After seeing Tom Cruise toss around bottles with the adept artistry of a Cirque du Soleil acrobat in the movie Cocktail, I had to chuckle a bit wryly. Yes, some of the tricks in the film I’ve seen in my life as a bartender, but overall the gig is nowhere near as glamorous as it looks on screen. In reality, tending bar requires a mixture of cardiovascular fitness, a ton of customer service skills and the ability to let BS roll off your back.
Somewhere around the time a drunken frat boy out for his 21st birthday hits rewind on Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar” for the 100th time, tending bar starts seeming more like a job and less like a party. Don’t get me wrong — no other gig in the world gives you the ability to make money while serving up booze, chatting with friends and watching 10 different baseball games on as many TVs. However, a lot goes on behind the scenes that intoxicated patrons rarely see. Here are a few secrets of the trade told by yours truly.
1. I’m Not Made of Saccharine
If I had a dime for every time some bloke a bit too far into his cups addressed me as “sweetie,” “honey” or even “sugar lips,” I’d be sunbathing in Tahiti while someone else crushed the mint for my mojito — with the requisite tiny umbrella. Pet names directed toward young women remain the bane of the typical waitress’s existence. If you refer to me as anything other than what my name tag says, you can probably expect me to refuse to move very quickly to make your requested Manhattan.
2. But I Will Help You Hook Up
This isn’t to say I’m not nice enough to encourage romance — between other people. If you’re too shy to introduce yourself to a potential hookup or more, I’m happy to make and deliver a drink with a message it’s from you. While matchmaking didn’t make my job-description checklist, I’m always glad to assist others looking for love.
3. Ice Is Nice
Well, sometimes. I personally abhor ice munching. This isn’t the Taco Bell drive-thru. Just a heads up, ordering a drink with light ice will not result in more booze per glass. You’ll get more soda or juice, or you can pay more for a stronger drink. With all due respect to Gertrude Stein, a drink is a drink is a drink. But requesting light ice kind of makes you look like a noob.
4. We’re Not Allergic to Alcoholism
Even though we may smile the entire time we serve you, hospitality jobs take a mental and emotional toll. All day and night long, those in customer service roles laugh at bad jokes, deal with racism, sexism and homophobia firsthand, and put up with people at their most obnoxious. Considering that many of us lack health insurance worth diddly-squat, it’s easy to see why many self-medicate.
Nearly 20 percent of workers in the hospitality sector admit to drinking on the job — and that’s only while on the clock. It’s not like we don’t have hair of the dog available right at our fingertips. It may seem like a glamorous and fun job, but in reality, we’re often watching one of the ugliest of habits developing in our coworkers, our patrons and even ourselves right before our very eyes. It can be sobering work for the few of us who actually stay sober.
5. You Don’t Tip? We Don’t Eat
Bartenders, like servers, earn less than minimum wage at most establishments. That means when patrons refuse to tip, we go without gas in our cars or food in our bellies.
Want to impress a bartender? Tip the first time you order a drink. This at least lets us know we won’t be left completely high and dry. While tipping only a buck works for wine and beer, those requesting complicated cocktails should tip $2 or $3 per pour.
6. Waving Money Around Will Earn You Stink Eye
Don’t act immature by waving cash around in front of your face like you’re swatting flies. Likewise, don’t snap your fingers at bartenders to try to get their attention. While every fellow bartender I know will refrain from spitting in your marg, acting like you deserve better treatment than everyone else at the bar won’t exactly make us run ourselves ragged after 10 hours on our feet to serve you any faster.
7. Dude, You’re Drunk and We Know It
Some folks do hold their liquor better than others, but this usually means they have plenty of experience riding the booze caboose. Guess what? While you may maintain a buzz on a more or less permanent basis, we bartenders work with dozens of alcoholics on the daily. No matter how hard you try to hide your inebriation, we will know — and we’re not going to risk our career or even legal action by serving those already intoxicated.
8. You Don’t Need to Go Home — but You Really Can’t Stay Here
When the lights come on at 2 a.m., you may feel up for an after-party. Do you know what, though? Most of us punched in before the dinner rush began and still have at least an hour of cleaning to do before we can clock out. Anyone who has ever experienced the joy of the “clopen” knows this leads to serious sleep deprivation and lack of judgment, something bartenders sorely need.
Look: Bartenders get it. Everyone needs a place to go to wind down (or… up), enjoy a few adult beverages and find temporary camaraderie with strangers never seen again. Those of us in the hospitality industry do our best to provide a great atmosphere for others fresh off the clock. Kindly remember, though, that your downtime is our busy season — so show a little love and treat your bartender with respect!