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Advice for That Old Guy Behind the Bar


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Strange how things go sometimes.

A few years ago, I wrote about my tussles with hooch and my resulting embrace of cocktail-making. (Click here for that Daily Gullet piece.) The embrace has turned into a passion: I've been teaching home mixology courses, judging cocktail contests, getting my BarSmarts Wired certification, and more.

The passion is poised to become a wage-earner, and an exciting one at that. Michael Dietsch (Society member dietsch) asked me to join the bartending team at Cook & Brown Public House, a new restaurant opening next month here in Providence RI where he'll be bar manager. He's working hard on liquor accounts, the cocktail menu, and so on; I'm helping out where I can, whether with a Milk Punch recipe or taking a crowbar to a really, really ugly bar.

But that's ending shortly, and soon these creaky arms are going to be shaking and stirring like mad. Working bartenders, I'd like your thoughts on everything: customer service to hygiene; good shoes to ice, glass, & equipment maintenance; what to do and what not to do. Pithy advice from the trenches most welcome.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I did it for many years and was just shy of your age when I stopped. Now, there is now way after back surgeries and other issues I could pull a hard shift anymore.

best advice: When your shift is over go home. Have seen too many get pulled into the partying after work habits that lead to trouble. Also, don't be too upset if you spend most of your time making vodka and cranberry and opening Coors Light. You have the knowledge and the smarts to be a real cocktalian. It will be up to the business that your place brings in that will decide what you will be serving.

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I'm confident that we'll be bringing in a wide array of customers looking for quality food and drink, and we're ready to serve everyone from cocktail geeks to x-tini drinkers the best drinks we can make.

As for partying afterward, you've no worries there. Sleeping afterward, now that is likely.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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On shoes: get ones with certified non-skid soles and hard tops. You don't want soaking wet feet from having a drink fall on your feet in a cloth shoe like sneakers, and you need protection from falling knives and flying glass. The soles will prevent slip & fall accidents.

Buy an ok shoe brand, but don't spend a lot of money because it's best to replace them fairly frequently. The inner structure breaks down before the heels wear out, and this means that there's less protection for your knees and hips (and ultimately your back) if you keep wearing them. (it's a bit like advice on running shoes, after a certain number of miles, retire the shoes) I buy the work shoes at PayLess, and toss them every 4-6 months or so. Taking care of your knees and hips, and back, will help you endure long shifts with good cheer.

Good socks are also important, make sure they fit and have a little padding on the bottom. You don't want blisters, and you don't want chafing. You also don't want anything that will trap and keep foot moisture against your feet. Backpacking, outdoorsy places like REI are good places to buy socks.

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Gosh, I hope I don't need protection from falling knives and flying glass. Not the sort of joint I envision Cook & Brown will be...!

Accidents will happen. You're gonna be cutting fruit and every now and then, a glass or bottle will drop.

I'd be starting to learn some good back and hamstring stretches. And doing them.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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That's an extremely useful piece of advice. Thanks, and welcome!

I'm also realizing as I develop recipes that I have to be more thoughtful about glassware than I am at home. Things will be more standardized at work, I'm sure, but I don't want to be pouring off 2 oz of drink bc the glass is full....

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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First off,

Have a drink with the staff after shift, it builds necessary camaraderie.

Then

Practice simple math in your head

Think about having multiple orders in your head

Don’t change the well around

Flair sucks, speed and accuracy puts money in the till.

Corkscrew, pen, and bottle opener in your pocket before shift,

Exercise – most of the night you’re half bent over and arms outstretched. Loosen that lower back

Banter with customers, it lessens the wait time

Tip your barback, heavily

Covet bar towels

and

If you’re working with seasoned bartenders, they can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

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  • 2 months later...

Things are going extremely well. I'm still figuring out how to work an 8 hour day then pull an 8 hour shift at the bar, but having big, enthusiastic crowds there is helping a lot. Happiest I've ever been when completely exhausted.

Wanted to weigh in about footwear. I tried some Danskos but they just didn't quite fit. I've had lots of successful Keens, so I ordered these from Zappos. I love 'em.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Chris, congrats on embracing a new vocation/avocation. I tended bar at University but that hardly qualifies me to offer "pithy advice from the trenches" -- it was more like mixing paint at Home Depot. And I took orders from the servers without talking to actual customers, missing out on the best part.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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