Of Bars, Booze, and Bartending - Proving "Coughlin's Law" Invalid Since Feb '05

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Walkers, Skippers, Scammers

Lieutenant Dan comes in on a slow Monday night.

Has two Budweisers, way under his par. Mumbles something about flying to El Paso. Steps outside at least twice for a smoke. Socializes with other customers at the bar. Says goodbye to me, waves, something about "see you tomorrow!"

It's a half-hour before I realize that Lt. Dan walked. He's a walker... skipped on his tab. Didn't pay, didn't leave a tip. Stuck me.

It's only two Budweisers, and it's only $5.90, leaving the tip out of it. But he didn't pay. And I'm pissed off at him on principle.

Now, back when I was tending bar in my youth, working the nightclub gigs and raking in the dough, we didn't trust a damned one of you. Wanna start a tab? Need a credit card, and I'm going to pre-authorize it for $100 before I pour.

Pay-cash-as-you-go was less complicated, and ensured quick service. But if you wanted a tab, I had to use a credit card as insurance against my risk... trusting you.

These days, I work in the restaurant bar world, and there's an inherent trust that your customers will eventually settle their tab, be it at the bar or the table. I wouldn't dare offend you by asking for a credit card or passport or social security number or favorite impressionist painter before I pour you a drink. I trust you. I pretty much have to. I assume you're a good citizen, and you know the rules.

It works out, except for the occassional Lt. Dan. He was served early in the evening, and maintained lucidity. If he intended to walk on his tab, why didn't he obliterate himself with free alcohol first? Two beers? I can't imagine that he forgot.

My gut tells me that I'll never see him again, however.

In an independent joint, the bartender has to pick up your skipped tab out of his own earnings. Sure, he could argue with the owner in a court of law that he's not liable to recoup the owner's losses, and he'd likely win, but you and I live in the real world, and if the bartender lost the whereabouts of their customer, the bartender pays. We want to keep our jobs.

It's a cardinal sin in bartender circles to walk on your tab. It's unforgivable. It's the big one. It means that you can't come here again, ever, until you pay me. And bartenders know bartenders, and we spread the word about you walkers.

It also means that no matter how apologetic, cool, or good-looking you are, I'll probably never look at you in the same way again. Neither will the rest of the staff, and don't forget your fellow barflies/good buddies that I complained to.

If I see Lieutenant Dan again, I'll let you know.

Personally, I can't wait to see him again. Owes me $5.90, at least a buck tip, and more pride than he can muster.