Monday, January 12, 2009

In so far as the bartender as security...

... it's not your job. Well, maybe it is to a degree, depending on what type of place you work at. So this is a question you should have answered before the very first time you step back behind that bar and make a drink. Regardless, it is always in your best interest to check ID's, but that's an entire blog on it's own. Security however is so much more than that, even in upscale places, and it behooves you to know what you are responsible for before you take the gig and then be okay with that responsibility. This will help defuse legal troubles before they can even begin, and it will put you in a position to always make the best call with the quickest reaction. This my friends, is invaluable.

Let me give you an example.

Two older customers, a man and a woman, who like to, ah, get friendly beneath the bar. My security guard, we'll call him Gary, calls the bar on the house phone and lets me know there's, in Gary's words, 'a little hand-job action' going on beneath the bar.

Great. At least I'm not housekeeping I think.

Now, how do I approach this? Well, in this case it was quite easy to just go up to the customers and say, 'hey guys, I've had some complaints about...' and it's done. Seriously, most people doing something like this know they're on the fringe - that's apparently the appeal. However, for most folks (emphasis on most of course) the voyeuristic thing is only exciting when they're not really being seen. Once the jig is up, or I guess in this case the 'job' is up, well, they will get fucking terrified, embarrassed, and make a B-line for the door. In this case the folks even left a huge tip - now whether that was as an apology or they were just too embarrassed to take stock of their assets on the bar I don't know and I don't care. This isn't really the type of situation I could turn into regular income, unless they keep coming back and doing the same thing. Which of course would be ridiculous.

Have I ever mentioned what a ridiculous world this is?

So a month or so later here we are again, only this time they're in on a Tuesday, it's pretty dead, and they're sitting all the way at the end of the lounge at a table. Now really, if they were in the dark end of the room, they could probably get away with a hell of a lot more. To this day I'm convinced blow job a'plenty went down up there while I blended Tom Collins and chatted with regulars only a few feet away. But no, these folks are a bit older and they're sitting where they want to sit, not where they need to. Plus, the dark end of the room isn't for these type of folks who have this voyeur-thing going on. It's for those who just want the release, capitol 'R', period. So now here I am, embarrassed and uncomfortable because what seems 'far away' for these folks actually creates a pretty open picture of the underside of their table for those of us by the bar.

Here's that house phone again.

'Blah blah, hand job, blah.'

'Yeah, yeah, I'm aware of it.'

Now, you might ask why Gary, wearing a badge that says SECURITY in big pretty letters is calling me, the bartender, and not handling it himself. Well, sure, it'd be nice if he did, but Gary tends to avoid these kind of social faux pas. I rely on him to come in with his Security grip, the one that's kind of like a hand shake and kind of like a vulcan vice lock and escort rude, lewd or stewed douche bags out of the building. Plus both these fiasco's happen late on weekdays and Gary has a whole hotel to patrol and a girl at the front desk to look after. Here, on weeknights it kind of breaks down like: I patrol the social structure of the bar (make everyone behave) and Gary beats the ass of the folks who do things police worthy.

So what do I do? Well, I tell the waitress to tell her customers that the bartender wants to buy them a drink and this of course gets them aware that someone notices that they are present but doesn't necessarily give the cookies away, so to speak. When the guy comes to the bar to find out why I just say I felt bad that there was some misunderstanding or whatever last time, that I didn't know what the complaints had been but felt they were good folk and I didn't want them to feel like there was any weirdness (which of course there was but you play the cards you're dealt). They ended up paying their tab with the waitress, tipping her quite well (don't kill the messenger but definitely tip them, right?) and coming up to the bar, where because it was moderately slow I got a chance to talk to them for most of the rest of the night, found they were quite awesome people and after tipping me fantastically once again, they became regulars of mine and always made me smile and took care of me the way I took care of them.

Get what I'm trying to say here?

Okay, next time it will be the not-so-friendly example of bartender as security guard.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Holidays behind the bar...

... just thought I'd post a couple tips for anyone caught working today or any other holidays. If you are justing starting out at a place you're almost definitely going to end up working these days. This is because for the most part it is a fact that older more established 'tenders choose to forego the following major perk I will discuss in lieu of having the day off.

