I’ll call her Claire. She is a first time visitor and is vocally enjoying her experience so far. She is by herself. She likes gin. She starts with a G&T then advances to an off-the-menu classic Southside. She is helped by my colleagues and pays with cash as she goes. She orders her third cocktail from me. She gets a Poppy My Sherry ($12, gin-poppy-sherry). Knowing that she hasn’t opened a tab and has been paying with cash, I ask if she wants to cash out and she accepts. I tell her it will cost $12.99 (8.25% state tax). She hands me $20 and I give her change and the receipt. Pretty standard stuff, here.

She sips on her cocktail while making conversation with the woman sitting next to her, who has also come to the bar by herself. They chat politely but in no time, they are talking quietly and laughing loudly. I like witnessing people become friends right before my eyes. Even if the exchange only lasts while they’re out that evening, human interaction is a beautiful thing. But sometimes it’s less so.

I’m not making an effort to hear their conversation. Note that many bartenders have boast-worthy lip reading abilities which prevent customers from having to scream or repeat their orders over the chatter and music but even if I had been paying close attention, their conversation was undecipherable. I do, however, catch their eyes a few times looking my way. It’s instinctual for me to check up on a guest whenever I make eye contact but each time, Not-Claire gave me the same response.

“Yep, all good.”

Life goes on. Not-Claire leaves. Claire takes the last sip of her Poppy My Sherry, drops a $5 bill on the bartop and says to me, “Next time, don’t assume that I won’t tip.”

“Pardon me?”

She repeats her statement.

I’m stunned. “I didn’t, what makes you say that?”

Claire points to the menu then states that her drink was $12 so I took a dollar from her to tip myself. FACE PALM! I stay calm, point to her receipt and explain the part that reads, “Sales Tax: $0.99”. She isn’t convinced. She prosaically says, “I haven’t been paying tax all night. You were assuming that I wasn’t going to leave a good tip.” You can’t make this shit up.

I try to diffuse it. I explain that tax rings in automatically. I physically show her on the computer screen the action of ringing in a drink and the tax applying itself. I give her verbal confirmation from others that there is, indeed, sales tax. She leaves and I’m shaking from the effort it took to maintain “the customer is always right” during such a trivial and blatantly wrong situation. Later, she writes an online review. 4 stars. She praises the bar but, as expected, slanders me. Despite everything, I privately reach out to apologize and ask her to give us another chance. This isn’t about me, it’s about the reputation of the bar. That’s hospitality, right?

So to all the “Claires” out there that think we are just trying to make a buck- our job is intense, challenging, extremely time consuming, and a physical/mental workout every time you step behind the bar. I’m convinced that nobody sticks to volume cocktail bartending unless they truly love it. I tell everybody when I interview them that the only way they will last is if they are passionate about it. Hospitality is not for everybody, but it is definitely for me. I try to build a relationship with all of my guests, and I value them. I hope that every one of them comes back to visit. Even Claire.

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