It's time again for my annual laundry list of stuff I've learned over the past year. Hopefully I'm a little wiser than I was 12 months ago, but you never can tell...all that alcohol probably impaired something.
What I've Learned In Two Years Of Bartending
~ In most cases, people want a drink, not a dissertation.
~ If you wear a Hawaiian shirt, people will comment on it (especially in Winter).
~ The last 15 minutes before you open is often a frenzy of getting everything in place and nailed down before people start arriving. This is when your beer rep will show up unannounced and want to talk at length about all the great new stuff he’s got.
~ People will react with genuine bewilderment and anger when you inform them you don’t have any flavored vodka.
~ People will react with genuine bewilderment and anger when you inform them you don’t have Bud Light.
~ When lighting stuff on fire, go with matches rather than a lighter. It looks classier, and your co-workers who smoke probably already stole your lighter anyway.
~ If you work at a fancy-schmancy bar, get your clothes at thrift stores. You can get dress shirts for four bucks, and ties for two. It makes no sense to wear expensive stuff that’s going to get splattered with all manner of crud the first time you wear it.
~ The customer is not always right. But the customer does come first.
~ Don’t bad-mouth other bars/restaurants or your colleagues who work there. The hospitality industry is a much smaller community than you think, and they will hear about it.
~ You will be asked on a nightly basis what your favorite drink is. (Mine happens to be a Martini, but that’s rarely the answer they’re looking for)
~ You will also be asked on a nightly basis to recommend a drink. You can be passive-aggressive, suggest something lousy, and possibly lose a customer. Or you could sincerely point someone to a drink they’ll like and help them have a nice night. Hopefully you’ll make the right choice.
~ Some of the best food you will ever eat will be consumed while sitting on a milk crate next to a dumpster.
~ When your boss says something like, “There’s a VIP at seat 13”, that person is usually a low-level politician, local TV news personality, or someone else who will show up once and never return. Your real VIPs are the people who come in on a regular basis, appreciate what you have to offer, and put money in your pocket.
~ There are a lot of bartenders who want to be chefs…and vice-versa.
~ If a customer asks your name when they first sit down, it means they want to be able to get your attention immediately when they want something. If they ask your name as they’re leaving, it means they enjoyed their time with you and plan on coming back.
~ People will make out aggressively in comfy lounge chairs if you provide them. They will also make out aggressively on barstools. Or in hallways. Anywhere, really.
~ Single-digit temperatures will not deter people from going to a bar for a cold drink. Brutally high temperatures will not deter people from eating hot food on a sun-blasted patio.
~ Bring your own first-aid kit to work with you (mine is just an Altoids tin full of Band-Aids, gauze, and a roll of electrical tape). Your employer’s kit may not be stocked properly and/or not where it’s supposed to be. Running all over the back-of-house trying to find medical supplies while vigorously bleeding is not fun.
~ Right around the time you have all the drink recipes memorized, they’ll change the menu.
~ Right around the time you learn where all the bottles are, they’ll rearrange the back bar.
~ People say things to servers that they would never dream of saying to bartenders. If you are someone who does this, understand that behaving badly and abusing the staff (regardless of their position or duties) doesn’t make you important. It makes you a jerk.
~ Co-workers, customers, vendors, etc., will always congregate at the one narrow opening that is the only way in & out from behind the bar.
~ Sexual harassment. It’s real, and you can be fired for it.
~ If the first words out of a customer’s mouth are, “What’s on special?” that person doesn’t really care what he/she drinks. They’re just looking for the cheapest buzz.
~ People will tell you they can’t get a decent Martini in most bars. Don’t be one of those bars.
~ Sweetness is the hardest thing to calibrate in a cocktail. You can give what you consider a wonderfully balanced drink to three people, and one will say it’s too sweet, one will say it’s not sweet enough, and one will say it’s just right.
~ The same customer can be a complete SOB one night and perfectly cool another night.
~ If you slap a sprig of mint anywhere in view of customers, someone will yell, "Spank it! Spank that mint!” (Guaranteed. This is the “Freebird!” of bartending.)
~ Many customers love to be guinea pigs for new recipes you’re working on. If you’re playing around with a new drink concept, let some of your more adventurous patrons give it a taste and offer feedback. Most people enjoy being part of the creative process.
~ If you’re using your phone, I’m waiting on someone else.
~ It’s tough to get to know dishwashers (the people, not the machines). They come and go pretty quickly.
~ During pre-shift hours, co-workers will use the bar as an office, lunch counter, makeshift kitchen, etc. This means computers, phones, restaurant supplies, half-eaten meals, and miscellaneous projects will be strewn the length of the bar right up until the first customer walks in.
~ People really love big hunks of hand-cut ice in their drinks. Make them if you can reasonably manage it.
~ You’re either a Fernet Branca person or a Jägermeister person.
~ Many people are deathly afraid of beer that has significant color or flavor (I’ve been aware of this for years, but it still surprises me how often people will choose the least interesting beer in the lineup).
~ If someone famous comes into your place, it will invariably be on a night you aren’t working.
~ Giving someone their first properly-made Old-Fashioned is incredibly rewarding.
~ You don’t have to like all your customers. You just need to be as professional as possible with the ones you don’t like.*
~ Just when you’ve managed to get the atmosphere in the bar perfectly set, your boss will begin fiddling with the lights and cranking up the music.
~ Cambros are not watertight. If you have to move large quantities of liquid via plane, train, automobile, etc., bear this in mind or be prepared for a trunkful of grenadine.
~ Just because someone is a bartender doesn’t mean they know how to drink.
~ People will order a drink just because it has egg white in it. People will not order a drink just because it has egg white in it.
~ It’s difficult to describe the subtle pleasure of working in a bar with no TVs.
~ Ordering a Martini or Manhattan on the rocks is incomprehensible to me.
~ Some nights it’s just one big game of Whack-A-Mole.
*Unless that person proves to be an irredeemable asshole. Then you should professionally get them out of your bar.