Over the course of my many years standing behind the bar in a beach resort town, I’ve found myself unwittingly engaged in some conversations and exchanges that will forever be etched into my memory. Some found me on the receiving end of unwarranted personal attacks. Some were just bitter customers. Some were just downright stupid questions or comments. Some were condescending people belittling me because they deemed me beneath them due to my occupation. These are the folks who mistakenly underestimated my intellect, and subsequently find themselves on the business end of the razor sharp blade that is my tongue. I’m nothing more than a mindless, inconsequential peasant serving boy to them. At least until their glass is empty, then suddenly I’m the most important guy in the world.
I’ve been in the restaurant business for 32 years now. It’s most definitely not because I’m a moron who couldn’t do anything else. I happen to love what I do, and according to some sources, I’m pretty good at it (wink). I’ve always tried to conduct myself with politeness and professionalism. But sometimes the situation just warrants something different. Whoever first said the words; “the customer is always right”, clearly never worked in a bar. My veteran barman status has taught me that as long as you keep a smile on your face during these exchanges, you can get away with a lot more.
The following is a list of ‘hypothetical’ conversations that took place between ‘theoretical’ customers and a ‘mythical’ bartender. They may or may not have actually happened. If you want, just for the sake of the story, we can pretend that the bartender in question is me.
Scenario # 1
I come to work and get behind the bar, smile on my face, ready to do what I love and make money in the process. I’m approximately 5 minutes into my shift when I approach an older couple who each have a nearly empty martini glass in front of them. I’ll describe him as rather rotund in physical stature, though morbidly obese would not be over-selling it. His bride seemed nice and demure and had no idea that he was soon to humiliate her, and most likely not for the first time.
ME- “Hey there, what can I get for you?”
HIM- With scowl on his face and in a gruff, pedantic tone. “Two more.”
ME- “I’m sorry, I didn’t make those, I just got here. What did you have?”
HIM- Seemingly annoyed by my lack of clairvoyance. “Two Ketel One martinis up.”
ME- Still smiling and not engaging his curmudgeonly nature. “You got it.”
I grab a pair of up glasses (that’s the actual name for a stemmed martini glass) fill them with ice and set them on the rail directly in front of the couple as I start to make their drinks.
HIM- “I said up! I don’t want any f—ing ice in my glass!”
Before I could respond, his own wife elbowed him and said; “He’s just chilling the glasses for us”.
I smiled and nodded at her as if to confirm her statement. He said nothing.
If you’ve followed either of my careers, be it tending bar or writing, then you know that in situations such as this, I always approach them with the same level of professionalism. I never draw first blood and I allow the customer to dictate how the exchange will go. Now it just so happened that this portly fellow led with an F-bomb, so as far as I was concerned, it was on.
ME- Still smiling at this point. “Or I could take it in the back, run it through the dishwasher, and serve your drink in a piping hot glass.” This yielded no response other than a blank stare from him. She on the other hand was already bowing her head in shame. No doubt internally contemplating why she had spent the past 40 years of her life with a guy who resembled Boss Hogg.
I noticed a lemon twist in her first glass, so I prepared one as the drinks and glasses chilled for a moment. At that time, I also skewered three jumbo olives for his drink. After all, he did order a “martini”.
I poured the 2 cocktails, of course serving her first. I poured his directly in front of him on his coaster and reached toward it with the olives.
HIM- In very stern, irritated tone. “I don’t want any olives!”
So I turned and put the olive kabob back in my fruit tray. I then turned back to them.
HIM- “That’s a little short don’t ya think?”
ME- Now starting to lose my patience with this land manatee. “Well sir, you didn’t tell me until I was pouring that you didn’t want olives in your MARTINI, so I allowed room for displacement. Which would have run it right to the top.”
At this point, two things happened. First, a man of approximately 67 years in age realized for the first time that he had no idea what the word displacement meant. And second, I decided that I wasn’t going to allow someone of this caliber to ruin my entire evening in the first half hour of my shift.
ME- “If that’s your way of asking me if I can top it off for you, then sure, no problem.”
I poured some more vodka into the shaker and chilled it. This time, instead of pouring right in front of him, I pulled his glass as far as I could to my side of a three foot wide bar, barely staying on the granite. To put it in perspective, if the base of this glass were an elementary school paper football, I would have just scored a touchdown. I now arrogantly turned my shaker upside down at a 90 degree angle and poured perfectly all the way to the very rim of the glass while staring him directly in the eye and didn’t lose a single drop. I then set my shaker cup down and turned and walked away leaving the glass exactly where I filled it. There was absolutely no possible way that he could either pick up, or slide the glass close enough to him without spilling at least 2 ounces. Nor could his fat ass lean in far enough to sip it down. I started to walk away and the party of four sitting right next to him were all smiling at me with approval having witnessed the entire exchange. That’s when I heard it.
HIM- “This guy obviously has no f—ing idea what he’s doing!”
I’ll now let you all in on a little trade secret. A bartender’s sense of hearing is roughly as keen as a TSA-employed German Shepherd’s sense of smell.
I came to a screeching halt and stopped dead in my tracks. That was F-bomb number two. Big mistake. I stood there completely still for about four seconds letting the anticipation build for everyone within ear shot. Then for dramatic effect, I actually walked backwards to the exact spot I had just left. I turned 90 degrees and stood directly in front of him. I looked him square in the eye and the smile now returned to my face.
ME- “I tell ya what. You don’t tell me how to tend bar, and I won’t tell you how to be an asshole.”
He sat in stunned silence as I walked away with a grin from ear to ear. It was a great night.
Thanks for playing along. Until next week, Syd Nichols
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