Thursday, March 17, 2011
The first guests that sit at your bar will sometimes determine which way your night will go. You may get the tourists who show up an hour before opening and can't understand why you won't serve them drinks while they wait for the restaurant to be open and get seated at their table. If I clocked-in and started serving people drinks before I had a chance to set up my bar, not only would it take way longer than needed to make those first drinks, but I would be setting myself up to be running behind for the rest of the night. I appreciate customers and their enthusiasm to patronize our business, but we have a specific "opening" time for a reason.
Then you may have the first reservation of the night for the business party of 15 who slowly trickles in. Since it's not our restaurant's policy to seat a party until most of the guests have arrived, the hostess will direct them to the bar to have a drink while they wait. One by one, they show up straight from work. They're thirsty and ready to unwind. They're usually happy to see me (the bartender) as they have a seat and order drinks. Having a party like this as first guests of the night are great. Not only is it a steady pace of making drinks, but they usually all want it on one tab, pay using a company credit card and generally always tip a little more than 20%.
Solo diners are another nice way of starting off the night. They're not only thirsty, but hungry. They wont monopolize your bar space. They usually already know what they want to eat and drink. A couple glasses of wine and a steak later and they're on their way.
And then there are the people who come in at the beginning of the night who just want coffee. That's right, coffee. These people mistake our restaurant sign outside for a cafe or a Starbucks.
We had just opened for the evening. My bar was all set up, I was in a great mood and ready to make some drinks. I had the first four people who were part of a larger business party reservation sitting at the bar drinking beer and wine as they waited for the rest of their party to show up. A party of three tourists came in and headed for one of my bar tables in the corner. I thought about telling them that I couldn't have a party of three sit at a table clearly only big enough for two, but they were tucked back in the corner and made it very clear to me that they were not having dinner, just drinks.
As I walked out from behind the bar and around the group of people drinking at the bar to approach the table with three menus, the old man (clearly in-charge of the table) shooed away the menus. In his broken English, he told me that they would just be having coffee. I immediately regretted not having them sit at the bar in the first place. If I had known all they wanted was coffee, I would've saved the table for actual diners and made the three of them sit at the bar. Judging from the man's broken English, I knew that he wasn't from a country where servers and bartenders relied on their tips as a living wage. No matter how much energy I put into this table, I knew that my tip wasn't going to be anywhere near 20%.
Knowing that I had an upcoming rush of people coming in for drinks and dinner, I set up their table so that I wouldn't have to keep coming back to visit. I brought to the table three pots of coffee, plenty of cream and sugar and their bar tab. I had a rush scheduled to come in over the next half hour. I wanted to be sure I had plenty of time to serve all of those drinks and not have to worry about fighting through the crowd just to serve a measly cup of coffee.
My bar quickly filled up to capacity with the rest of the large business party reservation along with a couple of bar diners and a few other drinkers who were waiting to be seated at their table. Physically, I was no longer able to come out from behind the bar. My server drink tickets had started to coming in. There were too many people to navigate through the crowd. There were too many drinks that needed to be made. At this point, I barely had time to spare with taking care of the drink orders and the people actually sitting at the bar.
Once the large party had been seated and the diners at the bar had received their main entree, the business at the bar had died down considerably. I had enough time to start polishing glasses and prepare myself for the next rush. The man from my coffee table turned around and dropped the tab on the bar with just enough cash to cover the tab, along with a two dollar tip.
Yup, just as I had originally called it. I'm glad that I made the decision to take care of the rest of the bar and my servers who I knew would properly take care of me right back instead of going out of my way for the coffee party.