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Zen And The Art Of Bartender Maintanence

April 16, 2014
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In the 26 years I’ve been in the biz I have trained almost every aspect of the bar and restaurant industry.  I  started as a busboy and dishwasher/  I went from  there to cooking, then to front of the house where I trained as a server, host and eventually a bartender.  I have a good bit of management experience as well ( actually folks I have trained are now owners and partners in multiple restaurants).  I even spent some time facilitating and teaching in outdoor experiential programs which contributes a lot to my management style (drives my bosses crazy though).

Why am I giving out this resume?  Well in all the time and all the things I have learned over the years.  In all the ups and downs, the goods and the bads, I have learned a couple  of things that I wish I had known early on when I first got started.  Many probably did but I didn’t listen because I didn’t plan on being a food and beverage guy as a career, but here I am 26 years later.  When I did decide this was my vocation I began to listen closer.  And in the past couple weeks as I am  training a new staff at Secreto I am reminded of the things I have learned and the things taught to me that I want to pass on to them.

1. Good insoles are essential.  Many talk about the right shoes and that is correct to a point.  In the F&B world slip resistant shoes are a must, and the style should reflect the uniform or the requirements of the uniform standard.  But that is where it ends.  My podiatrist will be thee first to tell you that the most important thing is what is inside the shoe: the insole.  Skip Dr. Scholl’s and all that crap.  Trust me here.  Drop three time the money and get good insoles for your feet.  In the biz we are required to be on our feet for 6-12 sometime more hours at a time on tile, brick wood, and stone floors contorting our bodies in very unnatural ways.  After a while, the body gets used to it, but as you get older it will catch up.  I am 45 and I am feeling it.  See a foot doctor and ask about what is best.

2. Mise en Place: French culinary tern fro ‘everything has its place’.  Where you found it put it back there each time every time.  It will keep you organized because you know where it should be.  Especially important if you work with other people behind the bar.  They will expect it to be in its place as you should.  When you have to search you are wasting time and hurting customer service.

3. Balance service and showmanship: The 80’s taught us that everyone love a show from behind the bar ( enter Tom Cruise)).  The show doesn’t have to be bottle flipping, but flair is definitely a customer draw,, whatever that flair is.  But remember the show is there to entertain the guest, not distract from the service off the guest.

4. Promote responsible drinking on both sides of the bar: many people think that because we work with booze, know a lot about booze, and can mix cool drinks with booze that we can out drink everyone.  Let’s turn this around….is a doctor good at health care because he or she has tried to contract every disease possible?  NO!  A doctor’s vocation is to promote a healthy lifestyle.  As a bartender we work with a drug.  It is a legal drug but nonetheless a drug that affect the way a person acts thinks and behaves.  We, like doctors are responsible to the people we serve.  We as bartenders create a happy party good time atmosphere but on duty we have to also protect our customers from over indulgence.  We also have to set the example from the other side of the bar.  Am I comparing alcohol service to medical malpractice?  Yes! Bottom line: create the party and be the life of the party behind the bar or in front of it, but be responsible.

5. Plan you time off like you plan your shift.  This one is big.  It is especially important of managers, operators and owners.  We work in one of he  highest stress environments there is.  We need time to decompress.  It is easy to get to a couple days off and want to do nothing but veg on the couch and watch a couple movies.  Problem is that the subconsious is still working and is not distracted enough to allow that decompression.  Whatever it is fro you, make plans on your days off to do things that you enjoy so you can let go of the work time and relieve the stress.

6.  Work to live;don’t live to work.  We do this because we love it. WE GET PAID TO HANG OUT IN A BAR!  What could be better?? But it is a means to an end.  But it is a job.  It could be a vocation.  But how many priests are covered to cross tattoos?  Not many.  Love and believe in what you do, but remember that a vocation is a part of who you are, it is not ALL that you are.  A good friend reminded me of this the other night, and asked me to re-examine the past couple of years of my life and she was right.  I lost sight of this one very slowly to a point of meltdown.  I love what I do.  I serve people in a bar and I do some fun and cool drinks.  It is part of my passion, but not all of it.  I put all I have into it while I am working but when I am not behind the wood there are other passions I want to cultivate (see point number 4).

I have made every one of these mistakes in my time, and some still continue to challenge me, but life and passion is a journey to be enjoyed no matter the success or failures that come along.

So find the balance.  It is there.  And even if you are not a career F%B person these points will serve you ell no matter where you go in life.  And to all those who have mentored me (Phil, Jeff, Sara, Matt among many) I hope that I have given alittle to those who I have mentored over the years


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