term bartender because I think it’s more encompassing of what we do. Mixologist sounds very recipe and cocktail focused, while a bartender creates drinks but also manages a room, interacts with guests and so on. Since there aren’t many terms for bartender, unlike the different levels of chef, I do understand why people use [the term ‘mixologist’] to describe bartenders in cocktails bars and our particular style.”


Another quipped that he hoped they didn’t start referring to themselves in the future as ‘cocktail chefs.’ The idea of that may sound far-fetched now, but really? The more we allow buzzwords to influence our purchase patterns the more likely we’ll reach the pinnacle of silly, arbitrary designations instead of focusing on remarkable service that seeds customer loyalty. We don’t need ‘chefy’ bartenders, let alone, ‘chefy’ mixologists—we just need a drink, damnit.


Does a title upgrade the level of service we receive? It should enhance it, right? As insiders have asserted, it’s not necessarily true. In fact, sometimes it steps a bit farther apart from artisanal and leads straight into arrogance—losing sight of what’s authentic.


As another insider points out to Vice: “Some priests of the cocktail churches have epic reputations for being surly-ass motherfuckers and soon enough the everyday joint was the haunt of the industry’s newest slogan.”


And what’s their best advice for pros when it comes to making the most out of a life of libations and avoiding the drama of entitlement that may come with it? It’s simple. Focus on the expertise, not the bravura; cheers to that.