Their loss.

Holiday hours are shorter, more concentrated and potentially exponentially more profitable than a regular shift. The regulars who come in are going to be glad you're open, glad that you are there for them to hang with, and often particularly more generous because of the fact that you appear to have drawn the short straw and are working instead of with your family.

Tell them no different.

And really, why would you? No matter how much you love your job I'm sure you'd rather have the day off, family or not. So let them tip you in that half-tip/half-gift type fashion that the holidays this time of year brings.

Also, even though more concentrated, you probably will not have that much business until the later part of the evening, so it gives you good time to get to know your regulars better and maybe even make some new ones while you are at it. I've had some pretty good conversations while behind the bar on Thanksgiving and Christmas, with people who have become more akin to friends to me than 'customers'. You may even see regulars who usually don't talk or come in at different times form bonds and this essentially, while not only making new 'clicks' who have your back, will often bring regulars in more often and at different times the rest of the year. Every time a good-tipping regular comes in it's potential money in your pocket and good times, so the more they come, the better.

And really, chances are no matter what your shift you will have time before or after to have a bit of a holiday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A little lonely...

... not everyone goes to a bar to meet members of the opposite sex or find a conversation for the evening. From behind the bar you will encounter all manner of people with all manner of agendas (there's that fucking word again!) and it is best if you learn to discern people and their motives, so as not to confuse your different types of patrons and say or do what could be considered anything inappropriate. It takes attention first and time second, but in the end any energy you exert in these directions will eliminate the chances of you losing money on a two-fold front. First fold, the money of the tip on the spot and second fold and more importantly in the grand design of your success in establishing a career behind the bar, the money of a repeated customer who digs the way you do things and tips accordingly based on that fact, time and time again.

Examples.

Some people like a little bit of 'lonely' in their bar experiences. I know I do. Sure, there are times when this isn't the case - mostly the times I enter the bar with friends and loved ones. Or after I get to know a bartender I will sometimes stop by to have a drink just to chit chat. But more often (and these days the word often applied to my being in a bar is ludicrous) if I'm walking into a pub alone I'm bringing a book or notebook and pen. This doesn't mean I want to be left completely alone, but a good bartender knows my engagement will be on my terms. This isn't to be rude, but some people, myself obviously included, like sitting at a bar by themselves and just sipping a pint while doing something. Nothing replaces the feeling of doing a little writing over a pint or two while surrounded by but not necessarily being a part of a pub's environment. I guess it's a way for me to play act as an adult, now invoking literary greats like Hunter S. Thompson, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald just like I used to run through the woods and climb trees invoking Luke Skywalker, Snake Eyes and Megatron.

So the idea here, as a bartender to a bartender, is don't crowd your customers. Don't offer advice or polite conversation unless that is what the person is there for. A lot of times I've shown up to a bar with a book only to have the bartender not only ask what I'm reading, which is fine, but to go on and on about the unlikeliness of anyone bringing a book into a bar anymore, or start talking about their brother and his aspirations to be a writer and yada yada yada. That's fine if I take the bait with the first dialogue but when someone insists, invariably because they think I am really there to find companionship, it gets annoying fast. I'm reminded of that Bill Hick's bit where he's talking about bringing a book into a Waffle House in the south, where the waitress responds to seeing him sitting there reading by announcing to the rest of the restaurant 'We got us a reader!'. As a bartender you should strive to make every patron feel as comfortable as possible - the best bars are only as good as their 'tenders and the best bartenders make everyone, even the first time patrons, feel as though they've been there a million times - welcome and respected.

Another part of this is something I've talked about before but bares re-mentioning - NEVER ASSUME. This means if Jimmy Jim Jim comes in everyday for a year and orders a Drambuie on the rocks, never have it ready for him - unless that's his thing. I know that seems confusing, but now this goes back to the paying attention part. Every hardcore regular will let you know what they want and expect if you are paying attention, so pay attention. However, if Mr. Jim Jim does expect you to have it ready, but on day 366 comes in with a lady friend you've never seen before, do not have it ready and do not greet him with 'Hey Mr. Jim Jim, your usual?' Guests, especially men bringing in lady friends, requires a certain degree of anonymity, at least at first.

