“The grass is always greener…” “Better the devil you know…” We’ve all heard those well-worn phrases thousands of times, right? People are funny. No matter how exceedingly spectacular your situation (e.g., David Beckham, Kanye, Sir Paul McCartney, Bill Gates, etc.) we always want mo’ better something. Humans have an insatiable desire for faster, stronger, wealthier, better-endowed, younger, or whatever. The bartender life is no different. I did two (count them) four-year stints in a particular venue where I was basically: The Man. Among a large bar staff, I could demand outright, any shift, had my choice of pretty much any uh… womenses, and made beaucoup duckets on the regular. The earnings at that particular gig, while not rivaling strip club bartending money, were significant and steady – bankable. That job allowed me to save enough fat stacks to buy a private house, and bang out two money-sucking black holes of darkness (read: kids), in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world -New York City.
So why the hell would I actively choose to pack my bags and walk off the job with nary a promise of another bartending gig lined up? The answer is not so simple.
After a number of years in a profession, and after building several years of seniority at a single bar/restaurant, you tend to develop a following, wield increasing power, and succumb to routine. Knowledge, reliability, resiliance, and dependability all increase over time. Conversely, some tards simply get very, very lazy and far too comfortable. Let’s save that second group for another discussion, shall we? Even so, many environmental factors may contribute to undesirable changes in your bartending environment. Those factors run the gamut from new “gotta change the world” managers, “corporatization,” “unionization,” and slowing business to co-worker “incompatibility.” Like many other professions, there is a certain – je ne sais quoi – “balance” which must be maintained between the bullshit you have to endure, and the money you walk with. An old-school scale seems like a good analogy.
I’m a realist. I know that there are shifting tides which can have all kinds of dramatic affects on the workplace. You have to expect them. Unfortunately, there are indeed times – on the scale of worth – when the bullshit begins to significantly outweigh the income, but for a prolonged period. Well, that’s exactly what happened to me at the bar I called home for so many years.
The powers-that-be had just broken up my bartending Dream Team – shitcanning my simply stellar co-bartender; a deliciously stunning young woman, who possesses an unforgettably unique and sexy mane, combined with equally impressive charm and spirited independence. A seemingly tough nut to crack, especially having to deal with us drunken nasty dudes, she’s actually, extremely sincere, very approachable, and fun as hell. Predictably, she also happened to garner a massive following of hundreds of drooling men. Failing basic due diligence in performing a cost/benefit analysis, they canned her for the mere suspicion (not even proven guilt) of some really insignificant paperwork stupidity. Not to get into dramatic detail, but practically every other barkeep was committing far more egregious acts and continue to do so today.
Anyway, after that fantastic run of several years with a beyond stellar crew, a new swath of bartenders came into the fold – the likes of which I wasn’t unfamiliar with. That establishment’s hiring manager’s M.O. was to employ a particular breed of person based primarily on their “appearance,” shall we say? It’s nothing I wasn’t accustomed to. But this time was different. Regarding one of the replacements in particular, the level of inability, combined with extraordinarily nasty attitude, and no saving graces (read: not-attractive), was the trifecta of fail. Furthermore, she had a habit of unannounced “disappearing acts” for 15 minutes at a time all night long. I’d often catch her texting and literally picking her nails, mouth agape, and drooling like a primate, instead of caring for money-waving, thirsty guests.
My income completely fell off a cliff. My (initially) pleasant and constructive criticisms, growing to complaints, fell on deaf ears again, and again, and again. I’m guessing I came to be perceived as that cranky, old, annoying dinosaur behind the bar, and that I should just simply shut the fuck up. Swallow my pill or GTFO. Over the course of 2 or 3 months, my cynicism and anger spiraled out of control, as the balance of that aforementioned scale grew way out of whack. It simply got to the point where I was completely fed up. I’d had enough. I walked.
Aside from losing the daily interaction with a few close co-workers/friends, what bothered me the most was that I was left with no choice but to shit upon one of my favorite people there, an un-Godly attractive, pretty young thang who happened to be a freshman manager – albeit, insanely capable and uncharacteristically not big-headed. She had (and still has) the luxury of managing a seasonal bar/restaurant out East during the lovely Long Island Summers…
Enter the newest gig.
