What exactly does a bartender do?
If you were to say that a bartender makes drinks, you would be right. But that’s only a small portion of a bartender’s duties, and in some ways is almost negligible compared to his or her supplementary metaphysical functions.
You see, a bartender serves something more than simple imbibement. In actuality, the bar and the drinks act as little more than a medium for something far more complex. A bar and its booze provide the same opportunities for society and community afforded by a church. It is a place where we go to celebrate or to mourn, to sing and for solitude, to pledge oaths and to speak in tongues.
A bar is our escape from the stresses and the responsibilities and the fears that lay waiting in the wretched world outside. And it is the bartender’s job to allay these fears, to orchestrate the celebrations, or to provide calm from the storm.
On the surface, a bartender’s job is rather straightforward.
First of all, the bartender maintains the cleanliness of the establishment. In some situations, a bar will employ a janitor or cleaning crew to come through on a regular basis and provide a deep clean, but generally speaking it is up to the bartender and his or her trusty bar-back to handle all of the sweeping, mopping, cleaning tables and behind the bar, and so forth. For the most part bartending is a messy job, so if you aren’t willing to get a bit down and dirty it might not be for you.
After general maintenance comes the most obvious of a bartender’s duties—making drinks. This whole process involves changing kegs, keeping the liquor organized, mixing drinks, stocking beer and wine, and the million other small things that go into making a drink. In order to make drinks well and with efficiency, a bartender must pay attention to an endless number of minute details. Straws have to be stocked, drink ingredients and tools close at hand, the ice well full, and so on. To be successful when it comes to the drink making process, a bartender must be an efficiency expert.
Part of making drinks involves handling the pressure of a high paced environment. Bartending can present hours on end of lazy nothingness, but it usually the work moves along at breakneck speeds. Servers are bringing ticket after ticket of orders, customers wait at the bar to deliver orders directly to the bartender, cooks bring out food to be delivered, you leave the bar for thirty seconds to get another bottle of whatever only to return to find a pileup of twenty drink tickets…it can be an endless onslaught and at the end of the night when you shout the last call if feels like ringing the bell at the end of a twelve round boxing match. If you can’t handle the pace and the stress, bartending will be a miserable occupation.
Alongside making drinks, a bartender must be able to count and handle money accurately and efficiently. It is easy to mix things up in the busy atmosphere of a bar, and the inability to settle accounts properly and keep a precise till will make you lose your job faster than anything else. A bar might be a party but it is also a business.
The last basic function of a bartender is a wildly comprehensive one—-it is up to the bartender to solve problems and make sure everything goes smoothly. If the stereo or dishwasher breaks, it is his or her job to fix it or, barring this, find some alternate solution. When a fight breaks out if there is no bouncer on hand, it is the bartender’s duty to step into the fray. A million other things can and will go wrong, and it is up to a bartender to take it all in stride and keep the night moving in a positive direction.
Therapist, confessor, encyclopedia, weatherman, tour guide, matchmaker
Once a bartender possesses all of the elementary skills necessary to fulfill the job’s basic functions, he or she must acquire the capacity to take on any and all personas. A bartender’s true occupation is that of a sort of social conduit—you conduct the party, console the bereaved, and incite the romance.
You’re going to hear all kinds of confessions and secrets, sometimes things that a person has never told anyone else before. Alcohol and a compassionate ear can loosen a person’s tongue beyond any expectation. The ability to be open and to deliver advice—even when you have none—is essential. It doesn’t matter how good the advice is, the important thing is to make it sound profound.
On the flip side of things, when advice is the last thing a customer is looking for and all they want to do is have a good time, it is up to the bartender to provide. Whether that means putting on just the right tune, holding an excited and boisterous conversation, telling a good story or a bad joke, or providing the atmosphere for a couple of people to get to know one another more intimately, you have to be capable of instigating the moment.
And then there is the need for a comprehensive knowledge of pretty much everything. A good bartender can discuss and at least appear familiar with every subject there is—history, science, current events, art, literature, sports, and everything else. If a customer brings it up, you should have a response. And if you don’t know (or care) about a particular topic, you better be able to feign interest. A drunk loves nothing more than the opportunity to expound upon some idea they find fascinating to those who are ignorant of it, and they will tip heftily for the opportunity.
An extension of this involves the ability to answer questions about where you live. Customers will ask directions, for entertainment recommendations, and an endless array of other inquiries. Know your way around the city and pay attention to the hotspots.
And the rest
Bartending is such a multifaceted occupation that it would be impossible to list everything that goes into it. Every bar is different and each provides its own set of obligations and challenges. I suppose the bottom line is, a good bartender learns quickly and picks things up as they go. As long as you can pay attention, remember recipes, faces, and names, and keep spirits high, the rest will come over time.