If you've read this column before, you know that I’m a professional complainer. I complain with the belief that if something is driving me crazy, it’s likely driving your other customers crazy. With that said, I can be a pain in the butt to eat with. Stuff gets under my skin, like recently when I found myself at an oval bar that seats about 35 people.
In the middle of the oval were four bartenders who roamed the entire area. Yet there were several points throughout the evening when I, and I’m sure others, couldn’t get the attention of a bartender. At times, all four of the bartenders were on one side of the bar presumably serving customers there. The view of the opposite side of the bar was blocked by beer taps and pyramid displays of liquor on a center island. When bartenders did come around to my side of the bar, one or two may have been concerned about serving customers, but the others seemed in a hurry to get back to the other side of the bar. It’s hard to hit a moving target. It’s even harder to order food or drink from one who won’t stand still or make eye contact.
I blamed the bartenders, at least most of them, because they were just mailing it in. They really didn’t care much about serving customers, which was interesting because a big part of their pay depends on tips. But I really blamed the owner of the place. How simple would it have been for him or her to huddle with the four bartenders and say, “You two stay on this side of the bar, and you two stay on the other side. Anybody who wants to order something on your side, get it for them as quickly as possible.” Common sense, right?
My girlfriend is in the restaurant business (chef/owner) and she’ll sometimes respond to my rants with, “You don’t understand.” She’s right. I’ll never understand your business the way you do. You live it and breathe it. But you know who else won’t understand your business the way you do? Just about all your customers. And, honestly, they don’t care. What they see is what I see: knucklehead bartenders roaming around with little method to their madness.
Maybe these bartenders didn’t care about collecting as many tips as they can (I’ll never know why), but don’t you care about generating as much revenue as you possibly can? In most of the country, the past winter was so brutal, most of your customers stayed away in droves. You’ll never be able to make that money up. But now that warmer weather is here, it’s time to rock and roll. You can’t afford to not pay attention, and the mistake I’ve been ranting about is a costly one. I saw a number of frustrated people on my side of the bar get up and leave to go elsewhere. I know that the people I was with would have ordered more drinks if a bartender simply walked up and asked.
As I’ve repeatedly written, it’s all about doing the simple things right—the blocking and tackling. And, if I may extend the bad sports metaphor, it’s about a good coach who teaches how to block and tackle. Is my girlfriend right? I don’t understand? Please mail me with your thoughts.
Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief