Until recently I was one of the most over-trained bartenders who had never really tended bar. I've passed BarSmarts and the full B.A.R., attended zillions of little classes at places like Tales of the Cocktail and Bourbon & Branch's Beverage Academy, watched and reviewed about a dozen bartending DVDs, and even won an online cocktail contest or two.
Then a couple weeks ago I actually got behind a bar to work. It was a large private party and I was one of many San Francisco bartenders hired to work the gig. We didn't have to take money, people weren't eating at the bar, and we only had a few specialty cocktails of the night, so I know I got off pretty easy. That was good because I was nervous as all heck, but within minutes all that training actually kicked in and I did an okay job of it if I don't say so myself. (And if any of the patrons disagree, they're not here to argue.)
Things About Bartending I Did Not Know Until I Tended Bar
- Time flies. Writing is a long tortuous nightmare that takes all day, invades your dreams at night, and pays less than minimum wage. Bartending went by really quick and left me mentally alert if physically exhausted.
- I'm not used to standing up for more than half an hour in a row. The entire next day my legs were sore.
- When you're busy, it's kind of zen. You have to be so in-the-moment it's really quite peaceful. Who needs yoga?
- You can feel all of their thirsty, beady, greedy little eyes on you.
- Most customers don't remember who you are- they go back to the same spot at the bar and talk to the new bartender there as if he's you.
- It's just as dirty and sticky as I thought, but I minded it less than I thought I would.
- If you like the smell of good liquor, and I do, I do, every bottle you open is like a happy little memory.
- It can be very hard to hear.
- Some people watch every pour to make sure they're getting their full amount of alcohol.
- But it would still be easy to fool those people and put in less if you wanted to.
- Drunk people are kind of cute, and also kind of annoying.
- I never mind when bartenders grab straws and garnish with their fingers and stick them into drinks, but when I did it I felt guilty every single time. I think this is an area where even most high-end bars could use some improvement.
- It made me really happy to make non-alcoholic drinks for people. My feelings toward non-alcoholic drinks have been well reported, but now I think maybe there should be more of them in the world.
- The scariest part of the job is worrying if people have planned to get home safely without driving.
- Paying attention to whether or not there are customers at the bar waiting for drinks seems to be the most important part of the job. I can no longer tolerate inattentive bartenders.
- That said, patrons can just pop up out of nowhere.
- I need to learn to do the nod that says, "I see you and will get to you just as soon as I finish this drink."
- They don't teach you the recipe for a Long Island Iced Tea in fancy bartending classes, so I had to ask a co-bartender with practical experience to handle the request.
- Driving to a busy bar, working for 12 hours, then driving home feels exactly like my early-1990's existence: driving to a rave, dancing for 10 hours, and driving home.
- Minor scrapes and bruises are part of the job.
- I now understand why bartenders tend to remember a person's drink and what they look like rather than their name. As I almost never have two of the same drinks in a row that must make it hard for some bartenders to recognize me.
- I have never been in a bar anywhere close to that long without having a drink. It was surprisingly not as uncomfortable as I thought it would be.
- It's hard to not hate customers who stick their fingers in your garnish tray.
That was fun! Now it's your turn for a list to put in the comments.
Things About Bartending Camper Thinks He Knows but Doesn't: