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.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Nick Lachey can STFU!

I've never been a fan of the Cincinnati Enquirer, our hometown pape. But occassionaly, I pick through a copy at work to catch up on local happenings, or just read it online.

Today, the talk of the town is the (UC Bearcats basketball coach) Bob Huggins saga, so it seemed pertinent to actually read the local news today. Imagine my shock, however, when I discovered that the Enquirer has turned to Nick Lachey as a special contributor.

Yep. That Nick Lachey.

Nick Lachey is really, really mad at UC!

Oh, he's special, all right. You won't be surprised to find out that Nick Can't Write. He sounds like a breathless fourteen-year-old girl posting to a "Laguna Beach: The Real OC" Fan Board. And I've always had this bone to pick with the Cincy-boy-cum-LA-celebrity-husband and Biggest Bearcats Fan: did he even attend the University of Cincinnati? At all? Ever?

If he's an actual graduate, I'd say Bob Huggins recruited him, judging by his writing skills.

My favorite part? Where he shames the entire UC alumni for allowing the firing of Bob Huggins. You have got to be fucking kidding me, Nick.

I've got to run to work now, but maybe later I'll post some of my favorite, personal Bob Huggins stories. Bob was quite the regular at a very popular Cincinnati nightspot I used to work for. I will say that I base my extremely negative opinion of Coach Huggins mostly on my personal interactions with him, regardless of the fact that I think he's a talented recruiter, but lousy coach.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

How I Know When To Cut You Off

Let's pretend you're Lieutenant Dan.

Now, Lieutenant Dan is a regular, an every day, set-your-clock-it's-5:30-here-comes-Lieutenant Dan kind of regular. So, he's a good example.

Our front-of-house manager gave him his nickname about three nights into his regularity, right after he showed up in town, a journeyman boarding across the street. The nickname suits him somehow.

Last Saturday night, Lieutenant Dan rolls in around seven, looking a little buzzed. He doesn't usually show up on a Saturday, so we knew he was up to something.

Lieutenant Dan isn't in his usual spot, mid-bar. Tonight, he's positioned himself at the end of the bar and adjacent to the service bar, where the servers pick up the drinks they've ordered for their tables.

Four Budweisers in, and I catch him sniffing hair. He leans over while one of our more gorgeous servers collects her drinks, and he takes a big whiff.

"Another Bud, Jen!" he cries, moments after the act. We pretend not to hear him.

"Hey, can I buy you guys a shot?" he cries, since we've ignored him for about ten seconds.

(Big clue that you're over the limit: you're by yourself, or with another guy, and you offer the bartenders shots. We appreciate the gesture, and if early/late enough into the shift, might take you up on it. But you're on watch the second you make the offer. Does not apply to bachelor parties.)

My bartending partner says, "We should cut him off. Did you catch him smelling Angela's hair?"

"Go right ahead, I've got your back," I say, hoping she's fired-up enough to give him the bad news.

"I'm pretty sure I clocked out, like twenty minutes ago."

She's got one helluva point. (She only agreed to stick around until I'm out of the weeds, and to earn a shift drink)

I saunter up to Lt. Dan. "You've got a few sips left," I say to him, pointing at the bottle he's playing with in his hand.

"I love your big ass!" he says, throwing his head back in a guffaw that would make an Arkansas mule proud.

I'm stung, a little bit. Lieutenant Dan has been coming here for awhile now, he's never been so rude.

Plus, I'm a size four.

I pull my shit together and decide to give him the toddler treatment. It's drunk-appropriate. He needs a mommy.

"Honey, that's your last beer," I tell him. "When you finish it, you need to go home."

"Uh-huh. Need to go," he replies.

He swallows a sip, fumbles in his pocket, pulls out a cigarette. Lights it. It's a smoke-free establishment.

I snatch it from his mouth and throw it in the sink.

"Time for you to go, you're walking to the hotel, right?" I tell him.

"Time to go," he mumbles. He pulls another cigarette from the pack, looks at me, and sticks it behind his ear. By now, the owner has appeared behind the bar, apparently warned about a harmless bar situation that was clearly under control. He's a big Italian guy, and looks menacing. He likes this kind of stuff, but it's unwarranted.

Lieutenant Dan uses the restroom, gives a meek wave, tips me poorly, and goes about his business.

When I saw him again today, he said, "What happened Saturday?"

"You were leering at servers, even smelling their hair, it was weird," I told him.

"Is that all?" he laughed.

"Well, you did insinuate that I had a big ass," I told him.

He turned every shade of red. I gave him a Budweiser.

"Guess I'm paying for that one?" he asks.

"Triple," I tell him.

"You have no idea," I'm thinking.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Steven A. Shaw is a Snooty Foodie.

He's also a complete jackass. A noxious weed, if you will. And, likely, a crap tipper.

Warning: I'm sore, and I'm about to rant my ass off.

Yesterday's New York Times Op/Ed page had a ridiculous entry from said Mr. Shaw on the "controversial" topic of tipping that you should read if you're interested in this topic, which you probably are, since you're reading this blog, where I mostly bitch (and sometimes rave) about tipping.

Tipped Off

Essentially, snooty foodie Shaw enjoys the fine dining establishments of Europe, and their practice of paying the servers some kind of decent wage (which he conveniently never defines) and sticking the customer with a mandatory service charge in lieu of tipping. He argues that some irrelevant study showed that customers base their tips not on the actual service rendered, but on how nice or talkative a server is, or if he crouches at your table, or how many times he touches your shoulder or something(creepy).

Now, sure, attractive, friendly waiters probably make more in tips than sweaty, slothy ones. I guess you have to be an Op/Ed writer at the New York Times, or some brilliant Cornell professor in charge of a waste-of-time study, to reach such logical and obvious conclusions. Mr. Shaw, I've never experienced a server who fondled me, thankfully, but I have no appreciation for waiters who crouch at my table. It's so T.G.I. Friday's, somehow. Stand up and give me the specials like a man, please.

He also mentions Pool Houses, the kind of restaurants that pool the tips and divvy them up among the wait staff. He claims that they're rather commonplace, which couldn't be further from the truth, in my corner of the world, at least. Wait staff rebelled against that bullshit years ago. The really good servers and bartenders would never, ever work in a Pool House, so when we all left en masse, we essentially buried that stupid-ass, corporate-boardroom-conceived concept forever. Pool Houses are the main reason I'll never work for a corporate establishment again. I'm mom-and-pop all the way.

Finally, on the upselling issue... I'm really not into it, myself. You can read a menu, and if you want the $24 Pinot Gris or the $90 Amarone, I imagine you'll order it. I'm pleased to educate you about our fine selection of wines, since I've drunk most of them liberally. I don't consider that upselling, but if you think I'm hustling you, feel free to pull back some of that tip. At least this way, the choice is yours. Jerk.

Look, Mr. Shaw, it's painfully obvious that you've never worked in a restaurant, and that you do a lot of talking out of your ass, so I'll try to slow it down for you... Y o u a r e a f o o l. F o r p u n i s h m e n t, y o u s h o u l d b e s e n t e n c e d t o t h e o v e r n i g h t s h i f t a t W h i t e C a s t l e.

Hey, I'd love to have health insurance and a 401(k) and paid vacation as much as the next bartender or waiter, but not if that trade-off means I'm making $10.00 an hour. What good would the benefits do me when I can't pay my mortgage on some low wage that Mr. "I'm Smug, And I Can Afford Four-Star Restaurants" Shaw would probably consider generous? After the insurance and 401(k) and tax deductions, that generous hourly wage probably turns into, I dunno, four bucks. Besides, don't Europeans get national health insurance and loads of vacation time? Lucky bastards. Yeh, yeh, I know they pay a lot in taxes for these services, but I really am jealous about that vacation time thing.

(I'll admit to wishing more restaurant owners offered their employees the option of purchasing cheaper, group health insurance, and I think it's atrocious that they don't, but I'll save that rant for another time.)

