Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. For this edition, we spoke to a bartender who doesn't drink.
Being a bartender who doesn't drink in my personal life gives me a lot of clarity at work. I've seen the worst and the ugliest of what alcohol can do to people. And always being sober while watching how drunken situations unfold reminds me that I never want to be like that.
Don't get me wrong: Even though I don't drink, I love my job and deeply understand bar culture. And I still have to taste all the cocktails and drinks I make, so it's not like I'm completely disconnected from what customers are experiencing. But being sober and behind the bar rather than on the other side just suits me better.
I started working as a bartender soon after my 21st birthday, once I learned how much money I could make. But the money aspect of the job isn't the only thing I love about being a bartender—it's the power that comes with it. That power over drunken people is a big draw for me. Compared to other front-of-house positions, bartenders have more authority. People respect me as a bartender because if they don't, I won't serve them a drink.
No matter how rude or crazy someone is being to get my attention, I always give him or her the benefit of the doubt. But sometimes I can immediately tell if I'm going to get annoyed with someone.
The majority of customers who come to my workplace are businessmen in suits, mostly bankers and Wall Street guys who work in finance. A lot of them will come with their girlfriends or wives, but many of them come alone. Money and booze always give guys like these liquid courage.
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I'm the only female bartender at my job. It's a very male-dominated work environment, so I have to earn respect, and the only way to do that is to be assertive and stand my ground. A lot of these male customers think that just because I'm a woman, I'll automatically be bubbly and flirty with them at all times. They try to take advantage of the fact that I'm a woman, and will try to get my attention with "Hey, honey!" or "Sweetheart!" and expect me to turn around to look at them with a smile like I'm going to suck their dick or something.
Alcohol gives some male customers the courage to say the nastiest things. I have one guy who used to be a regular, this big-shot finance guy. We always had a good rapport, and I never had any problems with him. But once, he got really drunk, and he didn't become angry or violent, but really sexually aggressive. That night, he got my attention and pointed at something in the back for me to look at. I turned around to see what he was pointing at, and then confusingly asked, "Huh? What am I looking at?" He responded with, "Oh, I'm looking!" I turned my head to ask what he was talking about, and he was blatantly staring at my ass. Then he insisted that I shouldn't get offended because he was only "complimenting me." I just stared back blankly and thought, Is this really happening right now? Because he would've never done that sober.
Bartending at different places definitely results in different drunken behavior. I once worked at this other bar that had more of a club vibe. One night, when the music was bumping and everyone was having a good time, there was this guy who had a nearby table with his own bottle. He would come up to the bar on occasion, and was happy and enjoying himself. But at one point, I noticed he was straight-up wasted. Then he started belligerently screaming about the bathroom, and he just seemed so angry. I pointed to let him know where the restroom was, and he drunkenly said he could see it. But then he walked up to the side of the bar and started peeing right there like it was a urinal. The funniest thing was that, while doing so, he was still having a good time and was slapping high-fives with people around him. To imagine that this customer, who came in and got a table with his friends and bottle service, would end up taking a piss like that at the bar later that night, it's just unbelievable.
Inebriated people are always thirsty for more alcohol, so without fail, drunk people will try to score free booze. Whether it's an elaborate cocktail or a glass of wine, they'll always ask for an extra splash of liquor. But it's like, "Oh, so you just want me to steal from my workplace?" I mean, it's just a splash for you, but to me it would potentially cost me my job. That's when the whole concept of bartenders having power comes in, and I have no problem being stern and standing my ground. I understand they're intoxicated and I'm sober. But still, you have to make them realize that just because they're drunk, they can't get away with that sort of stuff.
But then there are those rare times I'll give that free splash. You know, just because I have the power to.
As told to Tae Yoon.