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Making It
A salesman gives bartending a shot, and then shows others how to do the same

By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, April 22, 2007

Next time you attend a banquet, watch the bartender. Does she pour drinks with just one hand? Does she look down at the bar to find the gin?

Then she probably doesn't work for Robert Gold.

Robert, 48, owns Professional Bartending Services, a two-year-old company that trains bartenders and banquet servers and provides staffing for special events. His bartenders take a 15-hour, three-day course, during which Robert teaches them to pour with two hands, for efficiency, and to set up their bar the same way every time, so they can mix drinks without breaking eye contact. "He definitely taught us some good management strategies," says David Shutak, 22, a staff member and college student.

Robert grew up in Silver Spring and followed his father into the yarn business, before the arts and crafts industry was consolidated into big-box chain stores. To supplement his sales job, he worked as an on-call banquet bartender, where he saw standards falling in the hospitality trade. "If you want a cosmopolitan, you might get it made five different ways from the same person," he says.

Robert decided he could fill a gap by supplying expert bartenders. And his wife, Lisa, knew the perfect candidates for a part-time gig: her fellow schoolteachers.

Robert set up a training area in the sunroom of his North Potomac home. He started with four teachers and, after developing a program for banquet servers as well, has a team of more than 200 bartenders and servers, including college students, professionals and homemakers. They supplement the staffs of catering companies and hotels -- the Grand Hyatt Washington, for example -- in addition to handling private parties.

Robert pays $18 to $20 an hour, more than many hotels and caterers, and says that's to ensure he has top-notch workers. Staff members are independent contractors who provide their own tuxedos; Robert pays liability and workers' compensation insurance for them.

One of Robert's priorities -- hiring people who speak English fluently enough to communicate with clients -- can be a sensitive issue, he says. But, he says, "I have the rainbow working for me; I have every color, every size, every nationality." He has staffed events such as weddings, bar mitzvahs and a sex-toy party (he sent one of his most mature bartenders to that one).

"They're truly professionals," says Kim Zello of Stone Soup Catering in Gaithersburg. "With Robert's staff, it costs a little more per hour, but you get people who are ready to work, ready to be spiffy and sharp."

Robert hopes to make $1 million in sales and turn his first profit this year. He has hired five people to help with operations and marketing ("Give us a shot," says his ad campaign). The father of two works up to 16 hours a day -- he still tends bar -- and hasn't been off more than four days at once for two years. His goal is to grow the company to 300 workers and sales of $3 million a year. "Then," he says, "I can go on a real vacation."

Have you found a way to make good money entertaining people? E-mail changb@washpost.com.

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