A Guy Walks Into A Bar (Part II)

In the first part of this installment, I talked about the bar and suggested a patron's guide to civilized behavior. While there are many more examples that I can cite, I want to address the bartender's side of the engagement because in the interest of fairness, they have a lot of control in setting the tone. So let me address the bartenders whose primary responsibility is to tend the bar.

Being respectful is one of the most important of the building blocks in a civil society. Bartenders or bouncers for that matter have a difficult job to do, in part due to the many types of patrons they have to deal with and the differing levels of intoxication. That being said, it is after all a bar, and people are expected to come in to have a good time and that means different things to different people. To understand that, all you have to do it read the comments on the first installment that I wrote and read the various reactions to what I said. Then you have to keep in mind that those opinions are trickier when you put all of them in a room and serve them alcohol. It can be combustible, and keeping the goodwill going takes a large degree of observing and tending to the guests.

The old adage of "you can't tell a book by its cover" is something all bartenders should keep in mind. Your opinions about anyone's class, race, creed, gender, age, or ethnic origin, might be skewed by your inexperience in them relative to your own knowledge of your own background. Patron's political affiliations are also something that can bring about conflict in your ability to judge character. It is the smart bartender who is open to not only accepting the differences, but who keeps an open mind to the real possibility that they can listen and learn something in the process. When tending the bar, it's usually wise to remain neutral and be a facilitator to the guest's enjoyment. It may not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has read any of my blogs in the past year, but I am a Democrat and have strong opinions about politics. All that aside, I have had many a Republican or Conservative regular over the years and that is due I think to the fact that you don't have to agree with me to drink comfortably at my bar nor should you at anyone's bar. In my humble opinion, bars should be egalitarian establishments who welcome all as long as they conduct themselves with a modicum of respect for others. Diversity in opinions and experiences are what often lead to fascinating discoveries that make for a great conversation, and a lifetime of learning about humankind.

One of the difficult aspects of tending bar is the energy it takes to do it well. Exhaustion is often your nemesis and when one is tired, one can sometimes be less than cordial which leads to misunderstandings and the bad feelings that attitude can engender in a customer. Bartenders have to always remember that they are onstage, and everything they say and do can be heard or seen at all times. It is difficult to be "on" for many hours, so it's important to give yourself a break if you can once in a while even if it's just for a smoke or a trip to the bathroom. Breaking the atmosphere, as it were, can reinvigorate you to the tasks at hand and who doesn't understand that these days? It is virtually impossible to be at your best all the time, so sometimes you have to adjust your bartending accordingly to better handle the socializing and the guest requirements that are being demanded of you. Guests don't really care about your personal issues unless of course they know you socially or have become friends over the bar, so you can't allow any rationale for rudeness. Sometimes, we forget that the guest is paying for an experience, and we have to do our very best to accommodate them in that quest.

When guests are too loud or are otherwise annoying other guests, it is imperative that bartenders handle such incidents with "kid gloves" when at all possible. The same goes with cutting someone off. Give people their dignity I always say, because sometimes people just don't know when their behavior has became boorish. We are all human, and sometimes we go over the edge a bit, or a lot, but gentle persuasion usually won't allow something to escalate beyond the point of no return. Smile, talk to them as adults, and give them your respect the same as you would if they were in your home. Most people can be reasoned with when you take the route of gentle persuasion.

Bartenders have to treat everyone equally. Everyone at your bar deserves to be treated well and in a timely fashion. People that you know or like often are ones that can monopolize your time at the expense of other guests and their needs. Keeping your eyes up and scanning the bar will go a long way to eliminating the scenario where a guest feels ignored and you feel defensive towards their frustrated tone when you finally get around to helping them. Keep your eyes on the bar scene when you can, or if you can't because you are counting change or ringing in a check, try to turn around when you can to see if anyone new has arrived, or if anyone needs anything. If you are making drinks, you still should be able to talk to people and make eye contact too. If you can't do two things at once, (and sometimes you can't) simply acknowledge the guest. By doing so you are at least letting them know that you are aware that they need you. Most people will understand that you are busy in that moment, but will know that you will be addressing them shortly. It's managing people's expectations that go a long way towards alleviating any tensions that could arise from a guest who might be anxious that they haven't been acknowledged.

Let the guest talk. How many times have we been to a bar and the bartender just won't shut-up! It's all about the guest, period. People love to talk and be heard and hopefully one of the reasons that you as a bartender got into the business was because you were a good listener who really liked people. Ask people questions that are appropriate, but make it seem like you are actually interested in them, which hopefully you are. It is a show for sure that you put on each night, but most of the "show" is making guests happy and satisfied and you have to sacrifice your ego to make that happen.

Do the guests really want you hanging around? Sometimes they do, but it is important to "read" people and gauge what is appropriate in that moment. Many times bartenders don't seem to get that and they spend too much time engaging a guest or guests in conversation when sometimes it is highly inappropriate. Are they having a business chat, or is it a couple who want to spend some time alone together in a public place? Bartenders have to gauge that and size-up the situation quickly. Believe me, even if you guessed wrong, people have subtle or not so subtle ways of letting you know. Watch, listen, and find something else to do. It's usually nothing personal. It's just that everyone needs their space sometimes.

Know your stuff. Customers are so much more knowledgeable now, and they don't care that you have other things going on in your life. That's all good, but at that moment you are a bartender, and you should have some basic knowledge at least about what you have on the shelves, and some knowledge of the classic cocktails so people can feel that they can get what they want, or that you can help them. Be the expert, but then again, keep your ears open to listen to them as well.

Enjoy what you do. This goes back to my last point a bit. It is important that you like what you do whatever that may be. Why be miserable? I am sometimes mystified when I am seated at a bar and I can tell that the bartender doesn't like people or their job. I'm mystified because I can't understand why owners hire such people. That is inexcusable and I encourage anyone who encounters such a bartender to save their money and drink elsewhere. The aspiring actor, writer, or lawyer, etc. will have to realize that at some early on in their pursuits that they will have to take a job to "pay the bills". If that person doesn't like people or the job of mixing drinks and keeping guests happy, they should consider other means of employment because it is sheer torture for those guests who must endure such individuals.

In closing, may you all remember to respect each other's differences and keep an open mind in the days ahead.

I'll see you when I see you!