See, Mr. Shaw? Everyone's happy because it's a damned good system, and it isn't broken. I realize I'm an independent contractor, I've realized it for years, and I'm grown-up enough to not require your gentle assistance at making my life better. Tipping assists a real relationship between the customer and bartender/waiter, especially if the customer plans to return often. Take the tip out of it, and you pretty much removed my motivation to say, "Hey, Skippy!" when you walk in the bar and I begin preparing your Chivas Rob Roy before you've settled in your barstool. Take the tip out of it, and you just became Joe Anonymous to me. Take the tip out of it, and you just killed the American Bar Experience for millions of bar regulars. Congratulations, Buzzkill.

His concept would drive the lion's share of servers to the unemployment line, while replacing them with mere employees who think $10 an hour would be pretty sweet, considering they make less than that at Chipotle or Subway.

It's downright un-American, what you're proposing, Mr. Shaw. And yes, I enjoy traveling to the beautiful and magical continent of Europe. Something I'll never afford again, if your idea is successful and my wage is cut by, essentially, two-thirds. If you think a restaurant owner is going to replace my tipped income dollar for dollar, please share with me the Chronic you're smoking.

Now, Mr. Shaw, do enjoy your next snooty, tipless meal at some four-star French or Belgian restaurant. I hope you run into Eddie. You guys would like each other.

For more on this topic, please visit Waiter Rant, who sees it much the same way, but spells it out more eloquently, and with less profanity, and far fewer words, than I.

A bottle of red
A bottle of white
Whatever kind of mood you're in tonight
I'll meet you anytime you want
In our snooty European overpriced non-tipping ambivalently-staffed high-turnover restaurant

- Billy Joel, "Italian Restaurant" (kind of.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Am I a glorified beggar?

Fantastic night. Packed bar, on a Tuesday! Full of fun regulars, the kind that call you "honey" and say "please." Very fun.

Well, except for... Belgian Eddie.

Belgian Eddie called bartenders beggars tonight. See, I received a lovely and gracious tip, and rang the little bell we have behind the bar for such (increasingly) rare occassions. For whatever reason, likely related to alcohol, Belgian Eddie took offense to this gesture. Eddie, who drinks three Gentleman Jacks and two Bud Lights every night, you could set your clock to it. Tips about $2.00 regardless.

Never gets the bell.

"I could go to a football game and hear a bell and drums begging me for money," he insists to me, as if someone asked, in his almost comically thick accent. I strain just to understand him.

Some bar customers enjoy getting numb. Others are there to look at women. Some are there for company, a little conversation, while a handful are there because the food is amazing and they're just sucking down some Chianti while waiting for a table.

Belgian Eddie is there because he enjoys insulting bartenders. It blows his skirt up. It's a pattern of his.

"Eddie, I make, like, less than minimum wage," I complain. "I live for tips. I live from the generosity of others."

"Just like a beggar," he replies, with a deep, familiar cough that suggests disease.

I decide to respond with a simple, "Ohhh, Belgian Eddie!" He's just an instigator.

A few moments later, when he begs for another Gentleman Jack when he's clearly beyond his limit, I don't throw his words, which have hurt me, back at him.

I just pour.

Bartender you see
This wine that's drinking me
Came from the vine that strung Judas from the devil's tree roots
Deep, deep in the ground
I'm on bended knee I pray
Bartender please

- Dave Matthews Band, "Bartender"

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

You ask "Can we transfer the bar tab to our table?"

And I reply, "Certainly, although it's our preference that you settle your bill at the bar."

Awhile ago, a savvy customer on a busy Saturday night was considerate enough to ask me why bartenders prefer for him to settle his bill at the bar. He was happy to pay it, but he actually wanted to know why I stated it as my preference.

I liked him immediately.

