Chances are we've all been to 'that' place. "What place?" you might ask. A most legitimate question, to my vague introduction. 'That' place I'm talking about, is a place with a terrible bartender. Personally, I'd been to that place numerous times before ever realizing exactly how, or why that person is terrible. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that for several years, I had only ever had experienced service from terrible bartenders.
My early few years of being introduced into bar, and alcohol culture, were spent in small town rural Alberta. This is also the place where I would eventually enter the industry, and begin working the wood for the first time. As a kid, I had gone to bars with little to no knowledge of alcohol, tipping, socializing. I was basically your run-of-the-mill naive kid over 19 who was now able to drink.
My first job as a bartender was also in rural Alberta. My old room mate, and good friend was the head bartender for one of the town's four or five environments for libations. I spent a lot of time there, and when an opening came along, I was a shoe-in for employment. It was the kind of job where you had to learn fast, or be eaten alive. It didn't last, however. A combination of economic decline, competition, and lack of imagination caused the business to do worse and worse as time went on. Knowing what I know now, I know that I could have saved myself a lot of energy in those days and gotten a job elsewhere.
That said. The tips were spot on.
I'd never had to work so little for so much money before. And well, I think most people would have a hard time finding a job that was as slack as this one. Thinking back, I realize that this sort of environment bread complacency, and is what leads one down the path of being a terrible bartender.
In this position, there was little drive to improve, or learn. It was all too common at this place, that people would not get service while bartenders were on their smoke break - going so far as to completely deny service for up to fifteen minutes, and as much as eight times per shift.
But to return to the question, what makes a bartender "bad"? The easiest indicator for this kind of judgement is what it takes to get service. A bartender who can't provide service for whatever reason, is easily the worst kind of bartender. Don't get me wrong. If you're sitting at the bar being a totally intoxicated jerk, and can't get service, then there's probably good reason.... However, bartenders who are overwhelmed, incapable of switching between tasks, or just self-absorbed "professionals" and because of this can't provide a basic service are... well, at risk of sounding redundant, they're doing no one any service. No one but themselves, at least.
Wait a second? Did I say that was the worst? Well I'm sorry folks. I'm getting waaaaay ahead of myself.
Now. Before I ever came to Vancouver, and started working in casual fine dining, I had already worked with all kinds of drone, goof-off, moron and drug-addict. In addition, you can throw alcoholic on top of any of those former adjectives for a few extra points of extremity. None of those past horrors would ever compare to one bartender I was stuck working with over my first summer in Vancouver, though.
This guy, was beyond bad. He was the dictionary definition of terrible. I have it on relatively good authority that this person lied on his resume, but that doesn't even begin to illustrate how bad of a bartender this guy was. Time and time again, I tried to give this guy a helping hand, open up to him, and make him feel like he was part of the team. I did these things, only to be responded by utter incompetence.
Ultimately, this guy was incapable of improvement, and to this day I really can't say why. In terms of skill level, his first day on the job wasn't that much different than his last - which came only three months after being hired. I don't suspect I'll ever work with someone as bad as this guy ever again. I'm not even sure how many people like him can possibly slip through the cracks and get hired with absolutely no knowledge or skill.
If I had to say it was anything at all that made this guy bad, I would have to say it was a lack of passion. With this in mind, when I think back to those experiences in Alberta, I would have to settle on the same idea. Bartenders who don't care about their craft, are the ones to watch out for....