The Department of Biochemistry at the University of Western Ontario in Canada conducted a study in 2010 to determine if the preparation of a martini had an influence on its antioxidant properties; the study found that the shaken gin martinis were able to break down hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and leave only 0.072% of the peroxide behind, versus the stirred gin martini, which left behind 0.157% of the peroxide. Thus a shaken martini has more antioxidants than a stirred one. The study was done at the time because moderate consumption of alcohol appears to reduce the risk of cataracts, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.
Every bartender should have a ready supply of facts, jokes/stories, magic tricks, or flamboyant preparation techniques to endear them to their customers. Why? For tips, of course.
Galling as it may be, it is legal in many parts of the country to pay a bartender $2.35 per hour for his or her services. If you’re not good at your job and don’t manage to garner some healthy tips, you might not even make minimum wage. Of course that means that your declared income for the year might be $4,888 as a bartender working a 40 hour work week for 52 weeks. My opinion is that if the government isn’t willing to guarantee me the minimum wage, then $4,888 is where their interest in my income ends…
Why be a Bartender?
Let’s face it: We may have started in this business for the money. I mean everyone wants to make $400/night in tips, and the cost is being a wet, sticky, knuckle-bruising, glass-dropping, drink-jockey. Not a bad trade-off… Besides, that junk fades into the background and everything just flows one-thing-into-the-next, pouring six B-52s in less than 30 seconds, and Mastering the Bartender's nod, to let a customer know that you see them. It’s like a Zen-state when you are busy and you’re at one with everything.
More to it
There is more to it than that though. Basically we’re a friendly, out-going lot; we like people and this is a great opportunity to interact with them. Everybody likes a bartender because they get you things that make you feel good and they’re found in an already pleasant environment.
When things are a bit slower, you get to interact for a longer time with folks. This is where our fun side can shine. Bartenders are like people that were too shy to get up on stage and perform, but for small groups they can be really entertaining!
Maybe you are a frustrated magician that is good at close-up magic; or a stand-up comedian who prefers small audiences. Maybe you’re a Dr. Phil (not a real doctor either) who is good at advice. Whatever it is, it’s a good idea to build your repertoire because that will be reflected directly in your tips.
With that said, learn some skills to impress. One of my favorites is to get several small 5x5 squares of dental dam (a very thin sheet of rubber used by dentists to keep shrapnel from their drilling out of your mouth) and some 25¢ coins. Using a wood dowel slightly smaller than a quarter, stretch the dam over the top of the quarter sitting on the dowel. The dam will get thinner and thinner until it’s invisible and when you release the tension, the coin will be suspended in the middle of the sheet as the edges overlap the coin’s edge. Fasten the dam over the top of a bar glass with a strong elastic.
It looks for all the world like the coin is just sitting on top. Make several of these and use them periodically when things are slow. Say to someone “Ever seen one of these?” and show them a dental dam. Explain what it is, and then say, “Here look at this”. Rattle around in the tip jar and pretend to take a coin. Take the dam out of sight and fiddle for a sec then bring up one of your prepared glasses. “I can make that coin pass right through that dam without leaving a hole just by touching it with one finger.” They’ll say “Not possible” or something. Press on the top slowly increasing the pressure until the dam releases the coin with a snap and it falls inside the glass. It’s a stunning effect and you can let them examine it until they’re blue in the face and they’ll never figure it out.
Being fascinating is never a bad thing. I like to keep a small object like a salt-shaker handy and some stiff paper serviettes nearby. If someone gives me a coin as part of a tip I like to claim I can push it right through the top of the bar and have it fall out the bottom. They say “Impossible” of course.
I take the salt shaker and place it on top of the coin and cover it with the serviette. Squeeze the serviette tightly around the salt cellar and make sure it’s obvious. Then briefly slide it toward yourself under the pretense of showing them the coin is still in place, and drop the cellar off the edge of the bar (your side); retain the shape of the cellar in the napkin. (Use a rubber mat where you’re going to drop the cellar so it is silent.) Hold the serviette convincingly so they believe the cellar is still inside and place it over the coin. Now crush the hollow napkin from above and say “Oops!”, lifting it up to reveal the coin and then pick up the cellar from below and say “That was supposed to be the coin! My mistake!”
Little things like how you work a shaker can get you a tip. If you’re mechanical and dull about it then don’t expect much. It you work it like maracas, just making an interesting noise, or dancing with it a bit, tip time!
If you’re a bit slow and someone wants a layered drink, instead of doing the back-of-the-bar-spoon thing, be novel. Pour your bottom layer, then touch the tip of the bar spoon’s muddler to the top of the bottom layer of liquor and touch the tip of your fast-pourer in the bowl of the spoon and start a slow flow. The liquid will run down the handle, following the spiral, hit the muddler, and spread across the surface. Rinse and repeat with the next layer. It’s pure showmanship and people love it. (It still works if you don’t have a muddler on the end of your spoon by touching the side of the glass at the liquid line – I just prefer a muddler spoon because it will never slip out of your hand).
Yes, it is profitable to be a bartender, both financially and for your Inner Entertainer. So feel free to indulge your desire for recognition. Just remember, people already want to like you, or at the very least curry your favor in hopes of a slightly bigger shot or more attention in some way or another.
However, just because you know how to drink doesn’t mean you can just be a bartender. There is a staggering array of liquors out in the real world. You have to know what they are. There’s an even more staggering array of potential mixtures of those liquors, and you need to know most of those, too. Having that knowledge will give you confidence. It won’t take away the first night jitters when you start, but the firm foundation of knowledge will make them disappear very quickly as you come to realize “I really can do this”. So get yourself some solid training and be ready.
Do it now while you’re thinking of it and don’t let this opportunity get away.