Cielo Gold: San Francisco Bartender
Ever wonder what its really like to live life as a bartender?
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Retired (re·tired/riˈtīī(ə)rd) is defined by the dictionary as being an adjective that means having left one's job and ceased to work.
"Once a bartender, always a bartender." That's what a friend of mine had told me back in March when I broke the news to her and all of the rest of my friends that I had worked my last official shift as a bartender earlier this year. I told everyone that I had thrown in my bar towel for good this time. I had moved on to the corporate world as a licensed esthetician, working as a Beauty Advisor. No more working nights. No more working weekends. What's up steady paycheck? Hello health and dental insurance! How you doing 401K?
Her response? "Yeah right. You'll be back."
My schedule is now completely opposite of what it used to be for the past eight years. Instead of getting off work at 3 am, I'm now getting up at 3 am to get ready for work for the East Coast clients. Its extremely hard going from being a night owl to a morning person. Even though I have had my "new" schedule for the past nine months, I am still struggling to get used to the early mornings. I'm just not a morning person.
For the most part, I enjoy what I do. I learn something new everyday. I'm constantly challenged on the training and education I have received thus far in my industry. I am a closet nerd so I love researching the answers to questions clients ask me that I don't have a solid answer for. The gratis I receive working as a Beauty Advisor is a definite perk to the job. Plus, clients always manage to keep things interesting with their comments, questions, suggestions and/or vents. Even though I no longer sling drinks behind the bar, I'm still working in a customer service position. Just this time, it's mainly with sober people.
I recently came across a letter I wrote to myself on the night of my last official shift working as a bartender. Even though it's more than four months old, I thought it be appropriate to post here:
"Tonight is my last night of bartending. I'm finally retiring and getting out from behind the bar. Can I get a moment of silence?
No, seriously. I am finally leaving the world of bartending behind for good. I first started as a bartender over eight years ago as a way to pay the rent through college. I've had so many amazing (and not so amazing) experiences. I've met an incredible amount of people, both sober and not so sober, along the way. The time has finally come where I set down my bar key and take the bar rag out of my back pocket for the last time.
As many of you may know, I've been in the midst of switching over from the bar/restaurant industry into the beauty/skin care industry. I received my esthetician license last year and have been working full-time as a Beauty Advisor ever since while still managing to bartender a few nights a week. I'm tired. I'm cranky. My heart is no longer into crafting cocktails for a thirsty public well into the wee hours of the night, especially since now I have to get up at 4 am for my day job. Getting up early really takes the magic out of everything.
I leave the world of bartending with no regrets. I've worked behind the bar at a variety of places, each one teaching me a thing or two about myself and mankind in general. I cherish all of my stories, both good and bad. I loved the flexible schedule bartending gave me to pursue my dreams and hobbies. I appreciated always having cash in my hand. I enjoyed teaching people my craft during my stint as a bartending school instructor. Most importantly, I've loved sharing all of my stories, experiences and advice with my loyal blog readers.
In my true fashion of seeing things through the glass is half-full perspective, I have jotted down a few reasons why retiring from bartending is going to be so awesome:
1. More sleep means less wrinkles.
2. My manicures will last longer.
3. No more late night snacking. Something about bartending late night always made me hungry.
4. There will be more time for working out in the gym so I can work off all of those years of late night snacking.
5. My social life will start existing again.
6. There wont be so many old men trying to hit on me on a nightly basis.
7. I will have more time and energy to dive headfirst into my new career.
So join me in raising a shot glass to my eight, solid years of service working behind the bar."
I've tried this "retired" thing once before. You think I'll last? I guess time will tell.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Give the gift of drinking for only $1
A night out drinking with friends can get pretty costly, pretty quickly. You saddle up to the bar. She buys the first round of drinks. You buy the second round of drinks. Somewhere after the fourth or fifth round, you've lost count of whose turn it is to buy drinks. With a little liquid courage, you catch yourself saying "screw it" and now you're buying everyone in your group a round of drinks. If it's happy hour prices, then your generosity wont hurt your wallet too bad. But happy hour only lasts for a couple of hours until the drinks go back to full price.