So summing it up, PAY ATTENTION - it will PAY you back in the end.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Because of Sex and the City...

... the movie (god help us) recently being released on DVD I thought it prudent I log weigh in with some tips.

1) Cosmopolitans are MARTINIS. This, simply put, means they are made MOSTLY from vodka, with another alcoholic ingredient being Triple-sec, an orange corn based liquor* The color comes from A SPLASH of cranberry juice.

I mention this because whille the show was in the height of it's popularity you would be amazed how many women would come in and order Cosmo's and then complain that they were too strong or 'this isn't how they're supposed to taste!'.

Now don't get me wrong, cosmo's are tasty drinks. I do not like them, but it was a popular cocktail long before Sarah Jessica Barker and her battalion of whores started ordering them and there's a reason for that. And I should know, Martini's of any kind were one of my specialties. When you pour those mixers into the steel shaker (never, and I do mean NEVER use a plastic shaker) you need to shake that fucker until the metal becomes so cold it sticks to your hands. That's when you will have a beautiful layer of ice on the top of your drink. Some would argue that, and say to shake it thusly** is to bruise the vodka, but to that I say, this is generally really only a concern if you are drinking a straight Vodka Martini. Sure, if you are thirsty for a Belvedere Martini, straight up you might want to think about a gentler shaking method. But if you are already mixing it with Triple Sec and Cranberry juice, you're obviously not concerned too much with enjoying the full vodka flavor and thus, the layer of ice is the trade off.

But yes, the point of this rambling diatribe is for all you fans of Sex and the City out there*** a Cosmo is a drink made mostly of alcohol, cut with lesser parts of other items to change and accent the taste of the vodka****. IT IS NOT PINK BECAUSE THE JUICE HIDES THE TASTE OF THE ALCOHOL. If this is what you are after order a Cape Cod (1 oz. Vodka and the rest cranberry) and ask them to shake it and serve it up in a fancy schmancy martini glass.

2) If you don't drink much and are going out do NOT where high-heels if you're unaccustomed to wearing them. This will save you from falling on your face when you finish your second Cosmo and stand up too fast, and it will save the bartender, whose really only doing his job and trying to look out for you, from being accused, whether directly or indirectly, of over serving you.

3) Do not accept drinks from strangers eyeing you across the bar unless you want to talk to them. Do not begin talking to them and accept more drinks unless you plan on either going home with them or at least giving them your (currently active) phone number. And it is NOT the bartender's fault for conveying the initial offer of said free drink on the stranger's behalf, no matter what happens as a result. We are there to serve the clientele and if that includes relaying a message between two people, yep, that's part of the job description. Ancient Roman wisom - DON'T KILL THE MESSENGER!!!
...............

* Fact checker - is this corn based? I'm pretty sure but now my memory has lapsed.

** Thusly? Have I been replaced by Thor?

*** Given the cast, I'll take the city

**** And yes, I have had a request (singular) for a gin Cosmopolitan before and I made it and served it with the same comment I reserve for the person that order Scotch and Milk - You're a very sick person and this drink should not exist.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

...

I move into the kitchen and pour some more coffee. It's an expensive blend from somewhere in South America but I have yet to master making coffee on my own, so it doesn't taste very good. I always prefer when I can to buy a cup: lazy, consumerist tendencies unspoiled there as in so many other places. Why is it that everything always seems to taste better when you buy it?

Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Junkies, Consumers - a word I fear ten times more than the last - the final epitaph that should be engraved on all of our tombstones. Maybe not everyone everyone, but most of us at this point in the attention deficeit disordered first decade of a new and shining millenium have reduced ourselves to little more than quivering masses of self-important ganglious urges. I've studied Magick for years, and while making several sizeable breakthroughs attempting to hack into the local reality grid*, it's this consumerist tendency in me, in you, in everyone reading this right now, that unplugs any real progress. That and a hearty love of alcohol, movies, music, books, comic books, drugs. All these things (with perhaps the exception of recreational drug use, which, while not exactly a myth is not exactly a truth either) get in the way - they are distractions we let our Id's and ego's get caught up in to effectively procrastinate ourselves out of any real commitment to the things we want most in life. 'I want to write a book'; 'I want to be in a band'; 'I want to own a restaurant'. All of these things are well and good, but if you want to do them, and I mean really fucking do them, then you better just stop taping the your favorite shows, renting 3 movies a week from Netflix and going out to the bar, because in the end, when all your minutes are collected and totaled, when you find yourself in a bed in a convalescent home or staring blankly at a dinner tray in an insane asylum, old folks home, rehab center or morgue, well, these are the minutes that will reek so bittersweet with the oils of wasted time and pointless endeavors.

