Shake, serve and repeat may seem like the gist of bartending, but the job is so much more. From start to finish, the shift consists of a lot of physical and emotional duties no matter if a person works in a crowded college bar or a fine dining establishment. So what's it like to do a job that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 500,000 Americans worked last year? Wonder no more. Here's a glance at bartending – beyond the cocktail making.
Mise en place
The moment a bartender arrives at the restaurant for his or her shift, it's time to work. This may seem obvious,but compared with other jobs at a restaurant,like waiting tables, the bartender typically has exponentially more duties. To understand the tasks that need to be completed prior to open, think about it in terms of what it takes to make a drink.
The apparatus – highball, rocks, snifter – doesn't just magically appear. The barkeep or barback, an assistant, will stock the glassware behind the bar. The liquor, juices and anything else required to make the drinks get stocked by bar staff. Garnishes, also called the "mise en place," are chopped by them as well. Straws and napkins are replenished from dry storage. The list goes on, and during opening side work, an intense amount of ice must be transported from the freezer to all of the ice wells. Those drinks aren't going to chill themselves.
In locations that double as a restaurant, the bartender must get the area ready for dinner service. Napkins, plates and silverware get set on top of the bar. The staff will also likely put anything else – bitters, menus and more, behind the bar because it will be very difficult for them to exit the area once it starts to get busy. Whether everything is ready or not, once the restaurant opens, it's show time.
In the weeds
Some days guests trickle in slowly but surely. Other times they arrive in one gigantic burst. Regardless, at some point in the evening the bartender is going to get very busy. In the industry, the slang "in the weeds" is often used to mean hectic. This time period is a true testament to a bar staff's skills. To survive this push, people must be efficient, sharp and strong at multitasking. All at once they could be mixing five cocktails, taking an order, chatting up regular clientele and communicating with other staff about needs. It's during this time that rules tend to go out of the window, suggested an article on Thrillist.
Every shift, a bartender gets a curve ball that can come in many forms. Sometimes it's an intoxicated guest who needs to be cut off. Other moments, it could be a spill or an injury. Behind the bar, trash and liquid pour out onto the floor, which could make for a slippery environment. A bartender's best friend during a shift could be a good pair of slip-resistant shoes or proper bar tools. At any rate, the bartender makes it through the chaos and last call quickly approaches.
Even after the last stragglers stagger out of the bar, it's not time to clock out yet. All of the mise en place and items that were set up must be broken down. The ice in the wells gets melted. Then it's sweeping, mopping and back to the restocking. Taps, liquor and wine bottles must get capped overnight. In accordance with health code regulations, the bar must be left spotless – meaning the employee may return home whenever this subjective agreement is met. Then it's time to do it all over again next time.
It's all in a day's work.
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