Busy Is Good, Busy Is Bad

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In the last year bartending every Saturday has been different. I have had some really busy nights and some really slow nights. Every bartender wants to be busy. When we first started a year ago, the owners had a barback and a bartender who worked with me on Saturdays. Over the last year the management learned that summers usually are dead weekends, and due to my Saturday night co-worker quitting, they didn't get a replacement right away and I was the only bartender on Saturdays. I had no problem with this, and figured that Saturdays would be quiet over the summer, so it wasn't a big deal.

Last Saturday we had a private party of about 35 people. They paid $35 each, for a 4 hour open bar with well drinks (the basic vodka, gin, rum & tequila) 072407.jpg
& select beers (Smithwicks, Coors Light, Yuengling drafts and most domestic bottles). It started out well. The bar was still open while the party went on, so I had to serve the private party and my waiters alone. That same night was a local festival in town, and at 11pm it ended...and everyone came to the bar.

It went from "really busy" to a crowd 3 deep waiting for drinks - with just me behind the bar.

I'm fast enough, but not this fast. The private party was just knocking back drink after drink. The festival drinkers would come up with things like "Give me 20 soco & lime shots" or "I'll take 5 car bombs" or "Can I have a Long Island Iced Tea, One Mojoto, One "weak" Cosmo."

Imagine the last order when you have a crowd of people waving dollars at you to buy drinks and I have to make three labor intensive drinks - which I don't care about MAKING the drinks, I care because such drinks take a long time to make and they will slow me down from making other people their drinks in a busy bar. I'm a people pleaser, I want to make the customers happy and get stressed if I feel like i'm not serving them fast enough. I would explain to everyone who were trying to get my attention while I am making the drinks "Yes, I see you. I know you want a drink. I will make these as fast as I can and get to you..."

I was helped out by the floor manager for a bit at 11pm and even the owner showed up and started to help out at midnight. There was a good 45 minutes where all three of us were making drinks non-stop, and still couldn't keep up. The cool thing about working there is that even when the owner & manager jump behind the bar, they are doing it to help. I know a lot of other owners in town who "bartend" (I use this term loosely) and really throw around a few drinks when it's busy and talk to their customers, play darts or pool, then split the tips with the bartenders who did the majority of work. They don't do that at my bar, and I respect them for it.

We weren't expecting this. We knew about the party, but we assumed it was going to be a casual Saturday night with about 40 people in the bar, and the service bar (the waiters order drinks for their tables, and I make those, too). I can do that alone. But it was like "The Perfect Storm" when the festival ended, and it turned into a mob scene around 10:30-11pm.

Here's some highlights (or lowlights?), a Top 5 for last Saturday...

1. "Sean! Sean! Sean! Sean", I would hear behind me while i'm at the register ringing in a drink. I'd spin around and it's someone I don't even know. They overheard someone using my name and decided to get my attention. There's nothing wrong with this, exactly, but i'm already in the process of doing something. I have about 5 people trying to get my attention already, and by shouting my name it just makes my life more stressful. Later that night, I also heard: "Bar-ten-der! Bar-ten-der! Bar-ten-der!", I heard with each syllable from some Italian guys, who were shouting this at me while i'm making a drink. I looked their way, and they were 45 year olds dressed in Dolce and Gabanna tight T-Shirts, and their eyes were watery & bloodshot. Not sure if that was from drinking or too much Bolivian Marching Powder. I ignored them - because I already had a queue in my mind of who were waiting longer at the bar. I did eventually make it over to them, and of course they are drinking Johnny Black & RED BULL. Ugh.

2. Standing with your money out = Good. Standing with your money out & waving it impatiently in the air = Bad. A crew of people came in wearing argyle golf gear and did this (there was some kind of bar crawl going on). I disdainfully looked at the 22 year old leading the group, while I was making other drinks, and set him straight, "Don't wave that money at me." He stopped, but looked confused like it was normal to act like an asshole.

3. A girl orders a Bud Light & 4 Jagerbombs. I tell her the price. She then gets her purse. Opens her wallet. Takes out her money. Starts counting the bills. Still counts some more. Explains to her friend that she owes me for the Bud Light. Goes back to counting her money.