Here's why we say that, diners, just as I told him... because if you transfer your $78.00 bar tab to your table, your bartender will never, ever see your gratuity. The bartender might have made $14.00 on that tab, but the server is required to tip me out only 5% of that, once it shows up on his check. The server gets the $14.00 you would have tipped anyway, as a part of your overall bill, and I get 70 cents. Sure, we gently remind servers of the really big tabs we transfer, but I can't, and don't, expect them to keep that all straight. 5%. That's what we get.

You probably think we're going to get tipped all the same, work it out in the end, but it doesn't happen that way in practice. If you don't pay us before you sit down, the bartender doesn't get a tip.

You added the middleman. And the middleman took it right out of my bottom line. That's nothing against servers. They work a hell of a lot harder than I do, trust me, but they didn't sell you that bar tab, and they shouldn't be tipped on it.

It doesn't cost you a dime more to settle your bill at the bar before moving to your table to dine, but your convenience costs the bartender her tip, although we took your orders, mixed your drinks and provided you with light and frothy conversation and entertainment while you waited for your table. I will try to be funnier, and even more charming, if it means you can whip out your credit card twice in one night.

It's like the doctor's office, in a way... Payment Upon Services Rendered.

I accept the fact that you don't know any better, but, sure, I'll transfer your tab to your table. Thanks for nothing, yutzo.

So, remember this... while you're free to do as you please, and we'll smile and do as you like and never hip you to protocol so as not to appear rude, the savvy diner should know that bartenders are appreciative when you settle your account at the bar, and tip accoringly, before moving to your table.

And if you'd rather keep it simple, which you seem to define as an entire dining experience as one credit card transaction, how about throwing down a few bucks cash before transferring your tab and leaving the bar, instead of essentially stiffing me? Yes, you don't know any better. But there's a thought.

Thank you, good evening, and enjoy your dinner.

I refer to a $78.00 bar tab, because it belonged to the gentleman (and his party, of course) who posed the question that inspired this post. He listened intently to this rant, and then slapped down a $20 tip.

He said, "Who knew?"

Otherwise, the bar is ours
The day, and the night, and the car wash, too
The matches, and the Buds, and the clean and dirty cars
The sun and the moon
- "All I Wanna Do" Sheryl Crow

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Cornhole! Less dangerous than bowling!

One of Cincinnati's lesser claims to fame is the phenomenon of Cornhole, a silly beanbag bar game that can best be described as Toss-Across, with the pesky tic-tac-toe concept replaced by a singular hole.

A cornhole, as it were. First, Cincinnati became famous for three-ways. Now, cornhole. How much innuendo can one sexually-repressed city be expected to bear?

Apparently, it's all the rage on the news these days. It's such a rage that The Today Show sent a crew, and Andy Milonakis, to The 'Nati to talk about cornhole. Cornhole!!!! I thought it would go away seven years ago, but apparently it's the next big thing.

And nobody told me.

Is it wise to promote what is essentially a parlor game during morning shows, though? Of course, I missed The Today Show segment, because bartenders aren't up at seven in the morning. Please. And the true, rowdy cornhole matches don't hit their stride until 11 pm, at the earliest. I'm just sayin', is all...

By the way, I once tended bar for Tom Zapf, an all-around good guy and great boss, as well as the owner of Sneaky Pete's, as mentioned in this article. Apparently Sneaky Pete's was ground zero for "Cornhole - This Time, It's National." I wish him all the success in the world, even if Cornhole is involved. He was always an amazing promoter, and I learned a lot from him.

On behalf of the great City of Cincinnati, I apologize, America, for Cornhole. But, you might find that you're really good at it. It's easy, throwing beanbags at slanted boxes while friends look on, and it makes for ridiculous fun when sufficiently buzzed!

Plus, you don't have to rent smelly bowling shoes.

Think this through I laid it down for you every time
Expect me to give you what's mine
You're entirely way too fine
Flirt with me, don't keep hurtin' me, don't cause me pain
Be my lover, don't play no games
Just play me John Coltrane

- Lucinda Williams, "Righteously"

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Tokyo Iced Tea

The Long Island Iced Tea, is, in my professional opinion, the greatest cocktail ever invented, but it must be expertly prepared, and with love, as if the bartender were planning to drink it herself. Otherwise, it just tastes too strong, and makes you vomit. If more bartenders drank Long Islands, they'd make better ones as a whole.

