This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
It’s December, which means several things. We’ve (at the time of writing) nearly made it to the end of another year without a nuclear war; the Sunderland soccer team have settled comfortably at the foot of whichever league they’re playing in this season, like a blanket of fallen snow; and it’s almost Christmas.
Leaving aside my deep ambivalence to thing one, and the crushing inevitability of thing two, let’s focus on the part that I feel really mixed about: the Christmas bit. Over the Christmas period, it’s traditional that a large chunk of the UK’s population throws caution to the wind and does what, realistically, they’d like to do the other 11-and-a-half months of the year: they go out and get blackout drunk five nights a week. All of which sounds fantastically fun and positive, and it mostly is, but there are some of us who utterly dread it, not because we don’t drink, but because we’re the ones who have to work behind the bars the rest of you are merrily propping up at, and later being sick on.
What follows is a list of the seven most important things you can do to make your bartender’s life easier over the next few weeks as you go out drinking, so we can all have a lovely time and stagger into January with our dignity intact.
Photo by Jake Lewis.
Ordering your drinks is the most fundamental point of contact you will have with your bartender, and I’m sorry to have to say this, but most of you are shit at it. That bit on your resume where you talk about your “excellent communication skills,” bartenders—even more than your boss—know that bit is bullshit. So let’s break it down. There are a few basic bits of information you need to communicate with the person serving you: what drink you would like, how many of those drinks you want, and in what measure. You then need to listen for the amount you owe and have your card or cash out, ready to pay.
Give the person serving you your full attention. Ordering your drinks takes literally a matter of seconds—there is absolutely no need to continue your conversation with your friend while you do it. If you know what you want to order when you approach the bar, the whole enterprise will be quicker and you can return to your conversation really, really soon, I promise.
For example: “Hi, can I have three pints of lager, a medium shiraz, and a glass of tap water, please? Thanks. Are you having a good night?”
Compare and contrast: “Okay, two lagers, a wine…. what? I don’t know, red probably, and wait a minute, love, Mickey? MICKEY?!!! WHAT ARE YOU HAVING? No, love just wait there…. WATER? WHY THE FUCK DOES SHE WANT WATER?”
Photo by Jake Lewis.
Please Bring Your Glass Back to the Bar
You’re coming anyway. It’s busy in here. Mickey has already smashed a few of the ones on your table while hurtling back from the bathroom after snorting a line off the screen of his Samsung Galaxy. (Seriously, why did you come out with this guy?) Just bring them back. We’ll appreciate it.
Don’t Make a Mess
The beermats on the table are there to put your drink on. Don’t rip them into tiny pieces of confetti then scatter them across the table, the floor, and into the end of your pint, where they’ll later be joined by some crumbs and a half a napkin and your number that a girl didn’t want. Why would she? Look at the state of your table.
In the same vein, I know it’s Christmas, I know you’re excited, but there’s really no need to go into the bathroom and frantically claw at the spinny mechanism on the toilet paper roll, dispensing most of it onto the floor where it will be trodden into a disgusting mulch that I later have to clean up.
There are other ways to relieve stress, my friends: We live in the age of the fidget spinner. You can buy one for no more than $2. Look, here’s a link to one. You’re welcome.
You’re Allowed to Tip
It’s not table service, but it’s still hard work, and your server is still probably only getting somewhere around minimum wage. There are two fairly well-trodden paths to seamlessly tipping a bartender. The first one is saying “keep the change!”—which we like. Most places will let workers keep bar tips, but there are the odd ones that are a bit funny about staff having money on them during a shift. This is rare, but it brings me to the second method, which is also doable if you’re paying by card. This method is called “get one for yourself”—and we like it even more. Your bartender will add a half pint, or maybe a cheap shot, onto your order and you will pay for it. They know how to not look like an idiot, so you don’t need to worry about them adding a large glass of Riesling at $10 onto your bill.
In my travels through the various bars and pubs of England, I have yet to work anywhere that won’t allow their staff to take a drink from a customer and have it later. It’s a nice thing to do, and we appreciate it.
Don’t Argue over Who’s Paying
This is one of those unbelievably gauche things that the middle classes always seem to do that I have yet to fully wrap my head around. Those of us who grew up with not much money are generally horrified by these loud displays of wealth. (“Catherine, NO, I simply won’t allow it—not after you already paid for the gas on the way to the country club!”) It’s embarrassing, and even more so if we get roped in (“Darling, do NOT take her money—she’s not paying, I won’t have it!”) and we could be serving someone else.
Get Out of the Way
There’s a gap just off the end of the bar, where the staff walk in and out, sometimes carrying heavy things. Contrary to popular opinion, that’s not actually part of the bar. That’s an exit. Don’t stand there, and for the love of god, don’t put your barstool there. I don’t come to your work and stand in front of the photocopier, blocking it and preventing you from comfortably doing your job. I might start, though, just to get the point across.
When we ring the bell for last orders, that generally means there’s going to be another bell soon. That second bell means time is up, and no, you can’t have any more drinks after that. I recently made the fatal mistake of feeling sorry for a guy (let’s call him Mickey) who insisted he’d been waiting at the bar since well before the final bell. I took pity on him, and told him he could have his round. Mickey then went on to order nine pints, six different vodka-mixers, plus other drinks for his friends, who were standing behind him whispering their orders into his ear. This is known in the industry as “absolute fucking bullshit.” Just because you’ve figured out how to circumvent a rule, doesn’t mean you should.
Anyway, we’re going to kick you out. We’re going to switch off the music, drag the garbage through the bar, and start putting chairs up on tables around you. It’s not really the kind of atmosphere you want to keep drinking in, is it? It’s called the hospitality industry not the perpetual hospitality industry, because there has to be a limit. We want to go home, let us.
All of this is not to say that bar work is horrible—it can be fun. At least, I mostly enjoy it. But we’re people with ambitions and lives outside of pubs and bars, and we want to have a nice Christmas too. The people who buy drinks from us pay our wages, we know that, and we’re certainly not filled with resentment toward them. Just be considerate. And maybe think about leaving Mickey at home, because he’s a prick.
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