they will put down their weapons when they realize they don’t need them

While bar tending I find that people are uptight. Like, they are expecting me to judge them, or accost them. I honestly just want to make them a drink they like, help them to relax, and maybe help stir up a conversation that will inspire them. But often, as they walk around the corner, they are looking at me out of the corners of their eyes, and it takes a minute for them to settle into the new space. They wonder what the people with them are going to have. Or they think they know what they want and refuse the proffered perusing of the drink menu but then ask me what kind of wine i have.

Tending bar has taught me a ton. Going out to have a drink on the other side of a bar has taught me just as much. A person wants to feel important, special, appreciated. When I stop focusing on how I appear to my patrons, I can focus on them. By following some [sage advice] I can make people feel warm and fuzzy, make a bigger tip, and truly connect to people.

I work at a nice restaurant. My boss has run and owned it for 34 years, and the manager has been there for 15. I sleep with the manager every night. It’s a tight-knit group of people. But recently I remembered who it is I actually work for. The historic inn and business is the web, the platform, the scaffolding. But the people who come into the bar are the juicy bits. Seems obvious huh? But it’s easy to get wrapped up in banging out the work, restocking, moving fast, bottom line, top dollar. Make that money.

I am a purist though. Every moment has to be lived and squeezed to the last drop, so I don’t feel fulfilled if I’m not adding goodness to the world. To balance this conundrum, I decided to make it my secret mission to make each person feel like they are really seen, heard, witnessed, cared for.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are those annoying people- usually older single men- who feel that it is their duty to suck up all of my attention and time. Who act like they want to order and then hem and haw just to see me squirm, see me wanting to dash and dodge through the gauntlet of serving 15 people dinner, 30 people drinks, and mix perfectly the service drinks for 100 diners in the rest of the restaurant. The handwritten slips (we old-schooool) are 10 deep. The waitresses- friends- are peeking at me, squirming like they have to pee really bad. Because they can’t go into their dining room without this drink. They will have to avert their eyes from table 11. I need to get it all done! So to this self-important guy, bent on screwing stuff up, I am… not rude. But I wait 7 seconds and then I am gone unless he starts telling me what he wants.

Besides him though, I try to skim the judgements off the top and dump them down the sink funnel. The ladies who look like bitchy moms of kids I went to school with. The men who have wet lips and breathe grumpily. The grown children of wealthy families who feel good when they feel above me.

Because lately I’ve been keeping this bowl of inner happiness in reserve. It’s not something I’m trying to share. I’m not pouring it on people like a manic puppy- “I’M happy see??!! YOU be happy too!!” Nope. I’m just stirring it around my bowl. And the cool part is that it doesn’t get depleted that way. I can maintain balance better. And in the service industry? That is gold. I had an idea that is probably neurotic. Well definitely. But anyway, I wish I had the focus to go home and write down the names of everyone I can remember who came in that night, and what we talked about. It’s hard to have these segmented conversations. Once a week we pick it back up. But the trouble is I don’t always remember what we talked about the week before. I know what they want to drink though.

I guess what I’m saying is that being a bartender is like being a chiropractor of the human psyche. In my tool box is alcohol, wit, smiles, and for me at least, true interest. It’s hard to at the hub of so many different personalities and to react to them all with good humor. That’s why it’s a good job, besides the money. It forces me to examine myself and the way I am affecting others. This weekend I felt like all I had to do was ask people questions and laugh with them and they walked out gushing love. And money.

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