I think the secret is the re-ice after the liquor has melted, add a splash of sour, and then shake it like a Polaroid picture. I'm amazed at how few bartenders shake their sour-based cocktails these days. For shame! Don't fear the tin! Add the Coke after the shake (don't shake out the fizz), and stir with the straw until it looks like an iced tea. Stick a lemon on it. Voila. Delicious. And effective. They'll order another in 15 minutes and give you a generous gratuity, if you did it right.

Another Long Island tip... talk your customers out of the top-shelf variety. Nobody can taste the fucking Grey Goose and Bombay Sapphire once that sour and coke is thrown in. Please. If you insist on throwing away your money to impress your date or clients, I'll make the best damned Top Shelf Long Island Money Waster you ever had, and charge you $10 a pop, without regret, of course. But think about it, when it's just you and the guys watching a game, ok? El Prima Tequila works as well as Jose Cuervo, and might even work harder, given its unfortunate name. I'm the bartender and I've listened to your stupid problems for months. I'm just trying to save you a buck in hopes that you'll give it to me. I need your money more than Bacardi does, trust me.

I put much, much love in my Long Islands, and I'm always impressed by the savvy bar customer who orders one. It's not the latest trendy martini, it's a real damned drink, and a delight to make.

Check out this Tokyo Iced Tea recipe... I found it during a google for Long Island varieties, but I tested and tweaked it tonight, so this is my version. Quick scoop for the pros... an LIIT, dump the tequila, replace it with Midori, top with 7 and a lime, basically.

Tokyo Iced Tea

Build on ice, in a pint glass:

1/2 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce gin
1/2 ounce light rum
1/2 ounce triple sec
1/2 ounce Midori /Melon Liqueur

Re-ice after liquor melt

Splash of sour/bar lemon

Generous shake with bar tin

Top with 7-Up

Lime Wedge Garnish

A refreshing, delightful, fun, green, Japanese twist on the summer classic. Cheers!

Buckeyes, it's Election Day... if you live in OH-2, get out the vote for Paul Hackett, officially endorsed by Tavern Wench, something you won't read in the papers. Support the troops... send one to Congress!

Day is gone, I'm on my back
Staring up at the ceiling
I take a drink, sit back, relax
Smoke my mind, makes me feel better for a short time
What I want is what I've not got
What I need is all around me

- Dave Matthews Band, "Jimi Thing"

Monday, August 01, 2005

If you live in OH-2 and you're not voting for Paul Hackett...

... you haven't been paying attention.

It's amazing, the national attention this race is getting. The special election is Tuesday, and it feels like Bush-Kerry redux around these parts.

On ABC's "World News Tonight", Paul Hackett was shown telling a voter, "If you send me to Congress, at least you won't have to send me on any kind of fact-finding mission about Iraq." It was compelling. Get to know him, and give what you can.

Hackett for Congress - Official Site

Contribute to Paul Hackett via Atrios

Swing State Project - On-the-ground updates from Bob Brigham

I know the voters of this district. It's been said before, and it bears repeating... candidates are like sports teams around here. Loyal fans root for Team Bush, and its farm team, Team Jean Schmidt, facts about war, commitment, sacrifice, and truth be damned.

If you live in OH-2, please vote on Tuesday, August 2nd, for Paul Hackett. Support the troops, by sending one to Congress.

Update - 8-2-05: Happy election day, Buckeyes! I've gotten a few emails about this post, which goes to show you the national attention the congressional special election in OH-2 has received. Some of you are batshit crazy, I'll tell you that much.

If anyone wants to know what this post has to do with bartending, well, my workplace is located smack dab in the middle of OH-2, so I happen to give a damn who our representative to Congress will be, Mr. Rude Jerky from Missouri, which is especially nowhere near OH-2. So there. Why do you guys hate America?