People outside of the food and beverage industry often fetishize the role of the bartender. To them, the job consists of piles of cash, lots of flirting, and nights spent drinking and partying. In reality, being a bartender is a lot harder. Besides making drinks, a bartender’s duties include being a therapist and babysitter to a roomful of half sober strangers. Throw in some oddball hours and a total lack of stability, and you’re just beginning to grasp the life of the bartender. To help you better understand what your bartender deals with every day, here are nine situations only bartenders experience.
While everyone’s at the beach over the weekend, you’re behind the bar.
What is this “weekend” that you speak of? For bartenders, Fridays and Saturdays are two of the most coveted shifts (day and night) and when they make 90 percent of their income. Mondays and Tuesdays are generally a bartender’s days off and, believe it or not, that makes for a great “weekend”—no crowds to deal with because everyone else is stuck in the office.
Your girlfriend or boyfriend works a 9-to-5, and you don’t remember the last time you had a date night (or even saw them).
Bartenders live the Count Dracula lifestyle and are asleep while most everyone else is awake.
In New York, bars are open from 5 p.m. until 4 a.m.—with restaurant bars closing at a slightly more reasonable 1 or 2 a.m. Most bartenders go out after work to relax, and sleep doesn’t happen until everyone else in the world is getting up to start the day. With hours like those, it’s nearly impossible to date outside the industry.
You have a 103-degree fever and can barely see straight through the sweat and hallucinations. You should either be in an ice bath or a hospital, but instead you’re behind the bar.
Sick days? Vacation? That’s for the bourgeoise. At most bars there is no such thing as paid time off, sick days or vacation. If you’re sick and scheduled to work, it is your responsibility to find a co-worker to cover your shift. Even if you manage to get someone to cover your shift and thereby keep your job, you still lose out on the money you would have earned that night.
Even though it’s Christmas and all your friends and family are home for the holidays, you’re behind the bar working extra shifts.
The holidays are the best time to make money as a bartender—especially if you offer to take all of your co-workers’ shifts so they can leave town. In big cities, there are more tourists during the holiday season than any other time of the year. And they’re all just dying to spend their holiday bonuses on food, drink and merriment (most of which you, as a bartender, can provide). Work the weekend before Christmas, Christmas Eve and New Years, and you’ll easily make two months worth of rent in cash tips alone.
You got stuck working Saturday brunch and dinner service as well, and you can’t remember what it’s like to sit down.
Doubles. The only good thing about working two shifts back to back is the extra cash in hand and the weird, almost euphoric adrenaline rush you feel wash over you when you finally sit down after being on your feet for 12 hours straight.
You have a $10 limit for credit cards and your customer asks you split their $15 tab on two cards.
You feel your eyes about to bulge out of your head as you weigh the two options with which you are faced: Go against policy, or tell the customer “no.” But the customer is always right, right? [Clenches fist, swipes cards, growls.]
A group of your friends comes into your bar while you’re behind the stick and get upset when you don’t give them free drinks.
This is a job, not a charity service. Giving away drinks for free is equal to stealing. While a few shots are acceptable, they need to be accounted for on a tab, which has to be paid for—usually out of the bartender’s pocket (though it’s occasionally comped by a manager). The old saying is true: Nothing in this world is really free.
The night has been dead and you’ve made no money. Your bar is completely clean and you’re ready to close when two guys come in for a round. You’re more than nice and agree to serve them. They drink one cocktail after sitting at the bar and talking for an hour and they tip you $1.
You nod, say thanks, and then, when they leave, you plot your revenge.
A semi-drunk and irate customer refuses to pay. According to him, there’s one too many Jamo and Gingers on his tab, and he wants the drink “comped.” Even though he did indeed drink the cocktail, you take the drink off the tab, give a nice warm smile and apologize. Your reward? A $0 tip.
A semi-drunk customer is almost never right. But because bartenders are such amazing hosts—and dutiful employees—they make it seem like they are.