What if there was a way where you could buy your friends cheap drinks at anytime of the night for prices even cheaper than what you'd pay during happy hour? The new app called Bartab is the self-proclaimed "Home of the $1 drinks" and allows you to buy drinks for yourself and your friends from any mobile device using Facebook, for only $1. That's right. You can buy your real friends, real drinks for only a dollar.
The basic concept behind Bartab is that you pay $1 to send a friend a drink. Your friend then claims the drink at the bar and pays $1 for their drink, plus tip. Please, for the love of God, do not stiff your bartender. This would be as bad as stiffing a bartender at an Open Bar.
Just signing up for the app, you receive a $5 bar tab that allows you to send out five drinks to either your friends or yourself for free. If any of your friends signs up for the app, you instantly receive a $10 bar tab. If you need to add money to your bar tab, just visit the "My Account" tab on the webpage. Bartab accepts Visa or MasterCard.
The app is a win-win for everyone involved. You get to buy cheap drinks for your friends. Your friends get to enjoy drinks on the cheap. The app brings new customers into the bar.
Here is how to app works. You install the free Bartab app from the app store, onto your mobile device. You then log into your Facebook account from the Bartab app. Once you're connected, pick a bar, the drink you want to purchase and choose your lucky Facebook friend. The drink is then sent to your Facebook friend via a posting on their wall and through a text message on their phone, giving them specific instructions on how to claim their drink. Once the drink is sent to the lucky Facebook friend, they then have 90 days to claim their drink. Recipients can claim their drink by showing the bartender their digital drink ticket. Once the drink recipient accepts their digital drink ticket, they have five minutes to claim their drink from the bartender.
You don't have to have an iPhone in order to use this app. Any sort of mobile device will do. There's the iPhone app, the Android app and there's also a mobile website that works with any phone that has an internet browser. If you're super old school, you can always redeem your drinks through SMS (good old text messaging.)
There are currently 14 different markets that contain over 600 bars in the network already. If you live in San Francisco, you can send a drink to your friend who lives in New York. A friend of mine who first introduced me to this app lives down in Los Angeles and was able to send me a drink that I could redeem here in San Francisco.
Please keep in mind that you can only claim one drink per hour and only one drink per bar a day. This app is perfect for bar hopping and pub crawls. Already redeemed your digital drink ticket at the bar? No problem. Wait an hour. Then visit another bar in the network to redeem a digital drink ticket from the next bar.
Also, just in case it wasn't already obvious, because we are buying alcoholic drinks here, you must be at least 21 years of age to buy and redeem drinks using the app.
Download the Bartab app and start being the fancy pants friend who buys the first round of drinks. Chances are, the more friends you have on the network, the more chance they'll buy you a drink right back.
Please drink and redeem your digital drink tickets responsibly. Tip your bartenders generously.
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.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Breakups Make For Awkward Bar Moments
Breaking up with someone is hard enough to do in the privacy of your own home. So why would someone ever want to do it at a public place like a restaurant or bar? Besides the fact that its embarrassing behavior on the feuding couple's part, it puts the people serving the pair in an uncomfortable spot. If a couple is in the midst of a heated argument, when is it really the right time to ask if they want another round or if they're ready to order dinner?
One of my servers had a couple sitting in her section that had come into the restaurant to celebrate their anniversary. The woman had arranged ahead of time for the server to have a chilled bottle of champagne waiting on their table. All the man had to do was show up, smile, drink the champagne with his partner and enjoy a nice, steak dinner. According to server, only after fifteen minutes of sitting at the table, they got into an argument and were requesting the food they had ordered to be doggy-bagged and the bottle of wine they ordered to be corked.
Watching a breakup is almost as uncomfortable as being part of the breakup. At least if you're a server, you can excuse yourself from the table and watch from afar to gauge when a good time to approach the table would be. As a bartender, you have nowhere to go, giving you front row tickets to Heartbreak Hotel, even if you didn't want to catch the show. All you can do is polish glasses and wipe down the bar, hoping that one of heated parties will be kind enough to close out their tab and take the fight somewhere else.
