Rattlesnake Redux: 5 Worst Ways Bartenders Treat Their Customers

You know you have problems when the last thing you see and the first thing you check in the morning is your Twitter account. My recent bout with laryngitis brought me to the doctor who is forcing me to stop eating fatty and spicy foods and drinking alcohol if I want to stop speaking like Harvey Fierstein. Putting the pork-loaded fork and tumbler of bourbon down isn’t a problem. If my prescription for good health required me to shut off the Twitter, I’d bartend for the rest of my life like Koko the signing gorilla.

Scrolling down my news stream, I saw an article being promoted by the Salt Lake Tribune titled, “Bartender pet peeves: The 5 most annoying ways to order a drink.” As a professional bartender and novice writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between customers and bartenders. Raskin’s Rhetoric is nothing but a series of complaints, comments and observations about bar life in Salt Lake City. My audience is people who either know me or want to learn what it is like behind the bar. What grabbed me about the article is the misuse of the word “rattlesnake.” It was used as a noun instead of a verb.

At the bar, a rattlesnake is not a legless venomous serpent with a castanet at the end of its tail. A rattlesnake is an empty ice-filled glass held up and shaken with the intent of getting the bartender’s attention. In the pantheon of annoying things customers do in the club, a rattlesnake is a notch below being grabbed by the guest.

I revisited the article on-line and checked out the message boards. TAKE NOTE: this is the first time I have ever read a message board. As expected, the majority of the comments had to do with Utah’s liquor laws and how things are better in California. There was some talk about how LDS values in the state influence the service of alcohol and how weak the drinks served in SLC are. It wasn’t until I saw a message from someone named Kamron from New York City did I realize that there was a unique idea. Kamron suggested: “How about an article about the 5 most annoying ways bartenders treat their customers?”

Since I have tipped more than a few whiskeys and have been on the business side of the bar for a couple of years, I thought I would do the other-side to today’s Tribune article. I brainstormed five ways that bartenders annoy the Hell out of their customers and tried to pinpoint ways to become a better bartender.

Think that tipping is mandatory. Believe it or not, you do not have to tip the bartender. That is probably the most painful thing that I have ever written but it is true. If you don’t tip, no one is going to have you arrested or pistol-whipped in the back alley. Tipping is the service charge for the bartender for doing a good job. It means that the bartender is attentive, knowledgeable and able to perform his duties. There is a social compact that if the bartender knows how to work his bar then he will receive gratuities. If he can’t do the job, he doesn’t receive extra money.

I am a pretty standard tipper. I tip $1-2 a drink if the bartender can get to me in a reasonable amount of time. Moreover, I am incredibly patient. I know if the bartender is working the club and pouring as fast as they can eventually they will get to me. Just because I am waiting at the bar doesn’t mean that I am the next customer. Providing I am taken care of before last call and the barkeep seems to actually care what he is doing, I am always good for a couple of bucks.

The worst bartenders are those that make what they get tipped a matter of public record. Work a bar long enough and you will be stiffed more times than you can count. Sure, heavy hitters will get served first but bartenders who skip non-tippers are either too slow or too stupid to work the club. For those of us who are dependent upon people’s generosity, you need to look at the averages as oppose to individual tippers. No sense in losing the war over a couple of battles. Bartenders that act like gatekeepers to booze via gratuities are some of the worst domestic terrorists.

Keeping a dirty bar. My favorite bar in Salt Lake is Sugarhouse Pub. The bartenders pour a decent beer and they do a really good job of keeping the place clean. Ever since they outlawed smoking in bars, I try to stay away from dive bars. It’s a clean club and the bathrooms aren’t covered in graffiti. Moreover, their glassware doesn’t feels like they are covered in herpes sore. They don’t have bumps on them and the rims of the glasses aren’t cover with shmegma. How are they able to get the simplest thing right where so many other bars fall short? When I think of the stereotypical bartender working the saloons in the Old West, I always imagine a chubby Irishman in an apron patiently wiping down all of the glasses with a rag. How did cleaning the glasses go the way of the horse and buggy?

The bar is the bartender’s office and customers deserve a clean workplace. Not wiping down the bar, having dirty glasses or having trash pile up on the floor are signs the bartender doesn’t care about his customers. A fruit tray filled with three-day old garnish, no napkins or stirring straws means either the owner is going out of business or the bartender is too lazy to keep up on stocking his bar.

