62 things that could be stressing out your bartender
If a bartender’s any good, you’ll never know if they’re stressed out -- and you shouldn’t know, because a bartender’s job is to serve drinks, not problems.
But just because you don't see stress-inducing stuff, doesn't mean it's not happening. We spent a solid 48 hours hanging with the guys behind New York’s Whiskey Town, Whiskey Tavern, Whiskey Brooklyn, Whiskey Annex, and Grand National (which has whiskey) and nailed down a laundry list of everything that, unbeknownst to you, could be messing with your bartender’s head, from the big things down to the little things that add up to big things.
Read this, and next time your bartender’s professional demeanor momentarily cracks, you’ll know it doesn’t mean he’s a jerk, or that you’re a jerk. It just means you can deal with all of the problems some of the time, and some of the problems all of the time, but not all of the problems all of the time.
The list of annoying-to-bad stuff that could be happening behind the scenes:
Owners, investors, and hangers-on
1. The owner's sitting at the bar evaluating his performance.
2. The owner's sitting at the bar hitting on customers and making demands on your bartender’s time.
3. The owner’s understaffed the place -- or, more commonly, overstaffed it, guaranteeing the tips will be divided too many ways and nobody will make any money.
4. The owner cuts corners on the quality and/or quantity of the tools your bartender needs to do his job right.
“If the owner’s not here every day drinking cold beer, how does he know it’s cold?”
5. The owner’s just... absent, and hasn’t empowered anyone to fix everything that goes wrong. So now your bartender’s dealing with dirty keg lines (sign: he keeps pouring drafts and then dumping them out), a perpetually broken toilet, sinks that won’t drain, a broken cooler, a busted fridge that has him chilling beers in the ice sink (which won’t drain), and/or a malfunctioning DirecTV setup (nothing kills business like a football Sunday with no football).
6. The owner’s friends just showed up expecting free drinks.
7. An investor's just shown up and's telling everyone within earshot that he owns a piece of the place. This guy expects free everything.
8. Really nerve-racking: is the place in compliance, up to code, and up to date on permits, or has the owner let things slip? If the police, fire, building, or health department shows up, will they shut the party down?
9. Someone’s taking shots with customers (or without customers), which in some bars is okay, but this person’s proven in the past that they’re just not very good at it.
10. A barback or bartender isn’t pulling their weight because they’re new, hungover, or lazy (or they just didn’t show up), and your bartender’s having to carry them.
11. Another bartender or waiter is being a jerk to customers. If the bar pools tips, that jerkiness directly affects everyone's take-home for the night, and future nights if those customers never come back. It also hurts the bar’s rep, which in turn hurts the rep of everyone who works there.
"Nobody’s supposed to know you’re married! Being a married bartender is stupid!”
12. Another bartender’s girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse showed up, and now the bartender's killing the bar’s vibe by acting like a completely different, way-less-fun person.
13. Whoever’s job it was to stock the fruit, juice, liquor, beer, ice, food, napkins, toilet paper, soap, glassware, rags, dishware, condiments, utensils, candles, pens, paper, light bulbs, soda, credit card paper, register paper, rubber bands, flashlights, singles for the register, etc... didn’t do their job.
14. The kitchen -- which your bartender might manage -- is taking FOR.EV.ER, and people are starting to get pissed at the waiter even though the waiter clearly isn’t the cook.
15. The doorman keeps letting in over-served people, and now, instead of being the fun guy, your bartender’s got to police the situation(s).
Customers (not you, but, you know, other customers)
16. Someone’s been asking uncomfortable questions, like:
How much money do you make? How much money does the bar make? What else do you do? Will you make out with my friend? Will you make out with me? Can I have your number? Can I have your coworker’s number? How old are you? Are you straight/gay/married/single? Do you get a lot of action being a bartender? Do you like being a bartender?
17. Some guy clearly wants to fight. If you’re not involved, a fight makes for a great story, but for bartenders, it’s an awful spectacle that might get bystanders hurt too. The second a bartender spots an aggro dude, he’s gotta keep one eye on him, and figure out what the hell to do with him, while still keeping 20 other customers happy with beers and banter.
18. Someone looks like they might lose their lunch, fall down, pass out, or cry (especially if it’s a dude -- that’s 100x worse).
“When a customer’s had one and a half drinks and they’re drooling on themselves or screaming like a madman, there’s clearly an unseen variable involved, and you feel like you’re not in control.”
19. A customer seems to be on one of a variety of prescription or nonprescription substances, making it impossible for the bartender to assess their mental state.
20. It's time to decide whether to cut someone off, tell them to leave, or call the cops. All three require making a serious judgment about someone else’s character, which can be agonizing, because what if they're not on substances and they're just weird?
21. There’s a couple arguing -- your bartender knows that if he steps in, they’ll turn their anger on him, because it's his fault their marriage counselor is a hack.
22. Some dude's sitting at the bar criticizing everything your bartender does, and of course the guy's totally justified because he used to be bartender, or his Dad was, or his friend is, or he saw Cocktail, or whatever.
23. There's a stray: a girl whose friends abandoned her, making her a prime target to be hit on by annoying dudes; or a guy who stuck around after all his friends left to grab Quesaritos, because he thinks there’s still a chance for him to hook up (there isn’t).
24. Voyeurs (creepy people who aren’t ordering anything, and are just at the bar kind of staring at people)
25. People are drinking other peoples’ drinks, spilling drinks, knocking drinks over, or accidentally lighting napkins on fire. Also there's the ever-present possibility that a girl or long-haired dude will light their hair on fire when she/he leans over a candle.
