So the new bartending gig is finally starting to pay some dividends. By dividends, I mean I’m at long last getting decent shifts, picking up loose shifts, and starting to see a reasonable amount of cash coming in on the regular. I dreaded leaving La Maison de Merde (my last gig of several years) primarily because I cringe at the thought of starting a new one of any sort.
For dudes, in most situations, you start at the bottom of the totem pole no matter how good or attractive you may or may not be. Depending on the venue, it may take months/years for you to work up enough cred to get what you want reasonably often – meaning: decent number of shifts, consistent money making shifts, set schedule, etc. For chicks, yet again, the situation is quite often - shall we say – different? There’s nothing I can do about that. Dudes in this business are uncontrollable walking penises.
In New York City, particularly downtown, it’s kind of sickening how many bartenders, servers, runners, bussers, managers, and owners in this industry know each other. I can’t even document how many interviews I’ve walked into and been taken back by the person beside me, as I’ve worked with him/her before. What’s even more frightening, or sometimes more advantageous, is that the manager doing the interviewing is often someone I know from a previous gig or has worked with someone I’ve worked with. For seasonal staff, this issue is even more pronounced. It certainly held true in my current position. The situation is incestuous – literally and figuratively – the way bar/restaurant peeps bounce around this city – nuts.
Anyway, bountiful bartending opportunities open up this time of year in the North East as Spring unfolds and Summer lies in the distant horizon. Hotel rooftops, park bars, and other open air eating/drinking establishments absolutely explode with activity. Every bar/restaurant with access to patio or rooftop space is desperately trying to maximize R.O.I. by expanding outdoors. The consuming public, Eurotrash in particular, simply can’t get enough of sidewalk cafes, rooftop raves, and patio dining on nice days. The bartender roster can easily double or triple during the warm months. I’m taking full advantage of the opportunity.
So far, in my case, it’s been extensive training and trailing, combined with some pretty shiteous wet and chilly nights, both of which translate to – um – not a lot of tip money. However, in the last week or two, things have taken a dramatic change, coinciding with some seriously lovely, and packed afternoons/evenings behind the bar. Seasonal bartending is either feast or famine. You can make $600 – $800 one night, and absolutely zero the next – all due to weather. You get used to it I guess.
Any new bartending job starts out with an evaluation period to some degree. Managers and owners are hyper-critical, beyond observant, and mostly, super judgmental – rightfully so. As great (or as horrific) an actor you make yourself out to be during the interview process, as well as you’ve padded your resume with bullshit experience at defunct bars, no one really knows about your mad flighty skillz at the well until you’re actually tending bar and more so, in the weeds, neglecting the ever present pit boss (aka, floor manager). It works both ways: as the barkeep, you’re on your best behavior at first (except for the halfwits), putting on a great show, as you know you’re being judged. You’re observing the management observing you. You’re learning their likes/dislikes, management style, interactions, tolerances for mixups, tardiness, check discrepancies, customer service, guest recovery methodology, off duty personal outings and a myriad of other habits. Those observations, how you digest them, and apply them to your job are absolutely crucial to happiness and success at the bar.
Any seasonal bartender with half a fucking brain knows the circumstances of employment. Firstly, you’re new and subject to the probationary/observational period I just described. Secondly, at the end of the season, pretty much everyone is axed. They’re back to square one, pounding the streets, again looking for work. On rare occasion, a small percentage of seasonal staff may be offered a shift or two at the main indoor bar, if there is one, come end of Summer. Those offers, however, are severely limited due to obvious logistics. Lastly, veterans of the industry know full well that extremely popular busy bars always over hire seasonal staff.
Management over hires intentionally and for good reason. As mentioned earlier, there is no way in hell you can really make heads or tails of a bartender’s real ability for volume, level headed-ness in turmoil, multi-tasking ability when in the weeds, and resilience in conflict until you observe him/her in action. Management would be stupid to hire and invest in training just the right number of folks only to screw themselves royally when they find out (1) hot ass Michael doesn’t have the gusto to handle a bar three deep and calls out sick frequently, but is just hungover (2) MILF Lila has panic attacks and bouts of crying, mid-shift, when her boyfriend doesn’t reply to every text within 5 minutes and (3) studly Rufus can’t remember the house special drinks, never wipes down his bar, and is consistently 30 minutes late for every shift. All those situations are disastrous if you haven’t hired enough bartenders. You’d be hard pressed to unfuck yourself when the main patio has 500 guests and the VIP area has been bought out by an NHL team for 4 hours at $20,000.
So what happens? One word: attrition. As the days/weeks go by, the fat is trimmed. Some are let go by management as the dumbasses do themselves in. I’ve witnessed shenanigans of epic scale recently, as newbies pull some unbelievably inappropriate behavior at a new job. The stupidity is so grand, in some cases, they require their own post – I’ll get to that in due time. Other idiots either can’t handle the actual stress of a very busy and demanding establishment, or, because of their mediocrity, are relegated purposely to a really shitty schedule – forcing them to look for work elsewhere. What’s left, hopefully, is the cream – the bartenders who are consistently on time, upsell, ring high, look amazing for every shift, minimize loss, are speedy and gracious, funny and routinely have a great attitude. At least, that’s the intent.
Well, in my case, so far, so good. I’m past the initial evaluation phase. Though there have been a couple of small bumps (my fault), nothing catastrophic has gone down. My merit has been obvious. My experience, charm, speed and ability have been evidenced – clear and present. I know I bring value to the table. Phew. I gasped because this is New York City. There are a shit ton of really good bartenders here amongst a sea of shitty or average bartenders. It’s highly competitive. In the most popular, busy, and well known (read: money making) bars, the battle is even more fierce, and the management’s stakes exceptionally high. That’s why I’m often amazed at first, how certain people get hired. I guess I’m the idiot, eh?