May 10, 2007

Pride and Prejudice, or Am I Ever Gonna Get a Flippin' Drink?

Oddly enough, bartenders tend to be pack animals, hanging together in droves either before, after and, often, during a shift. And like other pack animals, they are particularly wary of those outside the pack. I am frequently reminded of this whenever I sit at a bar tended by total stranger. I immediately size them up, playing a mental guessing game: How long will I wait for my drink? If I order X, how will it arrive? How long have they been doing this?

These are judgmental questions, of course. Bartending requires one to constantly size up people and situations (what you do with that information reflects on both your character and skill as a bartender). I can't pretend that bartending "did this to me;" rather, I suspect this particular trait of mine was simply made good use of behind the bar.

Apparently, I am not alone. Perhaps it's a case of cruel irony, or simply penance for my years of judgment of others, but now I am acutely aware of other bartenders' turning a critical eye to me. Their mental notes are slightly different then mine these days, however. The questiosn they ask themselves I also used to consider: I've never seen her before; she's not a regular. Is she going to order a friggin' appletini? Is she a decent tipper?

In the best places, I end up with stellar service and carefully prepared drinks regardless of how the barkeep may answer these questions (and, I might add, regardless of whether I am in jeans or dress, with a group or on my own, and so on). But San Francisco is a hip little town, with a large pack of "too cool for school" bartenders. Since I have never roamed with this group, I am treated as an interloper. (It should be noted, too, that often those who might look too cool for school—there go those judgments flying again—are often the friendliest and most professional of the bunch.) My interloper status gets me slower service, sometimes higher prices, and never the time of day. Now, is this such a big deal? Nope. I have plenty of bars to choose from, and a thick skin to boot. But I spent too long in this business to simply stop caring (aren't I a doll?).

The net result of these judgments and inappropriate reactions to them is far more than my own bruised ego. It is an immeasurable one, and it should worry every bar owner everywhere. Because bartenders almost always reflect the attitudes of their owners, which means I know who cares enough about their clientele to staff their bar with professionals (as opposed to those who allow their prejudices to get in the way of their craft). More importantly, it should worry bar owners because a guest who feels ever so slightly wronged doesn't give a hang what the bar's policy is if they still can't get a decent drink, and on time. Guess who gets my regular business and who gets my eternal disdain?

Moral of the story? I'll let you figure it out.

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