The best piece of advice I could give a bartender is to remind them that 90% of their job is janitorial work. The best part of the job is pouring drinks and making tips but to get to that point in the evening, you need to clean your space and keep it as clean as possible throughout the night. Besides, it is exhausting trying to match up lipstick on wine glasses to customers all night long.

Looking at your cell phone. I bartend for a living and as I have said earlier, I am addicted to Twitter. I am also addicted to chili-cheese dogs and I can somehow bartend throughout a shift without a mustard stain on my tie. The moment a bartender lazily picks up their cell phone, I know that the bartender has officially checked out. No one can take drink orders, pour drinks, put money in the register and play on their cell phone at the same time.

I keep my cell phone out when I work for one reason: I have a bartending app for hard to make drinks. If there was an emergency at home, my girlfriend knows to either call the club or wait until I get home. My iPhone might be the closest thing to a Tricorder I will ever own but I don’t get to play with it at work. Want to pour me drinks? Put your phone away. It’s funny that we don’t have to tell this to city bus drivers or colon-rectal surgeons when they’re at work. Bartenders are prima donnas. Just because you’re fueling the party with liquor doesn’t mean you’re actually allowed to do what you want. Text on your own time.

Incompetence with a capital C. Gin and tonics are easier to make than a Voodoo Priestess or a Yellow Parrot but if your club has liquor, you should be able to make the majority of a Mr. Boston’s Bartending Guide. Constantly asking what’s in it and not being able to move the costumer from an unknown shot to one you know is the hallmark of bad barkeeping.  You should know how to make kamikazes, surfer on acid, mind-erasers and lemon drops.

Not only should the bartender be able to mix a variety of drinks, they should have the ability to multi-task with a bar full of customers. Bartenders need to be organized. Nothing drives me crazier than watching a bartender spinning in circles looking for a bottle of triple sec. It is vital for a bartender to know what they have on their backbar. You should not only know what gins you have behind the bar but how much they cost. Bartenders need to be able to not only know what is on tap but who makes the beer, what style of beer it is and how does it taste. A good bartender is a functional alcoholic.

I drink shots of whiskey chased by beer because I am adult and I am terrified of what concoction the average bartender will pour for me. Bartenders are addicted to using the low rail when making shots and that tends to be full of hyper-sweet DeKuyper’s liqueur. Good bartenders look confident behind the bar and own the room. Too often in Utah do bar owners hire good-looking people and think they can wrecking ball a jammed club. It goes without saying that the uglier the bartender the better the service. Why do you think I am so good at my job?

Getting your meat where you make your bread. All I want is another round of shots. All the bartender wants is the blonde’s phone number. As I am waving a fistful of $20s, I can’t seem to get the bartender’s attention. At this point in time, a rattlesnake might seem appropriate but instead I’ll just take my business down the road. The worst thing that a bartender can do is ignore his guests. When I see a bartender who is more interested in flirting, reading a book, sneaking drinks or doing anything that doesn’t involve getting drinks from the bottle to my mouth, I am done with that bar. Because it is so difficult to get a bartending gig in Utah, those who’d rather do anything but make drinks need to be sent back to the unemployment line.

Bartenders need to do everything they can to keep service going throughout the night. Considering how difficult it is to get customers through the door, it is vital that once they get inside the bar they stay there. Those that ignore the guests have no business behind the bar. I would rather hit the car bar than waste any time waiting for a bartender to learn the trade on the job or worse, stare off into space.

There is probably a dozen other things bartenders do that annoy the Hell out of the guests from not washing their hands, putting your credit card in their mouth, not knowing how to pour a pint of Guinness, unable to make proper change, give a decent restaurant recommendation, know a cab company’s phone number, politely cutting somebody off, rim a margarita glass with salt or say thank you for a tip. Bartenders are horrible people. In Utah, they don’t serve doubles, give long pours, buy one for the house or know any jokes. That’s why when you find a good one, you take ownership and never want another drink poured by somebody else.

Do your part in not creating horrible bartenders. Try and know what you want. Have your money ready. Recognize that in a busy bar, the bartender has a lot more people to take care of them just you. And at all costs, do not rattlesnake the bartender. Bartenders are only as horrible as the people they pour for. I’ll do my part this New Year’s Eve to keep the drinks flowing providing you don’t act like it’s your first time in a club.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. He doesn’t care for snake handlers.

4 thoughts on “Rattlesnake Redux: 5 Worst Ways Bartenders Treat Their Customers

  1. I like it! Nice work, my man. Ditto on the scarcity of barkeep jobs in this state. I want one, and it kills me when some dick with an entitlement complex abuses the position.

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