So you have to imagine this going on, while people are trying to get my attention, the place is jammed and i'm behind the bar alone. If I leave this girl to get her money and start making other drinks, i'll have 10 other people trying to get my attention, and I probably will forget to get her money - and she just ordered about $30 worth of booze. A young guy with long hair next to her looks at me and we both make eye contact and we didn't even need to say anything because we are thinking the same thought: HAVE YOUR MONEY READY WHEN YOU ORDER. I just say to him, "I don't need this right now." He nods and makes a face as if to say, "I know."

4. At the peak of service, I was worn out from running around. I was out of glassware and sliced fruit. Needed to get more Coors Light bottles, but dared not go downstairs with the volume of business. I was sweaty from constantly moving, sticky from getting beer and soda on me, and the pressure of keeping up with a bar three deep was difficult.

A guy ordered 2 shots, 2 draft beers and 1 bottled beer. I tell him the price. A blonde haired kids next to him, who is also ordering with him turns into 'Mr. Accountant'. He says, "Now wait. How much were the shots?", I tell him. "And the beer?" I tell him. Mr. Accountant whines, "The beer was $3 last time I ordered!", I tell him that it was $3, and the special is over, and now its $4. The floor manager was walking by and I confirmed it with Mr. Accountant right there. He is irritated and as he pays me he makes some snide comments to his friends like, "This is bullshit...".

Cut to 30 minutes later Mr. Accountant orders again. He orders 5 Sam Summer Ales draft. I'm putting them down and he says, "$4 each, right?" - as if he is trying to convince me. I correct him and simply say, "Noooo...$5 each. You owe $25.", He whines AGAIN. I patiently explain, "They were $4 a few hours ago, but the special was over." He looks away from me shaking his head and muttering to his friends, while reaching into his wallet. I extend my hand to get his money and he throws the $30 on the bar in front of me. I say nothing but I can feel Anger. Level. Rising. I get his change, as i'm walking back I hear him say, "This guy is sooo fucking me over."

I had enough. This guy gave me grief a half hour ago about $4 Yuenglings and is now giving me grief over $5 Sam Seasonals. Now that I think about it today, I'm sure that he probably was drunk and didn't know that there was a different price between the two draft beers, which was why he was being a dick. But that's not my fault. I angrily snapped at him, "Are you kidding me? You're crying over one dollar? One dollar? I don't make the prices! I just sling the beer! They had it on special for $4 earlier, and now it isn't a special!", I gestured a thumb behind me to the touch-screen cash register, "That tells me what the prices are!"

His buddies were around him, tapping him on the shoulder, pulling at his arms saying, "Leave it alone..." and "Let it go, man, its just a buck a beer." For a brief moment I thought he was going to take a swing at me. He turned away, without saying a word and a pissy look on his face.

I recognize that i'm in a service oriented job. I know that we should have the "customer is always right" attitude, and have that cheery, happy face at all times, but the main problem with bartending is that we aren't dealing with rational people. We are dealing with drunk people. Some are happy drunks. Some are mean drunks. Some are respectful. Some are disrepectful. When i'm behind the bar, if someone disrespects me, I usually try to let it roll off my back, but there are times where i'm simply not going to take someone calling me an asshole for something that I have no control over. Sure, I could have been calm & rational and explained it in a soothing voice but I was on my last nerve.

5. At the bar, a guy and a girl come up and order a shot - asking me to choose. It's her 21st birthday, the guy tells me. I think about it, and make them a Chocolate Cake shot. It's Vanilla Vodka and Frangelico, chilled with a sugared lemon wedge. I explain the shot, that they shoot it and then suck on the wedge. Then I quickly have a flashback to college thinking about how I first met Hannah. I grin and add, "Then after you do the shot, suck the lemon wedge and then you kiss each other. You two need to kiss each other or she will have bad luck for a year. You don't want her to have bad luck for a year, do you?" I walked away grinning, I never did get to see what happened to those two at the bar.

I think if I get a barback each night, it should make things tremendously easier on me.

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This page contains a single entry by Furey published on July 24, 2007 12:20 AM.

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