Your job is not like my job. You sit in your comfy, leather-ette Herman Miller recliner, basking in the warm glow of Earth Saver florescent fixtures, eyes transfixed on that formula-heavy, Excel spreadsheet, listening mercilessly to the Senior Director of Sales wax about his penchant for your Sales organization to make next quarter’s quotas. You’re on a Web sharing, whiteboard session with a dozen other mid-level managers. You nefariously test your Mute button by saying “hello” once in a while, ensuring it’s properly working, before launching into an expletive-laced tirade with your cubicle neighbor about how your hate your job, your supervisor, and your measly 7.5% increase this year. All the while, you’re scheduling 2 “personal days” off in the adjacent window’s Human Resource Management System. You get to do that…
Bartending? Forget it. You’re talking apples and oranges. Got an unexpected hot date tomorrow? It’s Thanksgiving next week and you’re planning on chowing down with the fam? Cut your finger? Need some sutures on that bad boy? Broke an arm? Forget it – you’re totally screwed. Welcome to the world of bartending – where the reality is, every day is no day off. You get your ass to work, or you don’t get paid; or, you lose your job.
Injuries: Nothing is more common that finger cuts and subsequent infections (or worse, bar rot). Behind the stick, you’re dealing in an endless cycle of handshakes, dirty money handling, bar knife handling, and dips into cess pits of citrus, olive, and Maraschino cherries. Most importantly (and most frequently) you’re burdened by a seemingly endless mountain of glasses. Both doling them out to prepare drinks and taking on incoming, dirty bogies are a logistical nightmare; one which increased proportionally to how busy the bar gets. Each and everyone of them – particularly if they’re stacked – presents a serious OSHA-certified risk of laceration due to frequently broken glass. For this reason, most bars worth their salt opt for thick rocks and highball glasses (Libbey’s is the typical supplier). Martini, Wine and Champagne glasses are particularly dangerous. The thicker glasses are simply more durable particularly for bartenders who cut corners by sticking them directly in the ice bin, bypassing the need for a Health Department-mandated ice scoop. Time is money. The busier it gets, the more you’ll see bartenders not use the ice scoop.
I sustain minor but troubling broken glass injuries at least twice a week. To me, my hands always look and feel like organic ground beef. My lady friends say I’m crazy and that my hands are the nicest man-hands on the planet. Go figure. Shards can be found in beer cooler ice bins, drink ice bins, wash water, or simply on the bar top. Ice bins are particularly dangerous because you mostly can’t distinguish broken glass from ice.
Two years ago, I sustained a massive cut on my left middle finger. It was down to the bone. This particular incident was the result of reaching into a dark cooker full of pint glasses (Boston Shakers). As my hand slid down the glass to grab one – as I’d done thousdands of times prior – another stack beside mine had a glass broken in a perfect ring. Anyway, the perfect storm was ripe and it gouged my severely enough to warrant an Emergency Room visit as well as ending my evening and the night’s income.
Just two months ago, a similar but worse injury befell me as I was between bartending jobs. It was more significant in that it was on my right index finger and again required sutures. Unlike the previous (severe) laceration where I could just slap on a band-aid or finger condom, this one affected by sensation in my fingertip. Unfortunately, it looked really gnarly and was painful even during something so simple as a handshake. As a result, I was unable to look for work, much less get hired, for a good month. Yikes. You don’t have such repercussions in the corporate world.
Hand/finger cuts are one thing. Try breaking a leg or arm and you can pretty much count yourself out of an apartment or job entirely. There’s no such thing as “sick days” behind the bar.
The overwhelming majority of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs offer no insurance for non-management F.O.H. staff. Unlike me and my day job, most of those folks do not carry health insurance or long-term disability insurance on their own.
Like to “call out” for whatever reason? Do it two or three times in this industry and expect to hear the famous words of The Apprentice’s Donald Trump.
Going out for big nights on the town is another big-money losing proposition. It’s a double-whammy. When you’re not bartending/serving, not only are you not earning money, but you’ll often find yourself spending just as much, if not more, cash than you would have made that evening. For this reason, I’ve mostly confined myself to working incessantly, limiting my outings to perhaps twice a month – if that. At my age, and at this point in my career, I’ve spent a lifetime partying and frankly, don’t need or desire to do so frequently. My end game is to not have to work for someone else the rest of my life.
Dropping $500 a night boozing, drinking, smoking and sexing up the next hot thing – as fun as those activities may be – are not conducive to that goal. That’s something that my competing Twenty-Something’s simply can’t fathom (yet). I have the (dis)advantage of age and a bit of experience I guess.
So, you want to be a bartender, eh? Come with your A-game every night. Bring an incessant smile, lots of band-aids, and a penchant for working through never-ending, Citric Acid induced stinging pain. The last time I checked, not one of my fellow bartenders was willing to fork over the evening’s cash haul while I sat on my couch recovering from finger pain, a hangover, nor horizontal-sports-induced rug burns.