I remember the first day I stepped foot in my bar. I had just gotten laid off from the job that made me pray for a subway crash every morning, and was drinking free on the dime of a family friend who was a bartender there. It was Halloween. I was dressed like a Victoria Secret Angel. I was 22. I had never so much as made a martini or poured a beer from a tap. When I was offered a job hostessing one day a week that day, I didn’t think I would ever parley it into a four year stint that has given me more opportunities and money than I could have ever imagined.
But here I am, four years later, possibly on the verge of leaving and finally putting my English degree to use writing TV shows in L.A. And the bar/restaurant that I call second home in New York City has taught me a lot of life lessons. I’d like to pass those lessons on to others because I genuinely feel like I owe it to all my other bartender friends to try to educate the masses as I go.
10. I am a bartender, not an escort.
Funny how a lot of guys in suits seem to mistake the two, but just because I get you a beer and have a vagina while doing so, it does not give you the right to grab my ass or say inappropriate shit to me. That’s assault brotha. If you think grabbing a girl you don't know's ass is a good icebreaker, maybe you should reevaluate your life. I am not being paid to flirt with you or your friends. I do not get paid nearly enough to pretend I am remotely interested in 98% of the bankers, traders, stock brokers and other finance guys that roll through my little bar during the week. And for the guys in my bar who already crossed that line, if you think I haven’t thought about messaging your wife on LinkeIn about how I had to have her husband thrown out because he put his hand up my skirt, you’re greatly mistaken. It’s always on the backburner as an option. Treat me with respect and you will not be forcibly evicted from my bar. Or ratted out to your wife for being a groper.
9. Anything less than 20% is blasphemy.
Sorry kids, this isn’t an ego thing, this is a New York thing. Most service industry workers make about $2.13 an hour, far below minimum wage. My livelihood is my tip. And I know without a doubt, I never give service that is worth less than 20%. I always find it funny to hear these guys who work for Morgan Stanley or Barclays or UBS or Bank of America talk about throwing money around, but when a $153 bill is dropped, everyone gets real quiet. I was an English major that was terrible at math and somehow even I know that $20 on anything more than $120 is an insult. It’s ironic that those that deal with money on a daily basis are the ones who seem the most confused when it comes to adding a tip. You aren’t curing cancer or solving the debt crisis here bro, you’re leaving a 20% tip on a check and I’m pretty sure your phone even has a calculator. Maybe that explains the financial crisis of the last four years. If you can’t figure out 20% of 173, you probably shouldn’t be handling millions of dollars a day for other people. Or if you’re just too cheap to leave an adequate tip, maybe you should just stay home. Do you work for free? No? Okay cool because neither do I.
8. Don’t ever tell me to buy you a drink. I am all about buybacks.
I love rewarding loyal patrons who are courteous, respectful and patient with a round. What I don’t love is having someone demand I buy them a round, or worse, demand I buy MORE rounds for them. Even if you have a regular presence at a bar, it doesn’t always justify a buyback, let alone multiple buy backs. When people say “well I’ve spent three hundred dollars here, you aren’t going to buy me anything?” I usually respond by saying “when you go to CVS and buy a hundred bucks worth of stuff in toiletries, do you demand free bottles of shampoo or Tylenol?” If you are asking for free drinks, more than likely you’re a d-bag in the general scheme of life and I don’t do buybacks for d-bags. Seriously, who the fuck ASKS for free drinks? How poor are you?
7. Don’t ask me for something “fun."
Dude, I’m going to be 27. I’ve been drinking for 10 years. I know what I like, I know what I don’t. When I go to a bar, I have four staples – Hoegaarden, Chardonnay, Jack and coke, Bud Light. If the bar offers crazy concoctions, I’ll browse the list. But to the women who think they’re in an episode of Sex and the City, no, I don’t want to make you something “fun”. All alcohol is fun. You get drunk. Whether it’s pink or brown or blue or clear, it’s fun. Pick a drink and stop expecting the bartender to have a secret bottle of hot pink glittery awesome fun that's just going to take your drinking experience to the next level behind the bar; it’s cranberry juice for Christ's sake, my grandma used to drink it when she was constipated.
6. I am not stupid.
Yes, I work in a bar, and I have for a while. But many years ago I had a 9-5 desk job with benefits and a computer and a boss who made my life hell. And you know what? I hated it. I am not dumber than you because you wear a suit to work and I wear leggings and a tank top. I am not dumber than you because I serve beer and you tell people you trade bonds when really you get your boss’s lunch and laundry. I too, went to a decent college (holla, Terps). I have a degree. I travel, I’m cultured, I love sports, and I’ve been published. I work my ass off both at my bar and trying to get where I want to be with my writing. Do not assume that because I am the one pouring your beer, that somehow I am less ambitious than you, or a “fuck up”, or a disappointment that wasn't as capable as you were to get a job in IB or marketing. Just because I don’t sit at a desk all day and crunch numbers does not mean I am not changing the world in my own way.
