Bartending not such an easy job

I was trying to come up with a drinking-related article to relate with New Year’s Eve, and all I kept remembering was my few weeks tending bar.

I have received two grants from the National Restaurant Association. The grant is given to college hospitality educators to encourage them to work in the restaurant field. In other words, to practice what they are preaching throughout the year.

The grant stipulated that the receiver work in a hospitality position that was new to them. One summer I worked as a McDonald’s crew person (I’ll serve that story at a later date) and one summer, I worked as a bartender at the Union Coach House in Saratoga Springs, where I had managed the dining room the previous summer.

I got axed halfway through my time. There are many challenges when bartending. Are you guessing that maybe I enjoyed too much of my craft or maybe I was too slow? Maybe my drinks were too weak and the customers were unhappy? Or maybe my drinks were too strong and the management was unhappy? Maybe I didn’t know how to make drinks or maybe I didn’t keep track of the drinks I sold? Maybe I wasn’t honest or maybe I was too rigid? This was not so.

A bartender actually has two roles. One is to bartend – to make and safely serve the correct drink for the customer. Actually, I was pretty good at the bartending. After all, I had been teaching “Responsible Alcohol” at the college level for some time and most people that teach really can do.

Before the job, I reviewed drinks, learned the percentages and the proper glasses and practiced the proper methods. I understood the DWI and dram shop laws. I knew not to serve a visibly intoxicated person and could firmly persuade a customer to slow down. I was relatively good at math and could correctly quote the amount due before I used the register. I kept clean accounts and a clean bar. I had a fair manner, a clean appearance and didn’t talk back to the boss.

The bartender’s second role is that of a psychologist. At that role, I didn’t do well, I excelled. Because of this, I was back to running the dining room after only three weeks.

Oh busboy. The bar was set up so that one end held my regulars. The other end was an open window to the dining room where the waitresses would place their tables’ bar order. I was to care for my regulars and fill the waitstaff order then put the drinks in the window for them to pick up. I was no Tom Cruise but I only worked lunches so I could service a whole bar easily, or so I thought.

Multitasking at the bar was not easy. At times, I would have at one end, say, Bert. Bert’s daughter didn’t speak to him and he had never seen his grandchildren. Poor Bert, he needed my counsel. At the other end was the dining room waitress, Karen, hollering for me to fill her order.

Again at one end was Walt. Walt’s horse was bred for the Triple Crown but broke its leg during a rainy workout. It was his fault, he whined. I consoled him. The waitress’s tips were low because the diners had to wait for their drinks. It was my fault, the waitresses whined. They could not be consoled.

At one end was Jack. Dear Jack, we really connected. He loved his wife but she nagged him about everything. When she called, I talked to her. She thanked me for talking to Jack about their troubles. At the other end of the bar, the dining room staff was calling me too and it wasn’t to thank me.

I remember the day I got dismissed. I was advising a Thursday regular when I looked next to me and realized that Karen was behind the bar making drinks. She was so close, I could smell her impatience. She poured a draft beer, gently stirred a martini and poured two glasses of white wine; then she gave me an interesting look, picked up her tray and left. On her way back to the dining room, I heard her loudly whisper to the boss.

Soon after that my boss curled his finger towards me indicating that he wanted to talk to me. “You had a phone call,” he said.

“Really?” I asked.

“It was Bert,” my boss informed me. “He won’t be here tomorrow. He wanted you to know that he is going to Boston to see his daughter.”

“Wow, I must have convinced him,” I answered, and walked back to the bar smiling.

“Oh Anita,” my boss called after me. “Monday, report to the dining room.”

Remember to be kind to your bartender this New Year’s Eve. It’s a hard job.

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