26. Customers are going where they’re not supposed to: behind the bar, into the kitchen, down to the basement...
27. Someone's bothering someone who doesn’t want to be talked to.
28. Someone who doesn’t want to be talked to doesn’t know how to say, “Hey, I’m here with a friend,” and they're just sitting there silently pleading for the bartender to step in, which will inevitably cause the person doing the bothering to say something stupid like, “What do you care, buddy?”.
29. Anyone who’s in the bathroom, the one part of the bar the bartender can’t see. There could be a Satanic ritual happening in there, and he wouldn’t know until Satan actually showed up.
30. A group looks a little... young. Even if you have a door guy, if you didn’t personally check every ID you can never be 100% sure, and in some states if you serve them you’re liable even if someone else did the checking.
31. Girls are walking around barefoot -- yeah, heels are uncomfortable, but this is just a terrible idea in a place whose stock and trade is glassware.
32. Selfie overload. When it’s not too busy, taking selfies with customers is fun for some bartenders (especially the ones that keep really offensive props behind the bar) and hell for others; but when it’s packed and 20 people want selfies, it’s hell for all bartenders.
33. A group's just generally not respecting the bar as a place of business (albeit a fun place of business). It is very stressful having to hold back from delivering the “I don’t come into your office and ___” speech, but that’s a nuclear option you don’t want to break out until that "___" is "urinate in the corner".
34. Everybody wants to dance on the freaking tables -- and it’s much easier to fall off a table than it is to fall off the ground.
35. There’s a line out front and not everyone can get in and the host is pissed.
36. Someone has an expired ID, and the host is acting like your bartender wrote the law that says not to let in people with old-ass IDs.
37. Your bartender mixed up the reservation and feels terrible about it, but the host is just not understanding how this honest and totally regrettable mistake could possibly happen.
38. Customers have left their belongings (jacket, purse, etc.) unguarded, or left them behind entirely. Bartenders always get blamed when stuff gets stolen.
39. Everyone wants your bartender to charge (and therefore take responsibility for) their phone or hold (and therefore take responsibility for) their purse/giant computer bag.
40. Just the act of holding so many IDs, credit cards, or -- God forbid -- passports can stress a bartender out. There’s always a chance one'll get misplaced, or he’ll hand it back to the wrong person at the end of the night because when Flo Rida's playing at high volume “Jason Smith” sure sounds a lot like “Jayson Schmid”.
41. Customers are breaking stools, chairs, paper towel holders, TP dispensers, doors, mirrors, glasses -- or just stealing the glasses, because people love stealing glasses.
“What do you do when eight bros walk in with backwards baseball caps ready to do Bear Fights and flavored whiskey shots at the same time? The minute they start drinking, you know it’s going to be terrible.”
42. A group's strolled in primed to ruin the atmosphere because they have no regard for anyone around them. The bartender knows it's going to happen -- but cutting them off before they even get started is not an easy conversation.
43. Things are slow to the point that no one’s going to be making any $$$$, and also maybe the bar will have to close down soon.
44. Things are busy to the point that it’s hard to service customers properly.
45. The lights are too soft/bright, the AC’s too low/high, or the music’s too soft/loud.
46. IT’S DEFINITELY TOO LOUD! (and the neighbors have sensitive ears.)
47. "Are people having a good time?" That question is always on a bartender's mind -- it's like being on a first date, forever.
48. Also, "Are we overcapacity?" Again, it comes down to how much you trust your doorman, because counting bodies ain't easy.
49. There are a billion TVs and a billion games and even more games later and even more games after that and everybody’s complaining that their game isn’t on or it’s on one of the not-as-good TVs. Also after all the games are done who’s gonna remember to put on a movie so nobody has to watch the news?
50. If the neighborhood’s lousy, there's a perpetual concern for customer safety. In any neighborhood, come 2am, customer safety will be a concern. If your bartender's got one eye out the window, it doesn't mean your story's boring.
51. It’s freezing cold or pouring rain. Most people don’t come out, and the ones who do can act like wet dogs -- definitely less then amenable.
52. Roaches and mice. If your bartender sees one, he’s praying you won’t; if he does a crazy slap on the bar even though your joke wasn’t funny or even a joke, do not look under that hand.
53. Health insurance. Or lack thereof.
54. Everything that’s stressing you out -- friends, family, cable provider... -- except like at any service-oriented job, bartenders can’t just bury their face in their computer and avoid people.
55. Someone your bartender hooked up with showed up at the bar.
56. Two people your bartender hooked up with showed up at the bar.
57. Your bartender’s dating a coworker, and he/she’s worried about what’ll happen if it doesn’t work out.
58. Your bartender was dating a coworker. Now they can’t stand being in the same room together, which sucks, because this bar only has one room.
59. He’s having a hard time remembering faces -- much less the great bartender’s standard of remembering faces/names/drink orders -- because he’s served 500 people the past two weeks. (To help with this, some bartenders keep notebooks behind the bar with names, preferences, maybe even little drawings. Make it easy on them by wearing glasses!)
60. It’s been two crappy weeks in a row tip-wise -- not making rent is a distinct possibility.
61. Generally, it's also draining knowing that every single interaction you have with the people you’re servicing affects your livelihood. Bartenders get through this by understanding that there’ll always be someone who tips huge, and someone who gives nothing -- if they focus on keeping customers happy instead of cash, at the end of the week it’ll even out.
“Humans are not supposed to go to bed at 5am. The sun sets and rises when it does for a reason.”
62. Your bartender might just be stressed because this lifestyle is tough on people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Work never ends ‘til 5am, but you can’t go home right away, because you need to have a few beers and discuss the day, something normal people do at happy hour.
All that aside, good bartenders love bartending, and they know how lucky they are to be able to do this for a living. If you catch one in a bad mood, it won't last long; if it does, he should probably quit bartending and become an actor or something.