5. I am more important than an intern.
My favorite story to tell the youngins. Long ago, I befriended a patron named J. I used to hate him because he’d come in right as I was closing.He knew this. Eventually, he wised up and began coming in earlier and tipping graciously. I would buy him rounds, chat with his coworkers, and make him look like the coolest mother fucker to ever grace a New York bank when he brought clients in for drinks or dinner. J loved me. So when three little snobby intern brats who made it clear they worked with him, decided to tip me three dollars on a hundred and ten dollar check, then call me a bitch as they walked out because hey, they work at a bank, and they are just too fucking cool to be nice to lowly bartenders, they had no idea that I would go to my dear friend J. And here’s the thing – J is in his late 40’s. He’s with it, he likes having the in at my bar. Wanna know what J doesn’t like? People associating him with 21 year old twits who tip shitty and call me a bitch on his company's reputation. J later called the three little interns and told them to come back. He told each to tip me 30 dollars and apologize. As they left, I told them the most important lesson they might ever learn. I am more important to J than they are. They are one in a million on Monster.com. There are a million other Georgetown, Duke, Brown, Yale, Cornell, and UNC kids that could replace them in a second. Their daily routine of getting yelled at and going to pick up lunch for their boss can be performed by any idiot willing to sell his soul for a bullet point on his resume. Me? It took J a year for me to warm up to him. To get the buybacks, to get the reserved tables, to get the “J’s the greatest” in front of the big buyers. I am the reason J comes to this bar. You? You’re about to get fired. Might want to work on that better than thou attitude before you graduate.
4. Don’t tell me to smile.
Don’t write it on a check, don’t write it on a napkin, and certainly don’t say it to my face. Look kids, I know it’s hard to believe, but I too have problems. I too have bad days, and sometimes I am not all smiles. I will always do my best to be polite and attentive, qualities any good server should employ regardless of how their day is going. But do people walk around your office telling you to smile while you’re sitting at your desk? My favorite response to people who seem to think I should constantly be smiling is usually that I just found out my dad’s cancer came back, or that it’s the anniversary of my mother’s death. Neither of which are ever true. However, don’t assume you know what’s going on in the life of the person who is serving you. Don’t wanna feel like a total jackass for telling a girl who’s dad just died to “smile”? Well, then don’t tell her to smile. I work in a bar, not Chucky Cheese. I have shit going on in my life too, and sometimes my job sucks. Don’t expect me to greet every person like I just won the mega millions.
3. We are not “in your town."
One of my biggest pet peeves is when tourists from bumblefuck stereotypical southerntown come in to my bar, usually around the holidays, get a glass of wine or a mojito or a margarita, and are seemingly SHOCKED at the prices, conveniently after they drink the whole thing. When the argument becomes, “where I live a glass of wine is five dollars”, it takes a lot of me to not say something like “because it looks like you enjoy a good box of Franzia”. Much like everything else in New York – food, clothing, toiletries, hotel rooms, shows, hookers – drinks at a restaurant/bar are going to be on par with the rest of the city, more expensive than they'd be in Sheboygan. Just like while you pay 500 bucks a month to live in a four bedroom townhouse in no-nameville Arkansas, I pay $1250. The cost of living in New York is higher because the cost of EVERYTHING in New York is higher. Even I passed ECON101. If you come to New York and expect a beer to be the same price as it is at your local dive bar down the street in the town that isn’t locatable on a map, I suggest you get out more. And honestly, do I look like I make the call on the prices at this place dude? I am the bartender, not the owner. If you complain about it, I will not be able to do anything for you, but I will certainly judge you and assume you are cheap. Nobody wins.
2. I judge you on what you order.
I know to ID if you’re ordering a Malibu bay breeze in January or a bloody Mary at 9:30 at night. I know you’re an idiot if you order a very dry martini with no vermouth. Very dry MEANS NO VERMOUTH. If you don’t know what I mean when I ask if you want something up or on the rocks, neat or on the rocks, then you shouldn’t be ordering your drink to begin with. Educate yourself on your booze. If it’s not 1987, and I’m not Tom Cruise, please don’t order a drink like you’re in the movie Cocktail. No daiquiris or pina coladas. You are not Samantha from Sex and the City, and no I can’t make that Cosmo any pinker without curing you of a UTI. Seriously, grow up Peter Pan. Count Chocula.
1. You sound like you're from London!
Do not let the British guy pay the check or leave the tip. Please. Ever. Seriously. Don’t.
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Bartender photo via Shutterstock