Ask Your Bartender: Job Insecurity

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So after much deliberation, I decided to print this question and my response, as it’s a question that I get from you guys at least once a month. And therefore I think it’s important. So here we go:

Hey Jeff,

I’m new to the bar, but not our company’s restaurant group. I’ve done my research and understand how important fresh juice is, but have already had negative feedback from the bar manager when he “caught” me juicing lemons with my own juicer before my shift off the clock. In addition, I’ve been told they like my enthusiasm, but apparently only on a per case basis. I asked them for some new bottles to make some great classics with as well as modern favorites (I was told I could get whatever I wanted) three weeks ago and haven’t heard word one.

Our place lies somewhere in between volume driven and quality driven, is a block away from a world-renowned cocktail bar as well as three other decent cocktail programs, and I feel that we aren’t keeping up in a VERY ritzy neighborhood that’s only getting bigger.

I understand that not everywhere can be a great cocktail bar and not all places are meant to be, as well as the fact that there are many other variables here, but am I wrong to think that we should be trying harder to grab some of that market share?

Thanks, man.


Hey Jim

It’s tough to try to swim upstream when you’re working someone else’s program. As a bar manager, consistency is key and to have guests want to come in on your nights because you use fresh juice as opposed to other nights when the rest of the bar doesn’t, well, that’s just not good business for the bar. I know it sounds counterintuitive and I’m sure that someone is going to comment here that fresh juice is better than sour mix, to which I say – “Yeah. We know. That’s not really the point here.”

You’re going to burn a bridge if you keep trying to force a square peg into a round hole at your current bar, and is that what you really want? I know you’re thinking of yourself as the guy who makes the delicious drinks at the crappy bar, but I can almost guarantee that you’re really known as the prick who can’t follow the rules. And that’s certainly going to hurt your career – I know, I’ve had my share of those bartenders on my team over the years, believe me.

Look, I feel for you, man. You want to get better at what you do, and the situation you’re in isn’t letting you do that. That’s a really tough place to be, and I’ve been there before. But as I see it, you’ve got two choices: move on to another bar that serves the sort of cocktails that you’d like to make, or stay at your current establishment and step in line. Anything else would be career suicide.

Sorry if that sounds kind of harsh and wasn’t the answer you were looking for, but this is real talk. I want you to have a healthy career, I want you to learn all you can and become a better bartender, but I just don’t want you to shoot yourself in the foot while you’re trying to do so.

Good luck.

18 Replies to “Ask Your Bartender: Job Insecurity”

  • Colin David says:

    I have to disagree. The only choice is to move on to another bar. There is no onus upon any serious bartender who care about the craft to step in line with some jack ass manager who refuses to listen to somebody who cares about the products served to the customers.

    The problem the person who wrote in are managers who think they know anything and refuse to listen to hard workers. This has nothing to do with stepping in line and following the rules in order to get ahead for oneself. This has everything to do with saying “fuck you” to an authority figure that actually has zero authority on the subject.

    The subject is cocktails. This guy cares about them. The owners don’t. He should move on and find those who do.

    I got burned just this way. I was insisting that we couldn’t serve vermouth that had spent the past year on the speed rack, man. They wouldn’t listen. They wouldn’t even set up a meeting with the owners to talk. They just moved me to the dishroom and fired me. For being that prick you talked about, Jeffrey.

    Fuck that. The pricks were the owners, the chef, and the head waitress who wouldn’t even listen to me about how a Martini is to be stirred, not shaken, to say nothing of the age of the vermouth that’s been rotting next to the well vodka since before I signed up.

    I should have left and found a real bar. So should anybody who cares about cocktails and finds sour mix. Indeed, I would advise people who want to bartend for real to CASE THE BAR FIRST.

    If you want to work somewhere and you want to do the craft right, then go there first to see if you’d want to work there. Order a drink that uses fresh citrus juice and if you see the bartender reach for sour mix, fuckin’ leave and find a) another place to get a job and b) another place to get a drink.

    I hate this bullshit about doing what the owners want. This comes from my Marxist background. Most bar owners don’t give one shit about what they serve to their customers or their customers for that matter. They care about money, which means they certainly don’t care about their workers who DO care about the customers. One of the easiest ways to improve cocktails will be first to get rid of the damn capitalist system that says entrepreneurs know more about how to make a Daiquiri than an experience cocktail enthusiast and server, but that’s a topic for a different blog.

    Anyway, you’re advice is wrong on ethical grounds even it is is applicable to the “real world”. I still think the only option somebody in this situation is to avoid it in the first place and to leave the bar the second they find themselves in it.

  • jimmy says:

    Why is that guy’s name “Jim?”

  • Ben says:

    Hey Jim,

    I’ve had a similar experience at a semi-fine dining establishment. If you can’t get them to go full on fresh juice, maybe ask the chef to look into pressed but bottled stuff. We use Evolution juices in SoCal. A tactic I used to get fresh grapefruit (canned is garbage) was to make a special using that plus some promo bottles. I’m sure your bar manager has a few of those collecting dust in your liquor room. Move some free liquor for profit, maybe at the small cost of ordering pressed juice, improve liquor cost. I made the GM and the chef taste a Hemingway Daiquiri with fresh grapefruit versus canned, and now we have fresh grapefruit juice (albeit bought in) all the time.

    Bottom line though, follow Jeff’s words. Build a résumé, don’t burn bridges, maintain the company’s standard for consistency. I worked for a place that had coconut cream on the gun (!), and a connection got me my current job. Best wishes, brother.

  • tom says:

    So I just bought this dude’s book. It’s great. I had to find this blog. But as for that advice I couldn’t not disagree more. Excellence should be maintained regardless of the support of people who do not value that virtue.

    But yeah it’s gonna cost you your job if you keep it up.

  • O. That's all. Just O. says:

    Dig this. This advice is like playing poker. Situational. I couldn’t get my former bar managers to hear me. Mostly because he didn’t have as much knowledge as I did on the subject. I left and found a job at a craft cocktail bar. Leaned a lot there which brought me to my current job. Being humble helps. Do your best not to come off as a jerk and help your coworkers elevate themselves if they are receptive. Otherwise, Morganthaler is right.

  • Lee says:

    So relevant.
    And will you please come train my staff? 😉

  • Maureen says:

    I want to know more about how one runs a Marxist vs capitalist bar. I think we need a response to said comment above including a business plan.

  • Bhaxia says:

    It is more sane, especially when you have people depending on your paycheck coming in every fortnight, not to lose jobs. Like any plant you can only flourish and grow where the ground is conducive to you, so it pays not to sow salt with a salty attitude. Especially when that hell hole you despise is the only gig in town. Trust is earned not a right, and even if your colleagues and your manager use the worst techniques, you aren’t going to persuade them of anything if you them up the wrong way by being abrasive and arrogant. You have to earn their trust by being a team player and not a Prima Donna. Sometime it pays to go with the flow until you’re an established member of the team and your colleagues and manager are willing to listen to you. If you haven’t got the patience to move things along incrementally, or if there are plenty of jobs in your localeb and you can please yourself, can you afford to skip from bar job to bar job. Think on this: If you get the reputation of being a jerk, why should anyone hire you? If you cant stand slumming it, you owe it to yourself to move on graciously, leaving no enemies behind you as you sail off into the sunset. Good luck with your adventure but remember vinegar catches less flies than honey, and a little humility takes you a long way.

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