I'll never forget the time I witnessed a couple breakup at my bar. A woman had come into the restaurant and sat at the bar by herself. I poured her a glass of wine and asked if she would be dining at the bar. She told me that she was a half-hour early for her reservation and was waiting for her dinner date. Forty-five minutes and three glasses of wine later, the woman's date walked through the door. Before he could have a seat at the bar and set his stuff down, the woman began yelling at him for being late. Awkward. Especially since these were the only two people I had at the bar.
At first, I thought the woman was overacting. The man was technically only 15 minutes late for the dinner reservation and she was early. From what I could gather from the argument, this was not the first time the man had been late. Apparently this would be his last because as soon as she finished saying her piece, she asked me to close out her check and then left the restaurant in a huff. The guy paced in the bar area a couple of times before leaving the restaurant himself.
The next time you foresee a breakup in your future, please pay special attention to your surroundings. Bartenders and servers have enough crap to deal with from the dining public already. The last thing they should have to deal with is playing referee in a love spat. If there's no way around making a scene and having the breakup in the middle of a bar or restaurant, then the LEAST you can do is leave a 20% tip.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Can you believe...
As I watched one of my server's snack on the green olives while she helped me stock my garnish tray one night last week, I came to the realization that out of all my years of bartending, I've never tried a green olive. Not once. Not ever.
Green olives are the staple garnish at any bar. All bars have some sort of variation of a green olive. Somehow I've managed to avoid snacking on green olives for the past eight years. I don't think it's anything against green olives. I've just never been tempted to eat anything out of a garnish tray. Maybe it's from all of the dirty, filthy hands I've seen reach into the garnish tray throughout a shift. Or maybe its the fact that garnishes aren't always as fresh as we'd like to believe them to be. You don't know want to know what some of those garnishes look like by the end of the night, when the lights are turned on, after hours.
Have you ever wondered what olive juice really is? I'll give you a hint. It's not really juice at all: Bartending 101: What is olive juice?
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Things I've Learned Bartending in a Strip Club #10
#10: The customer is not always right, especially in a strip club.
Working in a bar is completely different than working in an office or working in any type of retail position. Granted, bartenders are still in the business of customer service and catering to the needs of the customer. When alcohol is added to the mix, it changes the playing field entirely. Most customers don't have a problem controlling their alcohol intake. It's the people who can't control themselves after consuming alcohol that makes the job interesting.
I always managed to work the whole "the customer is not always right" to my advantage whenever I worked behind the bar. Granted, only the most awful customers would ever experience the wrath of my "the customer is not always right" bartender attitude. Nice customers always received my best customer service. I was always considered one of the nicer bartenders behind the bar at the club I worked at. As glamorous and fun as bartending in a strip club may seem, if you work behind the bar long enough in one of those places, it eventually starts to eat at your soul and make you bitter. The bitterness eventually comes out in the form of a "take no shit" attitude towards the customers.
Tell, Don't Ask
In a regular bar or restaurant, if a customer becomes overly intoxicated and starts bothering other paying customers, they will probably be given a warning or two and eventually be asked nicely to close out their bill and leave. It doesn't quite happen like that in a strip club. Sometimes customers might be given a warning or two for their bad behavior. If the customer fails to comply with the rules consistently, no one will ask the customer to leave. They will tell the customer to leave.
When you have a club full of scantily dressed women and drunk men, it makes perfect sense why there are strict rules in place. If a customer wants to stay, the customer has to play by the club's rules. When it comes to club management, there is no room for discussion. You either follow the rules or you leave.
My philosophy when bartending in a strip club was if you're there, you're there to spend money. If you had money to buy a lapdance, you had enough money to tip the bartender a dollar or two for your drinks. It always irritates me whenever I get stiffed, but it really got under my skin when I was bartending in a strip club. I would always give customers two chances (two rounds) to redeem themselves. If they stiffed me on the first round, I figured they were probably short on cash and would hook me up on the second round after they paid a visit to the ATM machine. If the customer stiffed me on the second round, I'd give them a dirty look. On the third round, I'd avoid the stiffing customer as long as I could. I would make sure to help everyone else around them. Sometimes the customer would catch on to my passive scolding and put money on the bar. As soon as that would happen, all would be forgiven. If the customer still didn't have a clue and asked me why I wasn't helping them, I'd kindly explain to them that since they had chosen to stiff me two times in a row, I'd no longer be serving them for the rest of the night.
