We drink different things at different times, with different people…
Picture yourself walking into a bar. You look around, getting a brief feel of the people already in. You glance at the bar to see if it’s lively enough, fun maybe.
But you never ever think that someone out there may be observing you too. Wondering what they might offer you to drink. Debating whether you would stick to your usual, or was there an opportunity of swaying your decision.
As I treaded on uncertain territory behind the bar early in my career, I quickly understood the key to my future: observe, observe, observe! It would tell you everything; show you the way forward; give you the power to change the course of an evening on the bar.
I noticed the little things. How a quiet guy on the counter mulled over his rum and cola. I learned to leave him alone for a bit, letting him ponder over his thoughts. At the smallest opening, I’d go chat with him a bit, allowing him to open up and drop his guard.
I now knew that the worst was over and he was ready to be a mite social. Every once in a while one of our regular young professionals would come to the bar with a group that definitely shouted “upper management”. He’d glance at me but with the serious “with the boss” look.
This was my cue to smile and be polite, but not be my usual cheery self with a “Hey!” thrown at him. Instead, I would focus my attention on the rest of his group, getting to his drink last. It’s very simple:
- If I had gone all gung-ho on him, the boss just may have wondered how much of his free time was spent at my bar, drinking.
- In his enthusiasm to impress upon his boss that he too was in the know when it came to the spirits that cheer, he might get it all wrong. Imagine his embarrassment if he ordered a single malt and the big guy decided on a basic beer!
- As the last one ordering, he could get it right, whichever way the boss man went.
But say he came in with a group of his peers, tie undone, shirt sleeves half-rolled. My calling out to him in recognition would be a power move. This would announce that he is someone to reckon with and holds a certain sway.
A very “Wah, kya baat hai” scene. And if the communication begins with “Will you have your usual, or are you all celebrating this evening”, he has made an impression.
You may have turned the tables in your favour, and a chance to suggest a few drinks is now on the table. Or not.
Let’s now switch to a scenario where our young friend from above has a lady friend with him this evening. If you have been practicing the observing game for a while now, you would quite easily be able to figure out if the damsel in question is a buddy, a girlfriend who’s been around a bit, or someone he needs to impress.
With the buddy he’ll drink his usual: beer, straight. With the established girl he would go with a slightly more premium dink. If it’s a new girl, this is when you can pull out all the stops.
A single malt for himself? A really nice gin and tonic for her? Maybe a Negroni, or an Old Fashioned with a twist? A nice bottle of wine?
And so, jeans and T-shirt may say one thing, but jeans and a shirt totally another. A little black dress and cleavage will demand attention; an easy top will say “I know what I’m drinking, so stop giving me ideas!”
Playing that game on the bar is what makes every evening interesting. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s those that love the bar counter that make your job worthwhile.
Just a few questions to the adventurous and you can offer them drinks that make them smile, and suddenly you are the hero. You are the one that brightens their evening. You are that amazing wizard who sees all and knows all.
It’s then that you become someone from being just another bartender. And this is what I try to impress upon everyone who wants to be a “bar star”. Realise that it’s not about you, but about them.
You may know how to make great drinks. But they are only great if the person drinking them thinks they are. And that will only happen if you have listened while they talked and told you about themselves.
And you picked enough to tweak your drink to make it perfect for them. When you see that smile, that look of incredulous joy on they face, you know that what you made is singing in their mouth. That is when you have arrived!
I have applied this rule through all my endeavours. Talking to a roomful of high net worth individuals for a bank on the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of the single malt. Enthusing a group of cardiac surgeons on the niceties of wine while they in turn offered me advice on the health benefits, if any, in a glass of wine.
To impetuous young undergrads on the wisdom of staying away from “let’s do shots guys!”
Observe, observe, observe. That is why I could give everyone I touched what they were truly looking for. Which is why they said I was awesome. Never realising that it was always the audience that found the genius in me!