Okay, so some of your comments regarding last week’s Happy Hour column, Seismic Shifts, were fair. And they were taken by me as constructive criticism. Although I am surprised your spell-check feature actually allowed those words within your communication, you probably had good reasons for thinking I was a little rough on the winemaking community.
And because I am nothing if not a balanced reporter (quit snickering!), I thought that this week I would air some peeves, and maybe a word or two of wisdom, directed at the cocktail community. This also makes sense because there are a bunch of you cocktailians in town with Tales of the Cocktail. Captive audience. It’s “gotcha” time.
The incredible rise in importance of the cocktail culture, and the newfound respect towards the craft from the consuming public, has been nothing short of impressive. Along with an appreciation and knowledge about preparing well-designed adult drinks comes responsibility. Those who make the drinks professionally not only have a duty to serve a good drink in exchange for money, they also have a responsibility to do it correctly.
Many of you that are in our midst now for Tales are performing admirably. Drinks that leave your hands bound for a grateful palate are literally works of art. But some of you have found shortcuts, or adopted a “they won’t know the difference” attitude, or have no respect for those who came before you and created recipes that have stood the test.
Nothing is sadder than setting a drink in front of a patron and that patron not being impressed with your work. Sometimes it’s a matter that is completely in your hands. Sometimes there is not much more the bar dude/dudette could have done.
Let’s see how to avoid the latter situation.
Make the drink correctly. Some bartenders have such a great opinion of themselves that they don’t bother to measure ingredients. These intelligentsia are from the same family of waiters who don’t write down your meal order. And that often does not turn out right either, does it? Very few of us can know how much two teaspoons are without actually putting the liquid into a teaspoon or jigger which indicates proper levels.
A cocktail is a drink that is highly dependent on the proper balance of ingredients. Pretty much every recipe is like that. Otherwise, what’s the point of writing the list of ingredients down? When something is out of balance, maybe due to over-pour or under-pour of an ingredient or two, the result is not what it is supposed to be. It may not even be good.
Improvisation can be a wonderful thing, unless it’s unexpected. Sure, you have made the same drink hundreds of times, and it is getting boring. And you maybe even have often thought that a new ingredient can bring an interesting dimension to an old recipe. Do that on your own time, and with your own drink.
The customer who has ordered a drink probably knows within a very narrow taste range what is proper and what to expect. Your attempts at improvisation are likely not going to be met with a standing ovation. More likely the only standing that will take place is when the customer gets up and starts walking towards the door, leaving behind a half-consumed cocktail and not much of a tip. Oh, and the other result is never coming back to your bar.
And, to add to this thought a bit further, traditionally bartenders are excellent listeners. If a customer tells you how he/she wants his/her drink made, do it that way. Listen to what the customer wants, and then give it to them. It’s a radical concept, I know, but try it. I’ll bet your tip jar sees impressive growth.
Certain drinks have specific names for a very good reason. The recipes for many cocktails are actually set and are well-defined. When those drinks are ordered by those names the customer can reasonably assume what is heading their way.
If you feel your version of a popular drink is an improvement over the recipe that has been generally accepted since the late 1800’s, then state such a truth. Don’t let the customer assume they are receiving a classic drink then something shows up with an odd mix. If it’s your version, be very clear about that. Be proud. Don’t use the original name without disclaimer or explanation.
The alchemy has gotten a little out of hand. I love to be entertained. I love variety. I love new experiences. What I may not love is a drink composed of eight ingredients that involves three processes.
If you want to create a cocktail and name it after your sainted mother, no problem. But keep in mind you are working in a crowded bar, with many folks waiting to be served, and, hopefully, served again. If your creation takes in excess of three minutes to prepare, maybe you will want to rethink the whole shebang.
Make sure all glassware and accessories are clean. How basic is that? I know that certain drinks can leave behind souvenirs. Citrus bits are particularly tough. Champagne and orange juice with a bit of pulp are the dickens to clean. Likewise some organic material from Bloody Marys.
But while it’s tough to get the glassware crystal-clean, it has to be done. And if your automatic dishwasher can’t do the job, then you, the bartender, should. I have had at least one too many drinks when I got down to the halfway line of the glass that I found bits of flotsam stuck to the side of the glass, and those pieces/parts were not from the drink I had been enjoying … with the emphasis on “had been.”
Keep that dirty, damp bar rag away from my drink. Ever ordered a margarita on the rocks, no salt, and it came on the rocks, with salt? Close, but not what I wanted. Then the server takes the drink back to the bar and immediately returns with a drink, no salt.
Did they make a new drink? Hell, no. They took the bar rag, ran it along the rim of the glass to remove the salt, and then sent the same drink right back out. With excess salt now in the mix. And a very dirty rim from which I am supposed to drink.
I have a pretty good idea where that bar rag has been, and that is not a piece of cloth I want wiping around the rim of my drink. I don’t even want the bar rag to clean the interior of my car. It’s been wiped over the bar numerous times, cleaned out broken glass from the prep area, used to dislodge “something” stuck in one of the tonic guns, been used to dry hands sticky from spilt grenadine, and maybe swished around in a soapy cleaning sink not emptying because of stir sticks and napkins in the drain.
Oh sure, go ahead and wipe unwanted salt off the rim of my margarita with that particular piece of cloth. If you make a drink wrong or not to the letter of what the customer asked for, don’t “salvage” the mistake with another misdeed. Start over and do it right the second time.
All of us on this side of the bar enjoy the fruits of your labors occurring on that side of the bar. Enhance our experience. Make time go faster for you. A properly made cocktail is a thing of infinite beauty.