The Snappers, Whistlers and Wavers
If you want to piss off a bartender, try snapping your fingers or whistling at them. It's the fastest way to either get kicked out of a place or to not be served at all. In the strip club, if a customer snapped their fingers or whistled to get my attention, I'd be sure to stop whatever I was doing and inform them in front of the entire bar that I wasn't a dog and I refused to be treated like one. This was always quite effective on a Friday or Saturday night when the bar would be packed. The public scolding would work twofold. First, the Snapper/Whistler knew right away that his bad behavior would not be tolerated at the bar. If he wanted to be served, he had to be polite and wait his turn, at the end of the line. Secondly, the rest of the bar would shame the Snapper/Whistler on his outrageous behavior.
The Wavers just get on my nerves. Wavers are always the people whom you know have never worked a day of their life in either a bar or restaurant. They have no clue as to how bar etiquette works. To them, they think as soon as they approach the bar, someone should be willing and able to serve them right away, never mind the rest of the people who were at the bar before them. The Wavers always seem to be the leader of their group. As soon as they approach the bar, they wave at you and then turn around to ask all of their buddies what they want to drink. Whenever I had a Waver come into the strip club, I'd mock them by waving right back at them and then purposely help the person right next to them. I knew I could always get away with going out of my way to piss off the Wavers in a strip club. My mocking them and their self-righteous attitude always taught them a valuable lesson in bar etiquette: if you want to be served at a bar, don't wave at the bartender and have your drink order ready.
Most times in a customer service situation, if a customer is rude to you, you have to be nice back. It's the nature of the business. Working in a restaurant, I constantly have to bite my tongue and have a completely different conversation with a rude customer than the one I have in my head. That didn't seem to be the case in a strip club. If a customer was rude to me, I was always rude right back to them. I refused to take any of their crap. Management always backed us up too. I guess they figured with all of the crap we already had to put up with all of the sleazy dudes trying to pull one over, if someone got postal on us, management had no problems yelling at them as they kicked their rude ass out.
Bartending in a strip club, it was a requirement that we had to measure out all of the alcohol for every single drink we poured. This rule was definetly not up for discussion between the management and staff. People would get fired for not using their jiggers to pour alcohol into drinks. There were cameras everywhere watching our every move. The club made a lot of money on alcohol sales. In the management's minds, if a bartender wasn't properly measuring out the alcohol for a drink, the bartender was stealing. Stealing is always the quickest and easiest way for any bartender to get fired, at any bar.
So if a customer ever complained about there not being enough alcohol in their drink, I'd snatch the drink right out of their hands and look them dead in the eye as I poured their drink down the sink. I would then grab the glass, set it on the bar and have the customer watch me remake their drink using the jigger. I'd inform them that it was the club's rules that every drink have a specific measure of alcohol in them. If they had problems tasting the alcohol, they could either order a double and pay for a double or drink somewhere else.
I have found in my experience as a bartender that whenever a customer complains about not being able to taste the alcohol in their drink, they're being cheap and trying to pull a fast one by getting more alcohol without having to pay for it. This customer probably even stiffed me on the first round. And then there's the customer who orders a drink that is loaded with sugar and mixer and complains when they can't taste the alcohol. If you want to taste the alcohol, then order alcohol, not a drink that is loaded with sugar and mixer.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Do You Suffer From Dry, Cracked Hands?
Many of my fellow bartenders and I always seem to be comparing just who has the ugliest, driest and cracked hands. It's a painful badge of honor. Most bartenders don't have pretty hands. It's impossible. With all of the hand washing, constant submersion in water and exposure to citrus juice, its enough to leave one's hands extremely dry and cracked on a regular basis.
Some people call it Bar Rot. Some call it Eczema. Some just call it an occupational hazard.
I have tried prescription strength ointments, but nothing works as effective as my all-time favorite OTC treatment: Eucerin's Aquaphor Healing Ointment.
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