If there should be one tool in your bartending arsenal, let it be the tapered pourer.
OK, assuming absolute basic items are a given: glassware, shakers, a knife, corkscrew, that kind of thing, then we are into the territory of items that make life easier, but not things we can’t live without or improvise. I propose the tapered pourer be the first critical item behind the bar after the basics.
I believe that great service means a couple of things, obviously the soft skills of the staff are one, great recipes well executed another, but what so often can make or break the atmosphere and customer experience is speed. You’ve got a hip interior, an achingly-cool music policy and all round great ambience, but if people get pissed off waiting 20 minutes for their drink order, all the rest of this carefully curated experience fades to the background and folks might not come back. People want a great drink and they want it tout de suite. This helps in both keeping people well lubricated; partly why they came to see you, but also from a business perspective, the quicker folks get served the quicker they are going to re-up and order another round.
There is no excuse for slow service. People don’t care how well groomed your beard is, or how dazzling your cufflinks may be, or that your equipment is plated in rose gold. A great recipe is just that, a carefully crafted set of ingredients - hand it over so I can get on with enjoying the company I’m with - I’m not here to wonder and worship at an alter. We assume you’ve put great care into developing the drinks, we don’t need to see you fussing reverentially over every step of building the drink. You are neither calibrating a swiss watch, nor handling radioactive materials in a laboratory. Efficiency of movement, accuracy and slight of hand are enough to let me know you know your perica. There may be enthusiasm for the elaborate serve, with creatively plumed garnishes, fantastic, but there is no need to labour over this either.
So to the crux of it, the face off between free-pouring and sticking religiously to measuring everything with a jigger. Obviously, accuracy is a critical aspect of making a good drink. To this end measuring every ingredient carefully using the jigger guarantees this, but it comes at the expense of speed and efficiency. I would argue that taking the time to have all staff practiced and experienced in free pouring with all your spirits and central ingredients is a surefire way to significantly cut down the time taken making drinks.
Of course it doesn’t happen over night, learning the rates of pour according to variable viscosity in different products, getting used to volumes delivered by various tincture or bitters bottles and the like takes time. But it is possible to learn a personal head count and get very well tuned to a fine degree of accuracy in pouring ounces, half ounces, thirds and quarters, etc. Now, obviously for dashes or smaller volumes, you have a bar spoon or similar items, but for the biggies, free-pouring is the way to go.
Having a hand free to do other small tasks, pouring two ingredients simultaneously, requiring less elbow room, there are umpteen valuable points to score in the efficiency stakes. Grabbing bottles and pouring long glistening arcs of liquor into your mixing glass looks great too for those concerned with the theatrics, and to be honest, providing you are in fact accurate with you counts and you are smashing perfectly balanced drinks out, it commands even greater kudos than laboriously shaving, trimming, caressing and noodling around trying to justify the expense by making it look complicated. With notable exceptions, and with all materials to hand, most drinks can be thrown together in a minute or two tops.
So no more fumbling and faffing around, to all of you I say down with the jigger.