Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tending Bar, Bartending and Tipping

   Anyone can tend bar by simply being there. Not everyone can be a bartender. Bartenders are professionals and should look like professionals. Attire is very important and can help to create a professional image — dark slacks or skirt and clean white dress shirt with or without a tie were at one time the standard uniform even in a local neighborhood bar. Today, holey jeans or short shorts or statement T-shirts or cleavage-revealing tops seem the uniform of choice. Looking professional adds an aura of respectability and emphasizes the authority of the position .

    Greeting customers immediately upon their arrival even if too busy to serve them immediately will usually trigger their "I can see the bartender is busy but he knows I'm here" patience response. On more than one occasion I have left after the bartender walked past me several times without so much as acknowledging my presence. The professional is constantly scanning the bar to keep an eye on new arrivals, possible empties and becoming available without being pushy. People drink at their own comfort pace and pushing them might turn their visit into a battle with the bartender rather than an enjoyable pastime.

    When I began tending bar, I wanted to learn all I could to be able to do a good job behind the bar. I found Trader Vic's Bar Guide to be an invaluable resource more for his mentoring and advice in the first half of the book than for the recipes he included in the rest of the book.

    Routinely ‘forgetting’ that a customer was in with a different companion the night before is a special kind of confidentiality that a bartender must be capable of. Nothing loses customers faster than a bartender who blabs like the town gossip. And that applies to conversations quietly private between a bartender and a customer. Remembering a customer’s preferred drinks but not assuming he’ll have the same thing every time is also a sign of a professional bartender.

    Before young scantily clad females took over the field of tending bar, it was possible to have a conversation on almost any subject. Now, the girls tending bar are so guarded about being made they don’t allow any conversation to go beyond a few words fearing that every guy who comes in is there to gawk at them and imagine possibilities that will never occur. Many do the job quite adequately. There are a few who excel and do the job as professionally as possible maintaining their privacy yet interacting comfortably without undue concern about whether they’re an object.

    I was a bartender for about 5 years before resuming my studies at Penn State. I worked at several up-scale lounges and served a spectrum of customers from all occupations and incomes. One of the men I worked for was a real prince. He paid his bartenders significantly more than the minimum wage at that time and paid all benefits including two weeks paid vacation beginning the first year. During my years there I felt I was there to sell his product and to do so with outstanding service. I made good tips. In time I could predict that my weekly tip income would be at least a certain amount and always more than my net paycheck. It never failed.

    Among the people I served were college students who tipped little or nothing and retirees who tipped what they thought they could afford. They enjoyed the products and services my employer provided them through me. I never whined about the low tippers although, chatting with the other servers, it was often the subject of conversation. I served my share of OB’s and PITA’s (Obnoxious Bastards and Pains in the Ass) but considered it part of that occupation’s landscape.

    Recently I’ve begun seeing Facebook posts shared from a site with the self-explanatory title, If You Can’t Afford to Tip, You Can’t Afford to Go Out to Eat. From the posts I’ve seen, it appears this site is for whiners in an industry they don’t seem to understand. They think that the establishment with its hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property and inventory and professional staff are there purely for the purpose of garnering tips for themselves - the bigger, the better - whether earned or not. Whatever happened to the idea that servers are there to make a profit for the owner?

       There are different explanations for the origin of the practice of tipping but, basically, tips are a gratuity for the quality of service given by the waitress, waiter or bartender based on a percentage of the total bill and the percentage ranging from 10 percent (or a penny) for service so unacceptable it was lousy to 15 percent for routinely acceptable service. When the service is above and beyond, 20 percent is reasonable. For truly outstanding service, 25 percent is the norm.

    More than 25 percent used to be considered vulgar or gauche. Yet today it seems servers are insulted if they’re not over-tipped. I understand that the workers in the service industry are notoriously underpaid, but I frequently hear talk of their picking up a hundred dollars or more during their shift. Why is it then they complain about the low income customer who can’t afford to be lavish?

    What about the fixed income retirees who still have a life ahead of them? Should they be relegated to a stay-at-home existence simply because they can’t over fill the tip jar? From what I’ve seen, servers incomes, with tips, give them an income far and above the tight-budget income of retirees.

    Or maybe Logan’s Run  for old folks? Shall they be sought out and sent to “Carousel“ for “Renewal“ by being vaporized once they can no longer afford to over-tip? Or perhaps they should stay home, drink tap water, sit in a rocking chair and look over their shoulder awaiting the arrival of the Grim Reaper?

    A few words to the wise:

                                             The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
                                              Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
                                              Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
                                              Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

                                                                                                              — Omar Khayyám

    You are getting older. Should you live long enough to become a lower-income retiree, will you be prepared to spend the rest of your life at home because you can’t afford to give lavish tips? We'll see.
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1 comment:

  1. My only issue with old folks in the service industry, is the horrible sense of entitlement and lack of respect. Respect is a two way street, I don't care if Im serving you your food and drink. Tip what you can, but don't be cheap for the sake of being cheap.