Thursday, April 22, 2010

To the Late-Night Kids From the Bar Last Night

So, I generally have two responses when people I don't know ask me to hook them up at the bar. The thing you have to understand is this: at this point, you're already an asshole. In fact, even if I know you, and have swung you a little love in the past, you're still an asshole for asking. The reason you're an asshole is that a shot is a shot and the price is the price, and it's up to me, not you, to decide whether and when to bend or break the rules. And if I do decide to do that, it's usually for a good reason: either you're a friend, or a regular, or somebody who's been good to me, who's built up a bit of goodwill through playing the game according to the rules.

And one of the rules is this: you never ask for anything that you do not expect to pay full price for, no matter what your history with the establishment or the person serving you. Period. It's not classy, and it's not okay. It may be that you have some relationship with the place, or the people serving you. It may be that you have been comped a drink or two in the past, or had your bill discounted because the people there like you. Good for you. Probably you did something to deserve it, and you should figure out what it was and keep doing it.

But when you walk in the door, you have your money ready and you expect to pay for what you get, just like everybody else.

If I like you, if I know you, if you've been coming in, and built up some goodwill, and I've got a little room left in my comp budget, sure, maybe I'll buy you a round, or swing you a discount, or put a little extra love in your glass. But the main thing is, it's my decision. And you asking me for it is both rude and disrespectful, not only to me, but to the bar as well.

So, back to the dumb kids from last night, and, to be honest, it was really just the one (although there were a couple of dumb questions from the others) dumb kid, who thought since he knew a couple peoples' names and that his band played there once, and because the place was empty (the show was over), that he and his friends deserved to get hooked up.

(Quick aside to all you kids playing at home: whatever goodwill relationship you may have with a particular bartender or staff member at a particular place, it's not transferable. If X is your buddy, and hooks you up, and X isn't working, X's coworkers are not obliged to hook you up like X does. You're just a regular person to them, so act like it. X's affection does not become policy for the entire staff, and you may in fact get X in trouble by expecting that it does.)

As I said at the beginning, I generally have two responses when somebody I don't know asks me to hook them up.

The first one is I go full-metal asshole. This is something I'm really good at (just ask my co-workers). Not only will I tell you no, I'll make sure everyone in the vicinity hears me dress you down for your presumption. I'll be loud. I'll be vehement. I'll be eloquent and rude. I will most definitely make you look bad in front of the girl or guy you're with or trying to impress. I will, in short, make you look like an asshole, because, frankly, you're being one.

There are a few reasons for this. For one, it's very therapeutic. I thoroughly dislike assholes and people who don't know how to act. I deal with them all the time, and when I get a chance to call them on it I'm all too happy to do so, because most of the time I don't. But even more important, I want to make the experience as traumatic as possible for them, in the hopes that they will learn a valuable lesson from the experience and change their behavior in the future, so that someone else, further down the road, doesn't have to deal with this bullshit.

For example (and I apologize in advance for the tangent), last weekend I worked the bar for a giant pub-crawl. At one point in the afternoon, I noticed a young girl, nice-looking, early 20s, standing at the bar, drinking a tallboy of Rainier beer. Thing is, we don't sell Rainier at my bar, which means she snuck it in. This is a cardinal rule violation, for more reasons than I feel a need to go into at present. So I take it away from her and tell her to get the fuck out. It takes a few times for it to get through, since I'm sure this girl thought that she'd probably go her whole life without ever being thrown out of a bar. She actually said, "You don't have to throw me out," once I'd actually gotten through to her. Yes, I did. Loudly. Because bringing your own alcohol into a bar is disrespectful, illegal, and just plain wrong. And if she hadn't learned or figured that out by now, then someone had to teach her. There's nothing like negative consequences to drive a lesson home. Had it been within my power to do more, I probably would have, because not only was she disrespectful enough to break one of the unbreakable rules, she was also dumb enough to actually stand at the bar with the beer she'd snuck in, right there in front of me, which meant the lesson needed to be as clear and decisive as possible, because the stupid makes learning new things hard.

Anyway, back to the kids from last night. For whatever reason, I decided not to explain to homey the error of his ways at volume. Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, or maybe I was just tired. It'd been a long night, and I was already starting in on my sidework when they came in. So I said sure, I'd see what I could do for them. And I sold them two rounds of shots, at a slight discount. By the end, their bill was a few bucks less than it would've been if I'd charged full price. Literally. Less than five bucks less. But I did cut a few corners, and rang the drinks in such a way as to lower the price a bit.

But I also shorted the pour, way more than I shorted the price. I'm not saying there was no booze in there, because there was, but because this kid was so presumptuous as to ask me for a discount, I totally ripped him off, and laughed while I did it. He even tipped me for the privilege.

Because there's a thing that people like this kid don't understand. Putting someone behind your bar is an act of immense trust. It's a much bigger responsibility than most people realize, I think. And the foundation of that trust, the cornerstone, if you will, is the expectation and faith that the bartenders you hire will see to it that your pour cost (the percentage of your bar sales that you have to spend buying the booze in the first place) stays low enough that you can stay in business. As a bartender and a bar owner, you know there's a certain amount of gray area there, but at the end of the day, the numbers are the numbers and the numbers don't lie. The bar stays in business or doesn't because it takes in enough money for what it spends that it can make payroll and pay the rent and maybe even put a little cash in the owner's bank account. Every time somebody gets hooked up, the pour cost goes up, and if it goes up too high, the bar goes out of business. That's just how it works. One of the secret skills of being a bartender is not only knowing how to pour a shot, but knowing how to pour this particular person's shot. It's a balancing act, like being an agent of karma. It's on you to decide whether the person you're dealing with deserves a little extra, one way or another. Or, as in this case, a little less. Because it's all gotta balance out in the end.

Discounts happen. Drinks get comped. Love gets shown. One of the most important skills a bartender develops is the sense for who gets hooked up, and how. And why. And it really is something very like karma. Show up, spend money, be nice, tip reasonably, and most of the time your good behavior will be rewarded. Show me you don't understand, by asking for a hookup, and you've already demonstrated that you don't deserve one, and not only will I not hook you up, I'll use you to balance out the people I do hook up. Just like karma.

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