Bartenders for festive parties


Demand for mixologists rises as Kenyan hosts seek an exciting experience for their guests. PHOTO | POOL

As families and friends reunite this weekend for end-of-year festivities, beverages are expected to feature as prominently as dishes on menus.

To light up their drinking experience, some hosts are hiring professional bartenders to prepare drinks for their parties at home.

Kenyans are embracing this practice as the number of local mixologists trained and certified, some internationally, grows.

Hiring a bartender essentially transports the bar from your favourite restaurant to your backyard or living room.

With a professional mixologist in charge, you will not be worried about wrecking your guests’ martinis with vodka or using too much spice that you destroy the essence of cocktails.

Patrick Mutua, head mixologist, Norwegian cruise line, based in Miami, USA. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Francis Ndung’u a bartender at Hero in Nairobi, notes that while the quality of drinks served at a makeshift bar at home is similar to those at a regular bar, the former offers a less formal but exciting experience.

‘‘You have the opportunity and time to break down each drink to the guests and to explain the art to them because it is a social event,’’ he says. 

Francis is the 2022 champion of the 2022 World-Class bartender competition organised annually by Diageo.

Mixologist and trainer Michael Onyango says the popularity of cocktails among Kenyans has created a market for bartenders, adding that it is both liberating and more lucrative to work as a freelance bartender than to work in an establishment.

‘‘Years back, Kenyans would order a beer, cold or warm. If wine, the bartender’s job was to determine if dry or sweet. These days, Kenyans are exploring flavours and syrups and different types of spirits such as gins, vodka and whiskies,’’ says Onyango, a bartender of 12 years. 

Michael Onyango better known as Mixologist Mike during the launch of Gilbey’s Mixed Berries Gin at Anzana Gardens Northern Bypass. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

‘‘There is more money in bartending at house parties, corporate events and wedding receptions than being employed at a bar,’’ adds the mixologist.

Onyango has worked at some of the leading bars and restaurants in the country.

In some markets, a professional bartender will demand between $200 (Sh24,000) and $300 (Sh36,000) a day or night for a house party.

Another bartender Joel Njoroge says one of the ways of determining the cost of hiring a mixologist for a family event or house party is the headcount.

‘‘Most bartenders charge between Sh500 and Sh1,000 per head depending on the client’s budget. The bigger the party, the higher the pay,’’ notes Joel, who works at K1 Klubhouse in Nairobi.

If enlisting the services of a professional with international accreditation for bartending such as World-Class Cocktail Bartender or the Global Bartenders Certificate, then you are looking at a budget of upwards of $450 (Sh54,000) and more.

It also depends on whether the mixologist is coming with his or her drinks or the host is supplying them.

‘‘When I provide the drinks, the fee will obviously be higher. Either way, it depends on the client’s preference,’’ adds Joel.

When the client has their own stock, a bartender will usually show up only with his or her tools of the trade such as shakers, sieves and sometimes spices.

If you can afford it, hiring a professional comes with multiple advantages for both the host and the guests.

To most hosts, it is a no-brainer to whip up and serve guests a bourbon old-fashioned cocktail. But imagine one of your guests asking for a French 75. Or a boozy dark delight. Where would you start?

Hero Bar mixologist Chris Mbuo pouring up a mocktail during the interview at the establishment. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

A house party or family gathering brings together a diversity of palates and chances are, you will be dealing with different requests, some of the concoctions you have never heard of, let alone tried.

This is where a professional bartender comes in, says Joel. They bring not only ingenuity to the party, but a wealth of knowledge. That and diversity of ideas.

‘‘Ordinarily, I prepare classic cocktails using established recipes at my workplace. When I am at a house party, I tend to prepare more contemporary mixes because they are fun to make and to enjoy,’’ he notes. 

Onyango adds that people tend to enjoy their drinks when a bartender is on the deck more than when they mix their own drinks.

‘‘Not many people know what drinks to mix and how to mix them so that they obtain the best experience and avoid alcohol poisoning,’’ he says.

For most people, the thought of cleaning up after a night of partying can be quite off-putting.

Many would rather not host guests than deal with the mess of soggy garnishes, spilt honey and disposing of their relatives’ half-drank mojitos afterwards.

With a professional bartender in the house, however, order and tidiness are guaranteed, with no pileup of used and unused ingredients and equipment during and after the party.

Have you ever offered to serve drinks at a party? What was the experience like?

Guests will normally form a beeline at the bar area with others hanging out at the makeshift bar, drinking amid chatter.

This exerts pressure on the bartender, making it difficult to keep up with the orders.

Movenpick Mixologist, Victor Ochieng. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

As the host, you might end up sorting spices and pouring drinks the whole time at the expense of interacting with your family or friends. That is if you will manage to do it at all.

‘‘I can comfortably handle 20 guests alone. But for speed, accuracy and cleanliness, I will need someone to serve the drinks as I prepare the bar. Depending on the size of the party, we can even have two mixologists and more attendants to wait at the tables,’’ Joel says.

Do you know how much alcohol would serve 20 guests?

While budgeting for food for guests can be problematic, doing so for beverages is a nightmare.

You do not know how much your uncles can guzzle and what mix of drinks will appeal to your cousins.

Most hosts resort to guesswork and end up buying either few ingredients or too much alcohol, overshooting their budget. 

There is also sustainability and efficient usage of different components, as Francis explains. ‘‘Nowadays you can use the pulp of, say, a pineapple, to make juice. You can also chop its core (the hard part) and dry it to make garnish. You could use the crown (the handle) as a garnish as well.’’

Francis notes that he has learnt to manage resources as a bartender through training abroad, which many individuals may not be able to do while hosting parties at home.

The party has hit a crescendo and everyone is in their zone. Conversations are animated and the voices are a little more than soft.

One of your aunts-in-law has had too much to drink and is now dancing all over, making a scene. But she cannot surrender her highball yet. So, how do you tame her without embarrassing them? Or yourself?

‘‘When someone has taken so much, you serve them light drinks such as mocktails, soda or water. It is your responsibility as the bartender to make sure people do not go overboard,’’ Francis explains.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.