WE ALL HAVE our thresholds. Rankle our sensibilities, render lousy service and any one of us is capable of going ballistic. There are unwritten conventions governing professional bar conduct. You know most of them intuitively. Then why is it that so many bartenders consistently step on these seemingly straightforward rules? And why do so many of those bar jockeys wait on me?
A bartender's degree of professionalism is most apparent when the bar is slammed. Whether it's that certain "calm under fire" quality or their precise bursts of movement, really great bartenders are a genuine pleasure to watch. On the flip side, a bartender who loses his cool, making guests bear the brunt of his anger is a cold hard slap of reality. People get kicked around plenty in their day-to-day lives without being subjected to it during "happy hour."
Murphy's Law — People get the worst service on those days when they can least emotionally afford it.
One such breach of convention is failing to acknowledge that customers exist. When people sit down at a bar, they will typically extend the bartender a grace period before he sidles over to take their order. Miss the grace period and he‘ll nearly have to kill them with hospitality to overcome the snub. If a bartender is temporarily too busy to wait on guests, that grace period can be easily extended with a smile and an "I'll be right with you."
Another convention suggests that asking if a customer would like another drink when the person's glass is still half-full (or empty) is pushy and waiting until he is spinning the glass upside down on a length of sip sticks is inattentive. The most considerate time to ask is when the guest's drink is about a quarter full.
Likewise, few things are more disturbing to gin & tonic drinkers than bartenders who drop lime wedges into a drink without first squeezing the juice out of them. Fishing a lime wedge out of a drink is low on most people's list of fun things to do in public. The same holds true for lemon twists, so named because they are meant to be twisted, an action that expresses the lemon's essential oils and fragrance into the cocktail.
Tacky too is a bartender who is conspicuous when counting his tips. Gratuities are a private matter between two people—the customer and bartender—played out in a public setting. Counting tips at the bar is indiscreet.
Well, maybe I was wrong. Perhaps the tenets of great service aren't intuitive; maybe they have to be learned like everything else. So what commandments would make the list? Here's my take on it.
• SCATTERED PRIORITIES — Working a high-volume bar requires "taking care of first things first;" waiting on bar customers before washing glasses, or preparing drink orders for food servers
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