Are You Being Served?
If you’ve ever been on the internet, it’s a fair assumption that you’ve come across a list declaiming the “Ten Things Every Bartender Hates (#6 Will Shock You!!!!!)”.
It’s widely acknowledged that ‘the customer is always right’. However, this age-old maxim has long been debunked by the newer but seemingly more accurate – ‘the customer is never right’. Photos abound of dockets that list improbable orders, such as a skinny-weak-decaf-extra-hot-cappuccino. Anecdotes fly of dimwitted customers who walk into a darkened restaurant, see chairs upon tables, smell a floor reeking of eucalyptus, and ask an exhausted staff member with mop in hand, “are you open?”.
Even I, trying to ascertain whether or not literature (read: clickbait) existed on this topic, Googled “joys of customer service” and was confronted with yet more horror stories of SUV-driving, manicured, Prosecco-zillas and their realtor husbands, demanding to speak to a manager.
But if the customer service industry is so painful why on earth do people continue to seek it out as a career? Surely the percentage of self-flagellators among us cannot be so high as to merit such an ever-growing and vibrant hospitality industry?
I came for the hours; stayed for the laughs.
What first enamoured me to restaurant work was simply the availability of a flexible schedule. Like many others I started my hospitality career to supplement my meagre Youth Allowance while an Undergrad; working nights and weekends was the perfect accompaniment to my university timetable. Before long, however, I found myself taking on more and more responsibility and attending fewer and fewer lectures.
Convenience aside, the justification I give to explain my continued fascination with hospitality remains the same: it’s loads of fun, and I’m fantastic at it. Don’t worry, I’m not going to regale you with a list of my strengths (if anyone is interested in such a list, feel free to email me), but I will say this: though I had ‘fallen’ into hospitality ‘by accident’, I was absolutely stoked to find that this was something I loved. I swanned around, taking pride in memorising orders and making stuff up about wines I’d recommend, making customers laugh, having to make decisions on the spot and problem-solve, trying new food, learning about wine, broadening my horizons and being run off my feet and loving every minute of it.
…and the people.
The people you meet when you work in hospitality are passionate, fun loving, talented and always ready to extend a friendly how-do-you-do – who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? I’d gained more from hospitality than I had my first few months studying Plato and Piaget – thus rewarded, I continued to pursue what I had now stopped considering ‘just a job’ and now considered ‘my career’.
It took me a few years to figure this out; until I was 25 whenever someone asked me what I did for a living, I’d tell them my place of work but then add in a bunch of extra information about what I was studying or what I hoped I’d do one day. I’ve since stopped, but I find that among some people there’s still a sort of stigma attached to customer service roles (usually those people I mentioned earlier who ask to speak to a manager) – to be perfectly frank, my own grandmother is still prone to asking me about my search for a ‘real’ job. Happily, though, this attitude seems to be decreasing and more people are getting behind us and sharing the food-and-bev love.
Mocktails and Green Grenades.
Aside from the residual white-collar condescension that we’re slowly eradicating, the other thing massively hurting our beautiful trade is the exact ‘us-versus-them’ mentality that Lists of Customer Nightmares aim to promote.
Please, please ignore those lists. I’m sorry Buzzfeed, but you’ve got the wrong end of the swizzle-stick on this one.
Let me assure you, any beverage-provider worth their salt is not going to take your beverage modification to heart, or let it ruin their day. The cold hard fact remains that people are different, and this is great. Most hospo pros know this and far from resenting it, acknowledge it as one of our raisons d’être.
Bartenders Don’t Hate You.
If the latest and strangest beer made with scorpions or belly-button fluff (not joking) isn’t to your taste, bloody well order whatever you like. I’d probably give scorpion-beer a crack out of curiosity, but you can bet that on a sunny day when I’ve finished mowing my lawns and I’ve worked up a proverbial hard-earned thirst, if someone offered me a VB I’d sure as heck be grateful.
At our hearts, most of us are just friendly nerds who want to share our love of all things fun and consumable. We’ve developed a passion for the finer things and would love to share it with you, if you’ve the inclination. Delighting in choice is yet another reason we love our trade and want you to adore it as much as we do.
We’ve likely spent years learning about different beverage options from all over the world – use us! Ask to try anything you like, ask about the difference between Sauvignon- and Fume- Blanc, ask why everyone cares so much about sour beers, and definitely ask if a Negroni is all that it’s hyped up to be. I would bet you my last bottle of Bollinger that your bartender is just bursting with a bevy of beverage buzz-words.
We like to make party.
But do you know what? If you don’t care even a little bit about hops or grapes or anything else that comes prior to the glass full of liquid being in your hand, we don’t mind.
The really good bar, café and restaurant staff care about more than just the latest whatever or the hottest, most small-batch bla. Product knowledge is important, sure, but rest assured that what we’re really in it for is the good times.
I’ve never encountered a demographic of people so dedicated to making sure others have a good time (okay, maybe Santa or the person who dispenses laughing gas at the dentist’s). At the crux of what we do is one simple goal: to provide an enjoyable experience for our customers.
Sure, sometimes it’s hard.
I don’t mean to preach – sometimes dealing with people can be difficult, sometimes you’re tired, your pet rock just died, or you’ve been on your feet for thirteen hours straight without a break. If you happen to cop a bit of rudeness when you’re already a bit down, it can be easy to lash out.
I remember once, when I was young and full of potential, greeting a large group of birthday revellers that had walked into the cocktail bar in which I worked. I hopped to business, greeting, smiling, directing to seats, and started asking around to see if anybody would like to order something straight off the bat (some people need a menu – I personally need a dry gin martini with a twist).
Without warning and without provocation, I copped a barrage of diatribe from a young woman in the party.
“For God’s sake would you just leave me alone! I’m busy!”
Let me tell you, kids, I was miffed. How dare she. Does she even know who I am. That’s it, her Saturday night is over.
I returned to the bar thoroughly put out, but already brimming with plans to ignore her for the whole evening, leaving her thirsty, sober, and probably even more cranky.
By the time I’d started stirring myself a Calm-Down-tini, however, I’d come up with a new plan. I sipped and waited five minutes or so, and then I approached the person who’d snapped at me, with a glass of champagne. I’d like her to have this glass of bubbles, on me. I said I wouldn’t come to her for an order for now, I’d give her space, and if she needed anything to please come and find me at the bar.
Do you know what? It bloody well worked. I’d gone from Mightily Pissed Off to a much happier place – and more importantly, so had she. A cheesy story, perhaps, but one that helps us to remember why we’re all here – to have a drink and a laugh and a damn good time.
If you’ve some anecdotes that will help me compile the list of “Fifty Things Your Bartender LOVES About You”, please comment below!
TC for CB