We're not here long, use it.

These are things I thought about while Bono preached about God's Country over my stereo speakers, probably too loud, not loud enough the spark in me counters grabbing my large blue coffee cup with a cute baby Penguin on it, moving down the stairs to turn that resistance potentiometer up another half a dozen notches or so, coming back upstairs to continue typing, this, a sort of last minute manifesto to ignite the stories I would be otherwise unable to tell.

Spark, spark, Flame.

Everyone thinks they can be a good bartender. Some can learn like monkeys to make the drinks the way the boss wants them made, but in the end its three things that separate out the cream of the crop.

1) Observation
2) Patience
3) Simple, gentle human compassion

Now, I am not necessarily known among the company I keep for any of the three of those, let alone all of them together. That doesn't matter. The thing is, after a while behind the bar, that person waiting on you retains many of the best attributes I have acquired, while the thing that walks around day to day, cursing and nodding its head to one album after the next, well, that's the formula but relaxed - ill defined like muscle long since out of use. The one in the mock tuxedo shirt and black slacks behind the bar, shaking Martini's, opening bottles of Chateau Montelena a smile and a nod for a cunt boss and her cunt husband, surrounded by their cunt spawn, that one, that's the focused, exact essence at any given moment. Yes, still prone to anger and outbursts, excitement and hypocritical modus operandi, this job, when it gets inside you and forces you to concentrate, pay attention, believe in the people walking in and out of your life day after day, night after night, this is the focused exactitude of what I am, because now the muscle is flexed and lifting, struggling to get the barbell off its chest for just one more day, trying to make a difference in just one more persons life even while slinging poison down their throats.

Bartending is, as I've said before, babysitting. But at it's best it's babysitting for people who don't want to be pampered, they just want to be listened to and taken seriously. Their muscles can relax here and you can oversee their own trips into the imperfect state - that is why alcohol and intoxicants are so important to our communities and continued existence in the first place, why booze will never be outlawed again and people still do drugs regardless of the dangers they've seen on the news, in the classroom educationals and in their everyday lives since the moment they could think for themselves.

We need to get fucked up so we don't fuck ourselves up.

Not buying it? Well, you shouldn't, because I'm only half right. There are an awful lot of people who the booze and the drugs do fuck up. DESTROY may even be a better word. And even those who do manage to manage their habits will mot likely loose in the end because of them. But that's just it. We all loose eventually anyway. Something's going to kill ya? - a clich├ęd' Charlie Sheenism that is not untrue. People who don't drink or smoke or snort or shoot still die, and probably with as much frequency as those who do at a young age.

So I ask you, 'What'll it be?'

As a bartender however those need not exist to you. Sure, you will encounter people who can't handle their shit, who grow violent or angry or needy. You're even going to have to wait on and deal with them. Best thing to do is learn to recognize the warning signs early and let them make their move. But be ready. Be quick to catch them and excise them from your shift, your bar, your life. These people never last long anywhere in public, that's why they tend to go out late, bar hop, have/ attend parties and get banned from the nice places (which if you've been listening to my advice all along, you'll be working at by now). Sure, get rid of one and five more might take their place, but a multitude of assholes in one room will, you'd be surprised, tend to work itself out rather quickly nine times out of ten.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

It sounds funny...

... but all you really need to win some people over is a smile. And it helps to lighten your mood as well.

I know, I know. I can hear it now.

"When did this become the Michael Landon hour?"

No, I haven't bought any of those stupid new age books Oprah pimps all the time, I'm just giving you hard sceintific FACT. I read long ago in some science journal or another that during the physical act of smiling the face muscles used trigger a chemical reaction in the brain that actually makes you feel happier.

