Four Miami Bartenders on the Strategy of Service

The Sylvester’s bar team believes “there’s no traffic on the extra mile.”

Tales of the Cocktail Foundation presents The Great Bar Race sponsored by GREY GOOSE® celebrates the often unrecognized acts of service and the industry professionals who execute them in a competition that puts their skills and teamwork to the test. For more information on how to enter and to attend a live event, see the Great Bar Race site.

As happens with many organizational efforts these days, the members of the winning team in Miami’s Great Bar Race came together via social media. Four months before the Grey Goose–sponsored event, which is hosted by Tales of the Cocktail, Derek Stilmann saw a promotional video on Instagram and immediately began tagging his co-workers at The Sylvester, a Miami cocktail bar known for its nostalgic Florida aesthetic. As the bar’s manager, Stilmann quickly enlisted three candidates to compete under the team name “Slumdog Slingers.” He explains: “My teammates’ skills are uniquely different from one another, but the one universal skill I believe we all have is that we are all organized and communicate well.”

Great Bar Race Miami

Derek Stilmann (left) and Rensel Cabrera (right).

Rensel Cabrera, The Sylvester’s senior bartender, is a prime example of this ethos. He’s known among his peers for going out of his way to make guests feel that they’re a part of The Sylvester experience, “not only because that’s our job but because that is the philosophy we work with every single shift,” he says. As the team’s overall strategist, he went so far as to arrive at the venue several hours ahead of the Race’s kickoff so he could study each challenge and draw up a game plan for which teammate should be deployed where.

His pregame scouting became the team’s first line of defense, rendering competitions like Sure Shot—a test of free-pouring prowess—a breezy exhibition of skill. With a winning time of 43 seconds, the Slumdog Slingers blazed through the challenge with record speed. In many ways, scouting out the competition was no different than the pre-shift prep Cabrera would do any day when arriving to work. As Slumdog teammate Christopher Sanu says, “Do your job! Nothing fancy, just efficiency, speed and accuracy.”

Josue Gonzalez, the team’s final member, echoes this sentiment. “Great service is when someone is aware of your needs and anticipates them. Good hospitality starts with caring. Great hospitality comes with experience.” Having participated in Tales of the Cocktail’s Bartender Boxing events over the past couple of years, Gonzalez describes himself as “the secret weapon of the team.” In peak athletic form, he sped through ingredient-gathering in Barback in a Haystack, powered the stationary bike in Sure Shot, and ran around wearing a Martini glass helmet during the Funky Cosmo final challenge.

Great Bar Race Miami

Josue Gonzalez (left) and Christopher Sanu (right).

“I guess you could say that I was the energy and driving force,” says Gonzalez. “I was also always dancing and entertaining the crowd when I wasn’t actually doing a challenge, bringing positive recognition to our team.” He was also responsible for the team’s name and shabby-flamboyant aesthetic, on display in their garish, oversized sport coats.

As the afternoon went on, the team became a well-oiled machine, each member tuned in to their particular role at the outset of every competition—no different than a typical night at The Sylvester.

Scenes from the Competition

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