Saturday, January 9, 2010

Reflection: 2009

2009 was a whirlwind of a year. I feel like I started it off on the right foot, was doing alright, took a chance, fell behind and by the year's end, picked myself back up and started it all over again. I'm still working just as hard as I have always been, but this year (2010), I want to work smarter instead of harder.

I bartended my whole way through 2009. I even dabbled a bit in bar managing. I also started writing for in 2009. Writing for is something that I still do on a consistent basis. I am just as passionate about writing as the Bartender Examiner as the first day I started. Now that I have myself pretty established on my Examiner page, I'd like to focus on getting my writing out there in the print form such as in magazine articles and maybe, possibly start working on that book I've always wanted to write.

Before moving full-speed ahead onto 2010, let's look back at my ten most popular articles posted on my page this past year:

#10: George Dickel, the other Tennessee whiskey

#9: Busting bar myths: Why Corona is garnished with a lime
#8: Bartending 101: What is a barback?
#7: Busting bar myths: Food does not sober a person up
#6: Find a bartender job: Interview
#5: Redhook Brewery
#4: Bartending 101: What is triple sec?
#3: 11 factors that affect a person’s BAC
#2: Bartending 101: What is rye whiskey?
#1: Find a bartender job: Resume

There is a lot of hope for 2010. I can feel it. There is power is positive thinking. I am bound and determine to finish what I've started and to get it right once and for all this year. I promise to continue to bring educational and entertaining content throughout the new year on both my blog and page.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

When a customer repeatedly stiffs you

It's bad enough when a customer stiffs you on a tip for a round or two, but what if a customer repeatedly stiffs you on every single round that they order? How I handle the situation all depends on the bar I am working at. Sometimes bars and restaurants have a strict policy about customer service. They fumble over themselves doing whatever it takes to make the customer happy. That means that when a customer doesn't tip, there isn't much you can do or say. You just have to accept it and hope that the next customer does tip.

Then there are places where providing good customer service isn't as much of a priority as it is to pour an accurate shot amount. When customer service in general goes by the wayside, you have a little bit more flexibility in how you handle the stiffers. I'm the type of bartender that feels it is important to always provide good customer service. My philosophy? The better the service, the better the tip. It also increases the chances of return business.

When some bartenders call out a customer right after the first or second round, I give the customer three chances (just like three strikes). After the third round of being stiffed, I pull the customer aside and check in with them. I ask them if the drinks and the service being provided is okay. If they answer yes with a smile, I then let them know that when a customer doesn't tip, it makes the bartender think that there is a problem with the drinks or service and because they haven't tipped me on any of the rounds that they've ordered, it leads me to believe that there might be a problem.

Now this conversation can go a few ways and you have to be prepared to deal with the repurcussions. Either the customer will "get it", apologize and grab whatever cash is in their pocket and leave it on the bar as a tip. Or the customer could just be a complete jerk who doesn't tip and just walks away. Then there are the customers who don't speak a lick of English and don't understand what you're saying so they just smile and walk away.

With the non-English speaking customers, I've had the best luck when they come in groups because there's always one person in the group who does speak English. The English speaking group member will see that a conversation is taking place at the bar, come up to the bar to make sure that everything is okay and when they realize what we're talking about, they'll leave some sort of tip.

Most importantly, as a bartender you have to pick and choose your battles. You don't want to be the whiny, rude bartender, but then again you work for tips and don't want to be constantly ran over by the cheap customers. In the big picture, the tips all even out at the end of the shift anyways. For the one person who doesn't tip, there will be someone who over tips. So don't get upset over the one person who stiffs you on a round. It happens. But when a customer does it each and every time they order a drink (even more so if their order is complicated and their high maintenance), then having the conversation might be a good idea.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Simple Questions Always Have Complex Answers

Why does it seem like when customers are asked the most simple questions, they respond with the most complex answers?

How are you today?
What would you like to drink?
Would you like your beer in a chilled glass?
Is everything okay?

It might be hard to imagine that simple questions like these lead to exhaustive answers from certain customers. Like when you ask a customer if they want their bottled beer served in a chilled glass and instead of answering yes or no, they look at you like you've just asked them how to solve global warming.

Or when you ask a customer what they want to drink they respond with, "I don't know. What's good?" Then you have to spend the next ten to fifteen minutes trying to figure out what spirits and cocktails the customer normally only to have them order a beer or a glass of house wine.

