Shaken and stirred: acting skills add to the cocktail experience

When you walk to your favorite restaurant or bar, the first person you are likely to be greeted by is the butler or bartender.

They are most often the face of the company and are extremely important to ensuring you have a great experience.

One bartender who I think does a fantastic job is Peter Coates from Mama Cod. I wanted to know what it takes to be a good bartender, so I asked him what motivates him and how he learned his skills.

Pete has been with Mama Cod since it opened as Cod & Lobster almost seven years ago and has been there through the changes brought about by economic conditions due to lockdowns, restrictions and changing travel habits Covid internationals.

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On a busy night like New Year’s Eve, he can whip up over 250 cocktails in eight hours, or one every two minutes. It’s a lot of shaking and shaking.

“One of the most important things a good bartender needs, when working in a bar like Mama Cod, is the ability to remember cocktail recipes. If you have to keep referring to recipe cards, you will never be able to track customer orders,” he says.

Mama Cod's Pete Coates has a background in hospitality and acting.


Mama Cod’s Pete Coates has a background in hospitality and acting.

He fell into the role of a cocktail specialist bartender “sort of by osmosis”.

He left Nelson at the age of 17 to go to the University of Otago.

“I never thought I would return to the sleepy little retreat place I saw Nelson at the time.”

He studied performing arts with a major in theater and a minor in film and media, so “my background is very theatre-based.”

After Otago I went to Auckland Drama School and then worked as an actor for 10 years while doing a Masters in Arts Management.

“Since I was quite young I realized that I would need another job, working in New Zealand is difficult and the work is uneven so you can’t be assured of a check regular payroll Being a barista has ensured continuity of income.

His first job as a barista was at a McCafe in Dunedin.

“It was a good first hospital job. You learn things that you don’t learn in hotel training courses. McDonalds is a little tough, but it’s a great place for a youngster to learn good job skills.

While working as an actor in Auckland, Pete continued to hone his barista skills when he worked at Trinity of Silver in Mt Albert for around five years.

“I left Auckland without a playbook beyond not wanting to live there anymore, so I came home for a while to reassess what I wanted to do.

“After a few weeks, my parents told me to find a job or leave. I got the first job I applied for, at Oxford St Café, where Guy was at the top of his game making coffee. And I worked there for about two years before I saw a sign in the window of what was to be Cod & Lobster.

Mama Cod's Pete Coates says his acting skills, like remembering and talking about recipes, have helped him in his role as a bartender.


Mama Cod’s Pete Coates says his acting skills, like remembering and talking about recipes, have helped him in his role as a bartender.

“I applied for a job as a barista, met co-owner Nick Widley across the road and he took me to see the job site. I could see it was going to be pretty exciting.

Widley asked if he would be willing to do cocktails as the bartender’s replacement.

“Of course, I said; ‘Yes’. Everything to get the job. »

When Widley and his wife Kymberly opened Cod & Lobster, they had a very good American bartender, but she had a limited work visa. Widley wanted someone who was going to take over the bar and do his thing instead of employing good people who came and went.

“Nick asked me if he could train me as a head bartender, I was a little worried but said ‘yes’.

“It was hugely daunting, I had to learn about a range of over 200 gins and be able to talk to customers about the drinks I was making. That’s where my acting skills came in – me remembering drink recipes, talking about them. In many ways it’s like learning a script and I have the skills to talk and make drinks at the same time.

Cod & Lobster has become Mama Cod to reflect the changes the Widleys have had to make to their business as a result of Covid.

“Nick and Kymberly are proactive owners. We’ve opened a third location (Tatton’s Cocktail Saloon) as most hospitality companies are retiring, or at least battening down the hatches.

“One of the things I really enjoy about my job is performance, ever since I was 16 I wanted to do theater but as an actor you deliver an ethereal style product. As a beverage specialist, I deliver something real that people can touch and enjoy. I make people happy with my creations, just like I did as an actor.

A good butler or a good bartender is most often the face of the business and extremely important in ensuring a great hospitality experience.


A good butler or a good bartender is most often the face of the business and extremely important in ensuring a great hospitality experience.

For the past three years Pete has been the Beverage Manager for the company which now has three bars, while he can work at any of them you will usually find him at Mama Cod where he plans also the drinks menus for Tatton’s Cocktail Saloon upstairs and manages the range of beers and wines at the three bars.

“I love the challenge of designing new cocktails so that we can have a mix of classics, modern classics and original drinks, while still retaining some of those drinks created for the original Cod & Lobster menu that are still very popular. “

“It’s not a path in my life that I expected to take, working in bars, knowing so much about alcohol and the history of alcohol was so surprisingly enjoyable. And that takes me back to when I left Nelson at 17. I never thought I would be back, but now I’m really happy to be here, partly because of what Nelson has become over the past 23 years.

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