"if this is supposed to be presented as scientific fact, where's the exact sources?"

Well, if I was writing actual scientific journals I wouldn't be posting a blog about bartending (or would I? This is a science. Oh, chock it up to laziness today)

Anyway, this is an important 'Occult' tool to remember and use when some swine has shat upon your day. It can be difficult, but that smiling does actually work.*

The other side to this is a lot of those folks who will try to fuck up your day are looking for a confrontation or your defeat. If you smile right back they get neither, and this will often drive a high percentage of these folks completely insane. They will escalate their attack, but hang onto those happy guns and eventually you will ruin their day, causing their attack to deflate and they to exit frustrated, angrier and defeated. OF course this won't bode well for any spouse or children at home, if that is where they go, but many of them won't have that anyway, hence their need to strike out into the working class to carry out their assault. And if you know for a fact they are married, and just happen to know where it is they reside, well, call the cops from a nearby pay phone and claim to be a neighbor reporting a possible domestic. They might not catch them in the act, but the asshole will now feel Karma is clenching a shriveled finger around their lives and sink further into unhappiness.

All from a smile. Who knew, right?

* And even if its mind over matter, it still works so who cares???

Friday, August 1, 2008

Plans and Agendas...

Okay kids, here's my checklist entitled: CRITERIA TO FIND A PERFECT GIG. If You are starting out as a bartender, or even if you're just looking for a better gig than the one you have, If the job meets these criteria, chances are pretty good you'll do well and LOVE your job (how often does that happen?)

1) You do not want to work in a club.

Let me repeat that because some of you won't believe your eyes. No I didn't stutter or mis-type YOU DO NOT WANT TO WORK IN A CLUB.

Now, I know there is a special, genetically-mutated percent of the population out there that think, 'Eh? He's mad, you bet your ass I do want to work at a club.

NO, YOU DON"T. Trust me, please.

Even those of the 'I do' persuasion I've known ended up hating the gigs once they'd achieved them.

Why is that, you might ask?

Well, let's see now. MMMhph (clears throat) Massive crowds of people constantly revolving in and out of your range and ridiculously loud music may sound like a good idea from the otherside of the bar (do they?), but from behind it these things mean A) it is unlikely you will ever make any of your customers acquaintance, without which your tips will never grow or stay steady, and B) it will likely be too loud and too busy for helping or listening to people, and like the above (or rather a part of it) if you do, it will usually be by their effort and in that case you can bet your ass they have an agenda. This will most likely be bad (someone trying to see if you know where to score drugs - 65% of these will be narcs) but it's not out of the question that occasionally it could be a good agenda. Someone might want to get you in the sack. Cool, yeah, but be careful, as things like that rooted in clubs have a tendency to turn out to be bad regardless.

2) You do not want to work for something corporate. Have you ever known a bartender at a Chile's that was zonked out happy with their job? Nope. No, you haven't. And if you've never known a bartender from Chile's, or any of those other corporate type shitholes, stop in one tomorrow after work, order a drink and make casual conversation with the bartender (AGENDA! he screams and points his finger at you) and see if they dig it there. THEY DON'T. If they do they are the souless undead and YOU MUST KILL THEM ON THE SPOT!!!*

'Okay Mr. all knowing dickhead, what is it I want then?'

Glad you asked smartass. What you want to find is something privately owned that has an older clientele and a loose pour system. These two points are important, so let me branch out a bit.

3) Older clientele. Der Clientele Oldario. Caliente cl... oh, never mind that one, just remember OLDER CLIENTELE.

Why? You may ask. Because you may think you want a gig where you can meet members of the opposite sex, be hip, pretend you're Matt dillion. Whatever.

That's bullshit. Read on.

Here's what an older clientele does for you: First - they will take care of you. Not at first, no. Older folks latch onto a bartender they like and don't let go, even if the bartender does. When you come on a gig like this the people will be suspicious of you at first.

They should.

You're not going to know how they like their drinks, you're not going to know anything about them or any of the little things that make them unique **. It will take you time and effort to earn their love and respect. Don't bitch or bawk at this - if you're not willing to put forth the effort you're not really cut out to be a good bartender and the last thing the world needs, well besides another Bush or Wayan's brother, is another bad bartender, so get a job as a lifeguard or something, will ya?