This is my third bartending job – in about 1 year – since leaving my “home” described above. It’s a fantastic neighborhood pub and nightclub. I’m quite happy with this new job. Despite my extensive over-qualifications, and the fact that I “know” a few people there, I’m still starting as that “new guy.” I’m at the bottom of the Totem Pole. Starting a new bar gig in NYC means you’re forced to endure some wretched Training or Trailing shifts where you literally make no money (most of the time). Those shifts can last anywhere from 2 to 3 days to 2 full weeks – yikes! If the bartenders you’re working with have a spec of decency in their bones, and notice your skills and hump-busting, they “might” be inclinded to hand you a $20 or $50 (enough for take-out and maybe a cab ride home)out of decency or maybe pity. Keep in mind, however, that this is their shift and you’re intruding upon it. They usually no obligation whatsoever to throw you a bone. Having been on both sides of the coin, I know the routine well. I always feel for trainees. If they actually work for a few hours, I almost always give them a few bucks – especially if they’re hot (ma bad).
The next problem is more troubling. Anywhere you work where there are multiple bartenders on the schedule, you can expect to essentially get the crappiest shifts available as that new guy. You don’t have any seniority, you’ve yet to make friends, and you haven’t yet “proven yourself.” Besides, why should the bartender who’s been there 2 or 3 full years give up their prime money-making shifts just for your new dumb ass? That’s in no way, shape or form, fair. Basically, it may take weeks, months or (God forbid) years for you to work your way up to the more profitable shifts and perhaps just as long to be lucky enough for the manager to grant you somewhat of a set schedule.
You also have the ever so enjoyable task of committing to memory yet another slew of drinks, on top of the 500 or so already ingrained in your psyche. Oh yeah – you have just two days to get them down pat. These luscious cocktails are all new – hand crafted, and leveraging all kinds of locally grown, in-season, fruits and vegetables, as well as exotic Far-East dried spices. Every bartender just loves the resident joke-meister, wannabe Sommelier, and uber-narcissist: the all too familiar “Beverage Director.”
Lastly, comes familiarity. Like any new job, you don’t know jack shit about your environment. I’ve been thrown behind the bar on a busy evening, for a couple of hours of evaluation, having absolutely zero knowledge of that particular bar. The computer system might be unfamiliar. Where the fuck are the juices – the Store-n-Pours are empty? Where is the key to the liquor room? We’re out of Jager, dammit! What? You forgot your muddler or Speed Opener? Tough luck. Got a void or need to re-open a check, while two different customers are barking drink requests at you? Deal with it. The ice machine just broke down while the bar is three-deep. Where do you guys keep the mint? The last chick you served just made off with your last pen and you need to have a couple of more credit card vouchers signed. What to do? How the hell do you get a hold of the manager around here?
I’ve just described the worst of scenarios. In reality, it’s usually not as severe. Regardless, you can probably picture just how stressful starting a new gig can be under fire. Usually, there will be some sort of official training procedure or even manual. Your fellow barstaff will often walk you through the physical locations of necessary items, the computer system, and the bar-specific procedures/policies like cash-outs.
For me, one of my biggest pet peeves is POS unfamiliarity. I have extensive expertise in various flavors of Micros, Aloha and POSItouch – the three most prevalent bar/restaurant POS systems in descending order. Regardless, just about every venue sets theirs up differently and requires some degree of re-learning. It’s a nightmare.
After a lifetime in the Hospitality industry, having worked for a wide variety of employers – everything from highly-engaged, single location sole proprietorships, to mega-monolithic, publicly-traded, international corporate chains with a completely detached board of directors, and everything in between (dive bars to fine dining) – I’ve come to one conclusion: the grass is not always greener on the other side – except when it is. Some gigs are sure as shit better than others in various ways – financially in particular. However, unless you’re your own boss, owning your own bar, there will always be policies, customers, managers, owners, and co-workers who you like and some who you do not. Even for the rarified few who graduate to ownership and are able to dictate almost all aspects of their business, there will be a few pills to swallow – folks you want to get rid of but can’t for whatever reason (e.g., family, ex-sex partner, blackmail, etc.).
So, if you’re making great and (more importantly) consistent money, you may be better off dealing with known “frenemies” than walking into “certain uncertainty” – that is, unless the weight of the pile of shit on your shoulders has measurably, significantly thrown you off your game for an extended period.