Maybe It's Broke! Part 2

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(The first part of this two-part discussion about ordering cocktails in dining and drinking establishments appeared last week in this space. You can read it here.)

Last week’s column certainly got some chatter, and the darn thing even went viral, picked up by several boards, inviting those readers, like we do here, to post their views on my views. Outside of a couple of comments that could be construed as personal attacks on my abilities to recognize a good cocktail, most of those who took the trouble to read and contribute agreed with me.

Being raised Catholic, and imbued with real/mock guilt/insecurities (name your poison), I never expect positive feedback, so it turned out it was good that my neck was not extended too far across the chopping block.

Interestingly some of the readers suggested that I should go to places that do serve good, well-crafted cocktails, and then proceeded to mention a few places. Of further interest, out of the many places mentioned, two of them were where I managed to receive just a few badly made cocktails. Those comments were not made on this blog’s site.

So, that brings up this point: Even in the best of places, there are things that go bump in the night.

Now many of you are probably asking, “So what’s the problem?” You receive a poorly made drink; you send it back. Simple. Don’t accept sub-standard work. And I agree with you, most of the time. But when you have had more than a few adult beverages, and the evening is truckin’ along, the last thing you want to do, or at least the last thing I want to do, is challenge the creator of your latest order, and demand that they do better. I do not want to even imagine who has the upper hand here. (Hint: it’s never me.)

Yet, I am sympathetic to the mixologist. First of all, it’s not an easy job. Yes, I know, they are being paid to do the work and asked for the position. But it is really not an easy job. If we need to explain that, then maybe you are not fully appreciating the situation.

That does not solve your dilemma, however.  You are sympathetic but, bottom line, what you expect, and deserve, is to be served a good drink.

There are more than a few factors that influence your desires.

First of all, consider the management of the establishment. Some managers are completely understanding of the pressures under which the staff is operating. Many are not. The bar may not be properly manned. But how many bartenders does it take to do the job correctly? When you look around, does it appear as though that number is on board?

But who is hauling ice? Who is cleaning glasses? Who is prepping the citrus? Who is securing the liquors and keeping the wells and back-of-bar stocked? Maybe it’s the bartender, who is already operating in excess of an acceptable workload.

Then there is (and this is also a management issue) the stress of making more money. Additional people are not hired. Raw ingredients are not of the highest caliber. Liquors are second-tier names and inferior to better-known products.

Even when a drink is made to specs, if the ingredients are sub-standard (read: cheap), per management’s demands, then the final product is not going to satisfy. It will probably repel.

Maybe, in the end, the talent behind the bar is wonderful at creating drinks, but not so good at making drinks. Shortcuts, not measuring ingredients, settling on inferior liquors, or not taking pride in the outcome can all contribute to a less-than-stellar product in your glass.

Lastly, we must keep the option open that the dude or dudette behind the bar is simply not the right person in the right job. Bartending is a hard job, and when combined with conditions that do not allow time for education or a lower customer-to-mixologist ratio, then disaster ensues in the form of bad drinks and, even worse, skating by on a long-ago earned reputation for quality and pleasure.

What we have tried to touch on here is the fact that there are many variables in the creation of a good drink at a commercial level. Some of them are manageable; others are probably not. And a bad drink may only be a temporary condition that will rectify itself tomorrow when everyone recommits and goes back to “the right way.”

That does not excuse receiving a badly prepared or poorly designed cocktail. You, the customer, will be charged for the drink in all cases.

But, hey, we all have problems, and this one is not yours. Understanding the dynamics of operating a bar, or the challenges of working in a bar, is not what you, the customer signed on for. You ordered something the bar said it could deliver. You are playing within the rules. The drink that arrived was out of bounds.

Which brings me to our original point: Keep it simple. Keep it within economic abilities. And keep the order within parameters with which you are familiar. All those others factors, such as poor management, stressed staff, bad training, substandard ingredients and that idiot two stools down demanding immediate attention and gratification are not your problems.

They are, however, very much factors keeping you from a pleasurable experience. So why fight it? Outside influences should not be your problem from your perspective. They are, in truth, your problem….really.

Ultimately the customer does have the final words. And those can be, “Thanks,” or “take this beverage off of my bill and then I’ll be walking out the door.”

It’s your choice. But before you reach that point, think about your order. Keep it straightforward. Keep it simple. Make it something you know.

When all parties involved on the other side of the bar consistently create beverages that they can make again; measure all ingredients; only use the freshest and highest-quality ingredients; and not make promises they cannot keep, then you should patronize that establishment, and maybe, while you are doing your valuable “research,” head for the easiest solution that is reasonable in cost.

Sorry, Mr. Bar Owner, but sometimes management’s reach exceeds its grasp. And how many examples of that have we had since the economic downfall of 2008?

Categories: Cocktails, Happy Hour