5 Things You Learn after 15 Years of Bartending

By Aaron Peart

 

A faceless moron speaking in vague anecdotes claimed that becoming an expert takes 10,000 hours. Well, I think it’s fair to say that after 15 years of bartending, I’m officially an expert in both making drinks…

And taking shit from drunks.

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If I had a dollar for every Over the Top attempt I broke up…

Don’t get me wrong! I wouldn’t be working for minimum wage (plus some bitchin’ tips) if I didn’t still love it after all this time. You meet some real characters in your regulars. Often, it’s like a TV show that me and my co-workers tune into every shift:

“Did you hear Adam and Liz are seeing each other??” “No way! That’s awesome!”

It makes for some great adventures in writing.

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Taking shots makes you really creative, we promise

However, alcohol changes people (I know, you’re dumbfounded, right?) and not always for the better. One of my main platforms as eventual Ruler of the World™ is to have every man and woman spend 18 months working in a restaurant before they turn 21, with all assets frozen, making minimum wage, and relying on NOT being a piece of shit to strangers in order to supplement their income.

It’s similar to Israel’s military, gas masks included, and I truly believe it would make the world a better place.

You see? I’m an optimist at heart. But you’ve got to be nice to The Man Behind the Counter! Otherwise you’ll end yourself up on that Fecal Roster, which believe me, isn’t the place you want to be.

 

 5) How to get on a Bartender’s Shit-List

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Well, start by following these terrible rules:

If you snap at me, fuck you. Seriously, fuck you so hard right in your stupid face. It is NOT ok. Nor is reaching over to grab my shirt, tap me, or swatting my shoulder. The bartender is on stripper rules, kids:

  1. Don’t touch unless I say so.
  2. I will have you removed.
  3. I’ll tell the door guy you took a swing if you don’t apologize.

Speaking of, give me some respect. Really, like this much.

As one of my cohorts so eloquently put it: G & T is not an acceptable response to “Hey, how you doing?”

Rather than a thing that dispenses drinks, you should see me as The Keeper of The Alcohols. I’ll never spit in your drink, but I can refuse service for any number of reasons. Oh, you wanted a proper 20oz pint, not an industry standard 16oz sleeve? Sorry pal, I don’t make the rules, that’s what the beer comes in. I could also fill that glass with water, and I can do that all night… alternately, you could shut the fuck up and drink your goddamn PBR like the other 200 people here are doing without complaint.

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Follow this compass to Bad Choices…ville.

And guess what?  Busy night or not, I know who is next to be served. Even if there isn’t a physical line, there is an order in my head. Often people think it’s in this order: Friends. Hot Girls. Everyone Else. You. I promise that’s not the case…mostly, at least. Unless you’re a jerk who breaks one of the above rules.

There are two ways to serve on “the wood”. The first is called “typewriter style”, where I’ll go left to right, as fast as I can, with few breaks in the pattern. You know, distractions. Like if an old friend shows up, or there’s a problem with the last person I served, or someone is handing over a broken bottle or something to be thrown away. When I’m “typewriting”, I’ll often take two or three drink orders at a time, because (typically) each person just wants one drink, and if two people want a bottle of beer, and the third wants a vodka soda, I can accommodate all three at once – pop pop pour.

See how it works?

If someone has a big order, I’ll take care of the two beers first and come back to Mr. Buying a Round. (Remember that guy, because we’re coming back to him)

The second is more common when it isn’t quite as crazy, and that’s keeping an eye on the new faces every time you look up. That’s the line in my head, and waving money at me, shouting my name, or (the cardinal sin of drunks) snapping your fingers. Keep snapping dude, it isn’t going to change that order in any positive way for you.

Fun fact: I’ll give obnoxious customers a fake name, so I know I can ignore all the “Hey John!”s or “Yo, Andy!”s the next time they come to the bar.

 

4) Have Some Tact While Ordering

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I will preface this with one of my favourite jokes:

“You know what a real man drinks?”

