A man walks into a beautiful bar in his city.
It’s a new bar and someone has spent a lot of money on its décor. A lot of money. The wine lineup is not all that much. Moving on to the cocktail offering, not much assistance is provided by the people behind the bar. In fact, at one point one of the bartenders (note I never said mixologist) offered to allow the man to browse through a how-to-make cocktails book.
Back to the wine list, the man asked for a glass of Belle Glos Meiomi pinot noir, as noted on the wine menu. The bartender asks three times to repeat the order, and then comes over, holding a bottle of the wine, with the question, “Is this it?”
A man walks into a bar in a historic setting.
He is meeting friends who have already ordered a cocktail. He asks the mixologist if he makes a good Pimm’s Cup. “Yes, absolutely,” is the reply. So one is ordered.
Out it comes, but it’s orange. The man asks the mixologist if the order is correct. “I ordered a Pimm’s Cup.” The reply, “Yes, and that is what I made you.” The man continues, “But this is really not a proper Pimm’s Cup.” The reply: “That’s our version of a Pimm’s Cup.”
A man walks into a bar in his city. He orders a three-ingredient cocktail, noting to the server the three ingredients and the proportions – equal amounts of each ingredient. It is a common drink known worldwide as a Margarita, on the rocks, no salt.
Back comes the drink, the glass' rim is laden with salt. Back goes the drink to the bar. Back comes the drink to the man, the salt is now in the drink since a new drink was not made – the salt was removed by wiping the edge of the glass with a bar towel. Do you have any idea the things that are on an often-used bar towel?
The man requests a completely newly-made drink. Begrudgingly, the server returns to the bar with the salty drink. A few moments later, he returns with a fresh drink. The man notices there are at least four ingredients in the drink, with the addition of bottled sweet-and-sour mix.
The man asks the server for clarification. The server said, “I told the bartender what you wanted, but he could not believe you really wanted a drink like you described so he made it a bit sweeter for you.”
I can’t tell you how much I wanted the scenario “A man walked into a bar….” to be the beginning of three jokes. Funny stories involving characters, like priests or rabbis, in funny situations. The stories really should have had hilarious punch lines like, “Why the long face?” Oh, what I would not have given for a kick-ass punch line to any of the stories.
The really distressful thing is that each of the stories happened to me, here, a town that is reputed to be one of the cocktail capitals of the world. Hell, I’ve even given us credit in print for that designation. And each story involved a “professional” who has decided that getting behind a bar is a great way to make a living while still enjoying the party.
Finally, each of the stories happened within the past three weeks.
As to the last point, I know we have had a lot of people in town over the holiday season, which this year included all the football craziness. It may be that employees who wait tables or perform other important tasks have been tossed into the situation due to the real bar professional getting sick, or that management wanted to be ready for a rush, placing people who know nothing about mixing drinks, or maybe just a little, into service “behind the stick.”
Still, even if one of those situations is true, the reality is that the price of the cocktails did not go down in consideration of lackluster service or the presence of a knowledge vacuum. I, by the way, like the thought of a void having a presence. Sort of a “Cocktail Bar Black Hole.” We could debate that over drinks for quite some time. Where’s Stephen Hawking when you need him?
My point is that, as far as you, the customer, are concerned, you deserve a balanced, freshly-made, delicious drink. If it’s a cocktail, only fresh supporting ingredients, including spirits at the quality level you specify, are acceptable. If it’s wine, it has to be in complete good order, not opened so long ago it has lost its luster nor served at the wrong temperature.
As to the Pimm’s Cup scenario, I am a big fan of creativity. But if a bar is going to be creative, then the patron deserves to know that beforehand. A drink with a well-recognized name should be made according to the generally-accepted recipe. If the bar wants to put a variation on the drink, then say that. People may love it better than the original. However, communicate up-front that the drink is not made in the traditional sense with the usual ingredients. In that way, the customer can make the decision whether to be served the house’s version, or the one he was expecting.
Here are my thoughts on trying to make the situations better for all concerned:
If you are a bar worker, and are feeling constantly challenged/frustrated by drink requests/returns, take some pride in what you are being paid to do. Study, be curious, and learn. Becoming a mixologist is not an automatic thing, nor is it easy. The assignment requires your vigilance and attention. If you think you are better than the job and it is beneath you, do us all a favor and go get the job you think you deserve. Please don’t make us all, and yourself, suffer with your lack of interest and desire.
For you managers, please be certain your people are capable. You are losing immediate sales, and probably future customers, if the person charged with providing your products can’t deliver the merchandise.
For the owners, please share with us what you are thinking. You put a lot of money, and probably even your dreams, into a business and then staff it with people who can’t perform. Does that sound right to you? Is that what’s in your business plan?
C’mon, people, serving drinks to the public is a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. There are a bunch of great bars in this crazy town doing incredible work. In fact, there is money to be made in meeting the challenge.
Okay, deep breath, exhale. Repeat after me, “I will do this thing right.” Now let’s do it.