February is a month that is silly for lots of reasons. It mocks you relentlessly with chill winds and bone freezing rain, nothing good is on at the cinema and the heckling, relentless voice in your head chastises you once again for another failed dry January. Cartoon cherubs nock arrows with heart shaped heads to their fearsome bows and go for the kill-shot and despite all of that is so fundamentally wrong with the idea I can’t help but think of love. I think of love, communication, heartfelt conversations with yourself and your loved ones, but most of all, I think of the relationships that truly sculpt our daily lives. Our relationship with our bartender (or waitress, chef, server, maitre d’, pot-wash or bouncer) and how that conversation needs to be appraised on both sides, for the good of preserving the fabric of this delicate social tapestry. 

These comments are damaging to the industry for a number of reasons

It only takes a simple google search to come up with any number of articles and lists that run with a title something like this: ‘If you do 10 or more of these things, then your bartender hates you’. Lists are stupid. These comments are damaging to the industry for a number of reasons: 

1. It makes customers feel like the bartender hates them. 2. It breaks the illusion that the bartender doesn’t hate them. 3. It engenders a hostile work ethic that causes hospitality staff to focus more on the things that people do wrong rather than all the wonderful things that people do right. 

In any environment that peddles hooch, the possibility of horseplay exists

In any environment that peddles hooch, the possibility of horseplay exists, but it doesn’t mean that’s all there is. I mean, if I had a pound for every time I’d been punched in the face I would have at least seven pounds (I am fairly punchable) but you would chalk this up to the actions of the (seven) individual(s), and not the entire area (but I am looking directly at you, Saturday night on Park Street).

The sort of negative outlook peddled by this sort of list article has no place in a bar or restaurant, and mercifully most people seem to be on the right side of this issue. But a conversation still needs to be had. If ever you have found yourself in a cocktail bar, there’s a good chance you have experienced some of the following feelings: 

1. It’s intimidating, but for reasons not immediately obvious. Also, waistcoats are naturally intimidating. 2. You don’t know what any of the ingredients listed are, so you opt for something well known – a mojito perhaps? Did that waiter just roll his eyes? 3. You hate the drink, but you’re too polite to say anything. 

Did that waiter just roll his eyes?

Last time, I mentioned that in a bar you don’t have to know anything, so all of those feelings are justified. Feel intimidated? I had no idea what was going on when I first stepped into a cocktail bar. Also, waistcoats are scary. Bartender rolling his eyes at the prospect of making a mojito? He’s an idiot! An itchy-eyed chump who doesn’t represent the enormous talent pool and kindness of spirit that exists in bars all around Bristol! Mojitos are easy to make and delicious. Don’t like the drink? It’s fine! Just say and any bar worth their salt will mix you something else. Like the secret to success in any number of situations ranging from hospitality to romantic, communication is key. A surprising number of negative Tripadvisor or Google reviews can be zoomed in on and it is often the problem of a lack of conversation on varying sides that leads to anger and frustration.

As a city, we have the opportunity and the power to shift the dynamic

An overtly emotional approach to these situations is never the best (especially when the emotion usually boils up to furious, teeth grinding anger), but a little bit of empathy can go a long way. We all have bad days, both in and out of the industry, so a little compassion can go a long way. As a city, we have the opportunity and the power to shift the dynamic that still tickles the beard of this great billy goat we call socialising (some people do call it that!). Don’t be afraid to call out mistakes, but don’t be horrible about it. And don’t paint all guests with the brush of the few idiots determined to spoil somebody’s evening. Only by having these (sometimes painful) conversations can Bristol continue to grow into the nationally recognised food, drink and music billy goat that it is.

I work in a bar. I don’t hate you. In fact, I would go so far as to say I love you. I love you as if you were my own children. My own drunken, weird, anarchic children. 

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