Whatever he damn well wants.

Don’t feel pressured to order a whisky if you’re with your boys if you don’t like the taste (or you’re one of them fightin’ drunks). Get something with an umbrella if you want. Hell, you’re paying for it. I’m more than happy to shake it, blend it, add grenadine, whatever. Bravo, sir, for not acquiescing to society’s expectations.

That said…

If you stroll in on $4 draft night with 30 people waiting, and you insist on an Old Fashioned (which when constructed properly can take anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes to make) guess what cupcake? You’re last in line. I got 30 people I can make happy and it’s gonna take about 8 seconds each to do it. It’s not that your money isn’t a priority.

It’s that everyone else’s is.

I promised myself I wouldn’t talk about tipping because there are literally thousands of arguments online about when to tip, how much, or if you should do it at all. I’m not breaking new ground with that. But it comes down to economics: if your cocktail takes 3 minutes to make, and you tip, say $3 on a $12.50 drink, that means even if the National Cheapskate Association is in town and those 30 people tip me 25 cents per beer, I’m putting *does math quickly* 2.5x more money in my pocket to ignore you.

AGAIN: this isn’t a slight on you as a person, it’s just something I’m going to put off until the masses have been quelled. After that, I promise I’ll put as much care and attention into your drink as if it was for myself.

Also, if I’m working at a place known for its craft beer, do all of us a favour and don’t order a Bud Light. It may be “your brand” (which I wouldn’t be bragging about, friend) but there’s a pretty high chance we don’t stock it. Hell, if I feel like having a joke, I’ll pour you a glass of water and tell you it’s pretty much the same, much to the delight of my IPA loving regulars seated at the bar.

I fully understand that some people don’t like let’s say, IPAs, but if you like lagers I know I’ll have something you’ll probably like even if you’ve never heard of before. Live on the edge! I’m a professional, and I wouldn’t recommend you something I didn’t at least think you MIGHT like.

And really…really…don’t say something like “What’s with all these faggy beers you’ve got?” (actual quote from a real person that still exists in this world). Best case, you offend me with your ignorance. Worst case, you offend a customer with two dads, or one of the brewers who stopped in to say hello.

But back to that guy ordering a round of drinks…

 

3) Have a Vague Idea of What You Want

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KNOW WHAT THE FUCK IT IS YOU WANT FROM ME.

No one has a more punchable face in the moment than the guy who orders a Corona… then a vodka OJ… then another Corona… then another Corona… AND THEN ANOTHER GODDAMN VODKA OJ. I am not a goldfish! I will remember your round, and there is no reason you can’t either. I will judge you far more harshly if you are that ass-hat than if you had written the order down on your phone. “3 Coronas, and 2 Vodka OJs”.

That wasn’t hard, was it?!

Note: For some reason from my experience, the English are the worst offenders. I don’t know why.

As an offshoot, if you ARE waving me down and I decide to serve you because you have been waiting a while (that’s on me, nobody’s perfect) DO NOT turn to your buddies and say “What do you guys want?” That will get a big old “nope” from me, and I’ll go back to the rest of the thirsty people not wasting my time.

I like to think I have a pretty solid memory of the cocktails I’ve made over the years, both classics like Manhattans and Negronis, as well as the “House Specialties”. They’ve all helped to shape my process of creating drinks. In many ways, bartending and cooking share similar processes. As a matter of fact, more than once have I talked to the chef in the restaurant, or one of my kitchen buddies about a cocktail that’s lacking… something, and more often than not it’ll be a quick taste, followed by “Lemongrass”, or “Mint”. It’s just balancing flavours.

So, if you were in a bar in Tennessee, and they had this one drink you loved, I’ll try to make something similar…but I’m gonna need something more than “good” when I ask what it was like.

