Behind the Bar

A beverage guru dishes on drinks and the nature of hospitality

Kendra Rizzi serves as corporate beverage manager for Culinary Concepts—a collection of five area restaurants including Pazzo!, Yabba, The Saloon, and Chops in Naples and Bonita Springs—and counts herself lucky to work for a company that allows her to be creative and share her passion with customers. “Whatever you do, you should have a passion for it,” she says. “Mine is for creating a memorable guest experience.” Here, she shares some insight into the life of a mixologist. 

NI: How long have you been tending bar?
Since I was 21. I lived in Hawaii, moved to Naples 17 years ago, and have worked on Fifth Avenue South ever since. I’ve watched it go from a sleepy, undeveloped street to the thriving hub of Naples.

What do you enjoy most about the job?
I’m in love with the connection I have with the guests. I enjoy every aspect of getting to know customers, making them feel comfortable and part of the family. It’s pretty amazing when they go out of their way to see you. Let’s face it, they’d be drinking somewhere that night, but they chose your bar.

Did you have any mentors or inspirational figures?
My mother was in the hotel business, and she taught me to always go all out, do your best, [and] if you believe in something, never stop short.

Describe your process for creating a cocktail.
I begin by separating all the liquor on the bar: gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, amaro. Everything gets tasted, and you start asking questions. Can it stand alone, or do I want to mix it? Is it something I can build a cocktail around? When we come up with the cocktail recipes, the executive chef comes out and tastes them, and we decide which ones to put on the list. I do the same thing when they develop dishes for the menu. We utilize each other’s talents because it’s a very similar process figuring out how and why things go together.

How do you deal with customers who don’t know what they want?
It’s a process of getting to know the person and their preferences. I’ll go through the cocktail section and highlight the popular items. We have such a wide range of cocktails that we can find something for everyone. My job is to open your mind to different tastes and combinations.

Here’s what everyone wants to know: How much should you tip the bartender?
I think you should evaluate the experience from start to finish. How much do you appreciate what the bartender has done for you? If you do, the normal range would be between 20 and 25 percent.

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