Ask Your Bartender: Job Insecurity

See more Uncategorized

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.

Jim

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.

17 Replies to “Ask Your Bartender: Job Insecurity”

  • Gregory Rodriguez says:

    I definitely feel for jim, I have been in the same situation in the past. Working at a dive bar and having the desire to make better quality drinks, It is something i think everybody that is in the industry has experience in some way. I personally think that he will have to pay his dues, work in that establishment and network with people in the industry, join the USBG and take advantage of its resource, or e relentless and try to find a job, any job in a cocktail bar.

  • Dave says:

    Jeff,

    That was not good advice for a bartender, that was excellent advice for living! I am not in the industry, never have been and won’t be. I am an Army Lieutenant Colonel with 22 years in service and I have rarely heard better leadership or mentoring. To the point, honest, and rather than lecture you provide clear thoughts on a path or paths to success. Bravo.

    Jim,

    Clearly I agree with Jeff. In my buisness sometimes you have to “suck it up and drive on” because “you don’t have to like it, you just have to like it.” That is not a typo. that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in it. When you’re ready to move on you’ll have a proven track record of loyalty and a reputation of selfless service to the team. That reputation will open many doors.

  • Alex Stingl says:

    Jim,
    the advice given is clearly right and on the spot. I been in that situation, you’re in, realizing that the place I was working could do better. All you can do is suggest, at an opportune moment and in a non-condescending way, to management to upgrade the standard in general for the bar if you can make it plausible why it would help business. Perhaps you can suggest testing it out by making it an event, for example inviting a number of regional mixologists as guests every second Thursday and feature special cocktails that actually use fresher ingredients.
    If you feel like your sense of quality and competence is wasted in this place and you seek a place where their standards and yours match, you should consider looking for a new job. In the past, I wish I had not stuck around as long as I did in some places. The reality of the matter is, if you are unhappy with the practices in a place, it will sooner or later show and cause more friction between you and your colleagues and your bosses. Even if you don’t say anything out loud. At the same time, use the place you are at for learning, especially about standards. There may be a reason why they do not use fresh juice. Learn about the reasons for differences. There is rarely the one golden way. Perhaps your bosses do know better, or perhaps they don’t. What’s important here is that you learn how people think and reason when they apply standards, as well as sometimes people do stuff for no reason. If the latter is the case, it is usually a good sign that there is a lot of stuff they do wrong and time to move on. But until that becomes clear, follow the advise you been given here: Learn things.

    Best,
    Alex

  • Nick says:

    I was in a similar situation not too long ago. I bartend at a place that brews their own beer. We use fresh ingredients and high quality spirits, but still highly use pre-packaged sour mix and utilize methods that go against the “craft” mentality. For example, it wasn’t policy to stir martini’s or manhattans, everything was shaken no matter what. We didn’t even have a bar spoon until I personally brought in 3 of my own. It was a lot of little things that I saw and knew could be changed to create a better product and improve the validity of what we were selling. However, most of our bartenders have been using the same system and techniques for years and our actual bar manager has little to no knowledge of craft cocktails or methods. I thought I was doing the bar and thus the bartenders a favor by introducing them to these concepts that I had learned. As I begun to do things differently, I received a lot of negativity from my team members and to my dismay, no one used anything I had tried to introduce. I managed to alienate them and make myself look like a dick. So, I offered a compromise. I was put in charge of a feature drink program where each week I would create a cocktail that utilized an element of bartending that I would like for us to incorporate in the future. For example, I wanted us to learn how to use egg whites in cocktails. So for Valentines day, I featured a White Lady garnished with a candied rose petals. Each bartender learned how to prepare egg whites as well as dry shaking, etc. Now, they only had to make the drink for a few days, but in those few days they learned a concept a method that was previously unknown to them. They now have the knowledge and ability to create egg white cocktails on their own. I now personally stock egg whites each week in our bar for every bartender to use if they so please. I’ve introduced varying bitters flavors and featured cocktails utilizing different bitters so they can understand that bitters can vastly influence the flavor profile of a cocktail. I stopped trying to shove concepts down their throat and introduced new methods as an alternative. Today, the feature drink program has expanded to every bartender submitting drinks and using different techniques they have learned over the last two years. Our standards and methods have slowly changed to a more “craft” bar and the same bartenders have grown and become pretty awesome themselves. What I learned from all this is that you can change things as a bartender, but it takes time and compromise. Good luck!

  • Rick says:

    WOW!!! I have tell you the quality of bartenders has improved ten fold since I worked in the business many years ago. I now own several businesses and try to stay current on leading thinkers from the business world and they have nothing on the four of you who have responded to Jim so far. Awesome, awesome responses and Jim would do well to listen. I know I will certainly pay more attention the next time my bartender speaks to me!!! Great job Nick, Alex, Dave, Gregory and of course Jeff.

  • Travis says:

    That was excellent advice in my opinion. It’s unfortunate & especially so in smaller cities where craft has taken off or developed a solid demand.

    Even in upscale establishments with a limited craft program it’s never a good idea to even lightly char a bridge let alone start burning them. More often than not these are smaller circles of bartenders, bev managers and guild members who not only know everyone in their city but across the country as well.

    Pay $100, join the guild, politely and responsibly give proper notice to your current employer and move on.

  • Matthew says:

    Jim,

    This is excellent advice that I wish someone had given to me a couple of years ago. I thought of myself as some censored artist laboring towards excellence in a sea of lazy Philistines, and maybe I was, but what actually happens is that you alienate your colleagues and look like a cocky wanker. I certainly did.

    Like Jeff says, consistency is key. Customers need to know that they’ll get drinks made to the same standard every night, and that if they order a drink from Craig on Friday it’ll taste the same as when you make it on Tuesday.

    If you don’t want to leave your workplace, it might be worth discussing how you feel with your managers, telling them that the reason you feel that this way is because you believe in the restaurant and the brand. Absolutely offer to take on the juicing responsibility if it helps. And conclude that whatever their answer, you’ll understand and continue to represent the business in the way they want you to.

    Good luck.

  • Dave says:

    1. Great advice.
    2. On a side note I came to this site today b/c someone had just commented upon an old piece from several years ago and I’m subscribed to that piece.
    3. Congrats as to the readership and visibility of that piece. You have some level of “staying power”.
    4. Why have you stopped writing?

    5. Back to the advice. Absolutely great. The bartender at that place should become a great bartender at that place, and then if he chooses to move on, he’ll do so with the acknowledgement of that management group.

    Then he can upgrade his drinks at a place that supports that.

  • Jason C says:

    Great advice.

  • David says:

    Wow. Some great advice here. And it absolutely applies to lots of industries and disciplines. I work in User Experience but I work for a hotel company. When I first came in I managed to piss off a lot of people with all my talk about how wrong everything was.

    Fast forward 9 years and things are looking up – in part because I changed my message from “here’s all the shit that’s wrong” to “here’s a little thing we can do better”. First I got some allies and now we have a new team. It’s still early days, but just this week our new team got invited to present our work to a very influential group of stakeholders.

    Take baby steps. Stay aligned with your organization’s goals. Be persistent but be kind and supportive and positive. This usually works. And if you find it doesn’t, maybe it’s time to move on.

  • 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:

    BRILLIANT.
    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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Privacy checkbox is required.

*

I agree.