However, if you are willing to tuff it out and bare the thick skin that will get you through the initial period, you will eventually come to realize you know all of your regulars' drinks, you know where they like to sit and when, and you'll have learned the little nuances of how to act with regulars: one biggie here is you know not to have a drink ready for them when they walk in (unless they are the type that always comes in alone and wants this, a distinction you'll be able to garner after only a few experiences with most folks) or call their drink by name. The idea here is the person might be with different people at different times and not want them to know they come there often. All these things the they will notice and that's when they start to talk to you and you get to know one another. You'll find yourself thinking about them if you happen across a tv show they were talking about or they will begin to see their kids in you. At this point on your path you'll have become more than just a bartender - you'll have become friends with the people. You might end up going out for a drink with some of them or to birthday parties, Christmas parties, whatever. You'll bring in pictures of your vacation for them to see, talk about your parents or even just spend slow eveings behind the bar listening to them tell great stories about when they tended bar***.

I can't stress this enough: this is what being a good bartender is. Clubs and corporates are designed against this grain, so while you might make some money by sheer volume, you'll be missing out on steady, consistant funds but more importantly you'll be missing out on some very worthwhile relationships and life experiences that will not only serve to make Your existence much more rewarding, it will serve to make you better in ANYTHING you do after that. It's helped me in the two jobs I've had since going on hiatus as a bartender. It's helped me with everyday interactions with people, like when I go into an unfamiliar bar. And it will especially help you be a better bartender.

.................

Moving right along...

The loose pour system once was the only system. Nowadays there's a whole market of 'bar technology' designed to watchdog the amount of booze a 'tender pours. There's the ball bearing system, where the pourer on the bottle can be set to measure exactly oone ounce of pour before a ball bearing slips to the mouth and stops the flow. There's also a micorchip system, which I have never seen but heard plenty about. This is more crazy, Tron type bartending where a microchip measures your pour and transmits a report on it to a central database. Get it? This way they always know who pours how much, so trouble can be proven and logged.

Big brother, eh?

Loose pour is what it sounds like. You pick up the bottle, tilt it above the glass and pour. Maybe about an ounce for Joe schmoe, more than an ounce for your heavy hitters and less than an ounce for 'quarters'*^ and the like. This is war my friends, and you will learn to act accordingly. A bartender who can't measure a free pour isn't worth his margarita salt. If you're unsure, take an empty liquor bottle, a pourer spout and a shot glass. Fill the bottle with water, pop on that spout and start filling the shotglass. WHile filling count to yourself. Everyone's count is different. '1,2,3,'. Whatever. You'll get used to the count it takes to fill that glass and in no time you'll be able to measure a free pour just using your count. Again, corporates tend to be set up on the assumption everyone is going to overpour, so they opt for the security features mentioned above. Fuck that. People, especially older clientele, don't frequent where they can't get a good drink. Corp's rely on heavy turnover volume, hence coupons in the Sunday paper and ads on TV to attract new people all the time. Again, high clientele turnover rate = less regulars = less money.

Have there been people who have violated these rules and loved their jobs? Yeah. No one I know though. And while a cozy bar with plenty of regulars can actually be quite cathartic and pleasant to work at, clubs and corp's tend to be hectic and taxing, hence why it's not only the clientele that has a high turnover rate.

Okay, cheers for now, I need a drink.

...................................


* Legality: Do Not Go kill these people. Just give em' a hearty 'Piss off' and move on.

** Older folks socialize as much or more than younger folks do, so they will find a place they like also based on what other people in their age range with their likes and dislikes, expectations and apprehensions go. This is a great tip-off to whether or not you want to work at a place; case the joint for a few weeks before seeking employment; if there's no regular older crowd but a bunch of now-and-theners chances are its not that great a place.

*** BONUS FACT: Many people who frequent bars (not clubs) were themselves once bartenders or waitstaff!!! Guess how us ex-bar folk tip? GREAT!!! (if your not a blowjob hack that is)

*^ see 'what you don't do' blog from March 21st. Direct link here:http://thebartenderchronicles.blogspot.com/2008/03/what-you-dont-do.html