Margaritas, martinis, mojitos; they sound similar, but they are completely different. Some need to be shaken, some need to be stirred, some need to be muddled, but they all need to be garnished. I am not an expert on alcohol. Even now, after being a bartender at The Shaking Crab restaurant for almost two months, I still have to ask my manager questions about how to make things, especially customer requests that are “off menu”. For instance, one day someone asked me for a cosmopolitan. While it is a common drink and I have heard of several times already, I had no idea what exactly went into it. I proceeded to google the recipe and give it my best shot. I never got any complaints, so I guess I did it right.
However, being a bartender doesn’t just involve mixing cocktails. I had to navigate our finest wines, looking for different types of pinot grigio, Moscato, or cabernet sauvignon. The easiest task was when someone just wanted a bottled or canned beer. I didn’t have to do much thinking with that because I was more familiar with those and already knew what they looked like. Draft beer was a little more complicated because it needed to be poured correctly in the right glass. Everything had to be planned out according to the customer’s desires because, of course, the customer is always right. Right?
At only 18 years old, I had to assume that everyone was always right because the majority of the time I had no idea what was right and what was wrong. As a bartender, naturally everyone expected me to know everything about all the alcohol that was served, but everyone also suspected that I was at least 21. It was a constant struggle. On one hand I liked everyone thinking that I was older, but on the other hand, it was frustrating when someone asked me what I recommended for a beer on draft and I had no idea how to answer them because I’ve never actually tasted any of the beers.
Now you might be wondering, why did they hire an 18-year-old bartender in the first place? To be honest, I’m not even completely sure myself. When I applied for the job I put down on my application that I have been a bartender before because the last restaurant job I had, I did work behind a bar. The only difference was that I never actually made cocktails because that restaurant only serves beer and wine. However, because the restaurant just opened up, I was able to train and learn the procedures behind each drink of the new job that I was about to start.
Luckily for me, The Shaking Crab had their own special drink menu, so I had specific steps to follow and specific ingredients to use. This made it easier because I wasn’t just “winging it” for every drink. But even with a specific drink menu, I still had to learn the proper measurements. How many ounces were in a count? What consisted of a splash of grenadine? How many counts do you use when someone asks for a gin and tonic, or a Hennessy and coke? These are all the things that I had to figure out on the first day of the job.
At the time, I had another bartender training me. He was slightly helpful, but, unfortunately, he got fired by the time I came to my second shift, so I became the only bartender. Lucky me! Right? Maybe.
It was quite overwhelming at first. Taking orders, keeping tabs, staying organized, it involved a lot of multitasking and running back and forth. Eventually, I found a rhythm and I was able to stay on top of everything. I was recently put to the test, busy from 4-10pm without any break in between. I made good tips and was able to keep track of everyone’s orders without too much trouble. Granted I did spill two drinks on myself, but if I was that busy on my first or second shift, I probably would have had a full-fledged panic attack.
No one story stands out in my mind. As a bartender, everything seemed to always be changing and I never knew what’s going to happen next. One day I would be extremely busy and not have time to talk to anyone, and another day I’d be bored on my phone texting my friends to keep me company while I was at work. I never knew what to expect, but I guess that was just part of the gig.
Before I could count my tips at the end of the night and clock out, I had to clean up the entire bar. It was not the most fun part of the job. There were multiple things that I had to have done, usually taking me around 30-45 minutes just to do it all. Sometimes I’d try to start doing it early so I can get out early and maybe go out once my shift was over. But I soon realized that once I got back to my room at 12-12:30, I had no energy or motivation to go out and I collapsed on my bed in defeat. I guess that’s just the life of a bartender.