Even the "How are you today?" can lead into a long winded discussion involving a customer's number of ailments and personal woes, making you sorry that you asked in the first place.

Simple questions should always have simple answers.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Are you listening or just dumb?

In the state of California, the ABC has a strict policy about not serving alcoholic drinks past 2AM. Most bars will close at 2AM, but there are a few "after hours" bars that remain open well past 2. Even though a bar might be open past 2, it can only serve non-alcoholic drinks. Chances are those bottled waters, cans of Red Bull and sodas will be more expensive in an after hours club, after hours, than during normal hours. It's just the nature of the business. Business is business.

It's a hard transition to make when 2AM comes around. The booze have to be locked up and put away and there is still a club full of thirsty customers. Bartenders work for tips and therefore generally hate having to tell a customer no. Sometimes customers can't understand why a club will remain open and not serve alcohol. Customers who get upset about not having access to alcohol past 2AM either aren't familiar with the ABC and its statewide liquor laws or they are from a state that serves alcohol after two.

It's hard enough having to tell a customer no. It's even harder to have to tell a customer no, multiple times. Here is a typical conversation that takes place between a bartender and a customer in an "after hours" club, after 2AM:

"Can I get a Corona?"
Bartender: "We aren't serving alcohol."
Customer: "Can I get a Stella?"
Bartender: "I'm sorry, but we stopped serving alcohol at 2AM."
Customer: "Can I get a Heineken?"
Bartender: "No! I'm sorry, but it is California law that I can't serve alcohol past 2AM."
Customer: "What time is it?"

At this point, the bartender usually slaps their hand on their forehead and moves on to the next customer only to have a similar conversation.

I always find it entertaining when a customer tries to get me to serve them an alcoholic beverage well after last call. It's even funnier when they try to bribe me. If a customer honestly thinks I am willing to risk my job and bartending career just so I can serve them a drink for a couple hundred bucks, than the joke's on them. All of the bribing, whining and pleading wont get them anywhere with me.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Stiffer Who Got Stiffed

The Stiffers. There's always a couple each shift. These are the people who leave a big fat zero for a tip. If a customer stiffs me once, it sucks, but it isn't the end of the world. If a customer stiffs me multiple times in a row or on a large tab, chances are the next time they approach my bar, I wont help them right away and when I do, the drink they order will be on the weak side.

Every time this one customer would come up to the bar, he would order one beer at a time. Each time he would order a beer, he would give me his credit card and have me close him out. On every round he ordered, he would only sign the slip and not leave me a tip. Talk about a pain in the ass. This guy was not only stiffing me, but having to run his card for one beer each time instead of running his card once at the end of the night was a bit time consuming.

By the fourth time the Stiffer approached the bar, last call had been announced. I knew that the Stiffer wanted another beer, but I also knew that he wasn't going to tip me. I had plenty of other customers to take care of so it was easy to make myself look busy and not get to the Stiffer right away.

When I finally did get around to helping the Stiffer, last call had come and gone and we weren't serving any more alcohol for the night. Whoops! When I explained to the Stiffer that I couldn't serve him a beer passed two (Hey, it's the law!), he told me that he had been waiting for someone to help him. That's when I smiled, looked him in the ye and told him, "Maybe you shouldn't have stiffed me three times. If you would have tipped, you might have been helped faster."

The Stiffer had nothing to say. He knew that I was right. Maybe next time he will reconsider stiffing a bartender multiple times a night.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Change Thrower

Some bars use change. Others only use paper money. When working at a bar that deals with change, often times customers will leave their tip in the form of the actual change. The change itself isn't a big deal. You can cash it all in at the end of the night for bills. What's a big deal is when customers decide to literally throw their change on the bar. I don't know about you, but I don't like to have anything thrown at me, even if it's change.

I once had a customer come up to the bar and order a beer. There was no "please" or "thank you" involved with his request. He quickly approached the bar, grunted the name of the beer he wanted and refused to make any sort of eye contact with me. Not exactly the nicest guy, but whatever. He was just ordering a beer. The sooner I helped him, the sooner I could get him out of my face.

I set the beer down in front of him and said "$6.50 please." He threw a twenty on the bar. I brought him back his change and watched him throw the two quarters on the bar towards me along with a couple bucks. For as rude as he was, he left a pretty decent tip for his beer. It wasn't until he walked away that I picked up the change and noticed the five dollar bill underneath the singles. Score. The rude customer was so busy giving me attitude that he didn't even notice that he left me a tip that was more than the beer itself.