But speaking of asking me to recreate experiences you had somewhere else…

 

 2) I am NOT Your Fucking Dealer

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Don’t ask me where to find drugs. I’ll say it again: don’t ask me where you can score drugs. Even IF I did them anymore (weed is an herb, man…) or knew where to get them, you think I’m telling you, a stranger? I’m working; therefore, you know I’m not a cop. But I don’t know that you’re not a cop, or worse: a friend of the owner, or some other plant trying to screw me out of a job.

In fact, out of everyone in the bar, I (and my kind) are the very least likely to point you in the right direction. Just because you tip a dollar a drink doesn’t mean we’re best buddies. I’m more than happy to tell you what other bars to check out while you’re in town (never my favourites, though) but that’s about it. Go do what everyone else does and find the skeeviest guy in the place.

Finally, if someone says you’re done for the night, that’s that.

There are reasons for cutting someone off, and all of them are to do with your own safety. I don’t want you getting alcohol poisoning, drinking and driving, or getting into a fight. In my part of the world, there are heavy fines imposed on the bartender. Not the establishment.

What’s more, if you get into any trouble or visit another bar before getting behind the wheel, I’m still responsible. I was the guy who first started serving you and didn’t cut you off.

Or maybe the time of the night has come: the so-called “ugly lights” are on, and the time has come to pay your tab. I’ve had people ask me “How much for another drink, pal?” with a wad of bills in their hand.

At the end of the day, it’s not up to me. It’s the law. And now you’re annoying me, when you should be making your way toward the exit. I’m now getting paid to clean, not be nice anymore.

So bounce.

Oh man, that all felt so good. Like pulling a splinter out, or getting that piece of food from out between your teeth. Ok, the rant is over. Now, what can you do to be in my good books?

Since we’re on the topic of being good…

 

1) Be a Reasonable Human

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First impressions count. If you plan to stick around all night and aren’t a regular, tip well right off the bat. You’ll see me (after I thank you) talk to my co-workers: dude in the white shirt and glasses? Take care of him, he just gave me $20 on top of a $30 round.  Wave if you like: it’ll help.

White shirts are pretty common, after all.

But it’s not just the money side of things. Essentially, if you are polite, patient, and considerate, you’ll be a joy to serve. And if I’ve been dealing with dipshits for 20 minutes (and you notice) make a joke.

A friendly face, no matter how new, is like a port in a storm.

And remember, I (legally) can’t use alcohol to deal with these people. My favourite is when I hit it off with someone or group of someones, and it’s almost time for me to finish work. I love asking those people (after running around like a headless chicken) if they’re enjoying the circus. When they inevitably laugh (whether it’s because I’m hilarious or they want their drink stronger, who cares) I can sign out and sit down for a beer with them.

Note that not all bars allow their staff to drink in their own establishment. But, if it’s up to me, I’ll tell you my usual watering hole and I’ll tell you to meet me there. Truth be told, I’ve made some great friends from across the wood, who still come back to visit.

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We still haven’t tried Raspberry Duff, Lady Duff, Tartar Control Duuuuuff…

I know this whole piece sounds like a rant. But what more is a rant than a conglomeration of experiences you collect while living?

The fact is this: Despite it being so easy to be a good customer, many people choose not to be. I still love my job, and as much as I may bitch about making a Manhattan at peak time, there’s a real pride when they come back and order another one. Likewise, if I have a customer that isn’t confident/knowledgeable on cocktails, there’s a real fun in playing detective:

“What don’t you like? How do you want it to taste? Are you allergic to anything?”

When I know they want a gin-based drink and don’t mind egg white, I can make a nice fluffy sour. It’s actually more exciting when people are dead against that egg white, until they try the drink I put together.  Or when someone says “I don’t like beer” and I give them one of the weirdest beers I have on tap – a blackberry sour beer or something – and they love it. It turns their whole existence inside out!

Which, of course, means they need another one to calm their nerves…

 

 

You can make friends with Aaron on that watering hole called Twitter, where he’ll give you more tips to get stronger drinks from your bartender.

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