Friday, February 14, 2014

The Bottle Opener: "The Beer Details"

The newest episode of 'The Bottle Opener' YouTube show is up, and ready for your viewing pleasure!

In this episode I talk about two things; Beer, and details. Or more specifically, the anatomy of a pint of beer, and perception of the beer as received by guests.

Now, there's something I want to be really clear on, and perhaps I wasn't clear enough about this in the video. Guest perception is not a reflection of your ability, or how well you did. It's a reflection of what's going on inside their minds. You could have done everything possible to exceed their expectations, and you still might not please them. Try to remember that behind those disappointed or angry faces are the minds of human beings, and who knows what's going on inside their minds?

They may just be having a bad day (or even a bad life in general), and this is their way of venting. Of course, I'm not condoning that people take frustration out on other people, but just try to keep this in mind. We're all, more or less, victims of our own mental states from time to time. Try to use your abilities to empathize, as well as your abilities to serve or bartend. Nothing excuses terrible behavior, but neither is terrible behavior an excuse for you to stop caring.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sonoma wine tasting - the reds

(A Cabernet flight done right.)

It's been nearly a week folks, since the Sonoma vintners tasting at Terminal City Club. You may wonder what a self professed wine ignoramus such as myself could remember about a tasting six days ago. Well to be honest I was already somewhat buzzed by the time we hit the reds, so I don't remember that much of what I tasted. Luckily there was a lot to think about, so I do have a recollection of some things.
Firstly - and I mentioned this in my previous article about the whites - it needs to be said that the flights were the highlight. Flights are in, and samples done right with a mind for aesthetic and quality are right up my alley. Our first venture was to a Zinfandel flight, where a lady with a ridiculous hairstyle gave us her practiced schtick about trying the whites first - for a second time.

At this point in time, my coworkers began chit chatting with coworkers from another store. I didn't know them and couldn't take part in the conversation, so I did the only reasonable thing. I moved on to the Cabernet flight. This one was quite interesting, though, there were only three samples, the flight attendant (pun intended) poured them in a nice progression. To my tongue, the Cabs got better as she poured down the line of three. And that's saying a lot, as the first was already quite good to begin with. The bottles this time were accompanied with tasting notes of cinnamon, chocolate, black berries and what looked to me to be ground coffee (I should have investigated further). Indeed, I did notice more mature, yet playful flavours this time.

From there I tried many reds, but few stuck out; not for lack of quality, but for lack of sobriety. I'm somewhat o a lightweight, so even this swish-and-spit method hits me before long.

The basics of wine knowledge for new servers

Paul Hobbs 2012 vintage Pinot Noir left an impression, though. Seemingly, it left an impression on everyone. It was constantly featuring long lines for samples, even before the room became crowded and stuffy. It left a good impression on me, and my coworkers, and before long the coworkers from another location returned to express their delight for Paul Hobbs as well.

(Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir)

At this juncture the conversation about personal lives continued, and that was my queue to duck out and have some snacks before continuing on with the tasting alone.

Everyone else in the group had gotten tired of the tasting it seems, so I tasted a few more wines that I had been meaning to try, but alas. Nothing stuck out. There were a lot of pleasant Cabernets, and Pinot Noirs, but almost too many to begin listing. My best recommendation would be to pick out Sonoma reds at your local wine store.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sonoma vintners wine tasting - the whites

(Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay is good! Ha! How's that for descriptive?!)

Wine tastings are always a fun event. It gives me an opportunity to broaden my horizons in the 'vino-sphere'; an area where I don't nearly often enough get much exposure. I love wine, like any other self respecting bartender, but since its behind my first and second loves (spirits and beer) I sometimes give it the shaft.

The basics of wine knowledge for new servers

Terminal City Club played host to a Sonoma vintners wine tasting this past Wednesday, and so I attended with two coworkers. I recognized many a familiar Somm face, and began gathering brochures, pamphlets, business cards and photo ops at points of interest.

(The man behind the counter at Kendall-Jackson gave a nice story about his own experience with their Chard, in Portland.)
The first round about the room gave me the chance to taste most of the whites. The first table was Davis Bynum, whose attendee I recognizes from the Four Seasons tasting last fall. I tasted their crisp and lightly acidic Chard with great pleasure; always a good sign when the first sample is a hit.

Moving on to Ferrari-Carano, I tasted yet another winner - and snapped a bad resolution photo, to boot. Their 2012 Chardonnay sported more acidic flavors, including apples and citrus, with the familiar oak notes that are all too common among Chardonnays.

Industry wine tasting at Four Seasons

Four Seasons wine tasting continued

We towed over to Kendall-Jackson, where the sales rep explained that the 2011 Chard was a common sight on menus in the states, and he himself had gone for walks recently in Portland, taking note of it's appearance on wine lists. He recommended it be drank as a warming wine, meant to distract you from winter's chilling atmosphere. The 2012 vintage provided tropical flavors, and was pleasant to the palette. The 2011 Grand Reserve vintage, on the other hand, was even better; featuring the flavors of perhaps more mature fruit. A fair blend of sweetness, acidity and spice.

(Flights are back, and not just at school's of cuisine!)
Wine flights were on the menu tonight, and it didn't take long before I was riding a four sample flight of Chardonnay. The wine bottles were tilted with bases facing a steamed, dried, and stained slab of oak, featuring four stemless glasses each filled with their own tasting notes; pleasant aromas that you could find in your samples above.

Flights are all the rage, again. Perhaps a side-effect or revitalization caused by the craft revolution - whatever it is, the event coordinators capitalized to great effect by providing several grape specific flights with the rustic aesthetic of aromatics on wood.

Stay tuned in the coming days for the "reds" portion of the wine tasting.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Are guests obligated to tip you?

(Home Alone 2 is not a good source of information on how to tip.)
Tips. Such an amazing tool at increasing our earnings. Yet, how much is it really worth? Are tips sustainable, lasting and worth the low paying positions they come with? What is a tip, and should it be considered the obligation of the guest? These are the questions I'd hope to answer in this blog article.

The basics of wine knowledge for new servers

I've often been outspoken on my opinion for what constitutes a tip. But at the same time, I've found myself feeling anxious, betrayed or outright angry when I've gotten bad tips, or no tips at all. I strive to outperform myself in all areas, and do better on a progressive scale, never getting complacent, and never taking experience for granted. Recently, Scott Young raised this question a number of times in various blog posts concerning both the history of tips, and decisions US congress has made concerning claiming tips as earnings in your income tax.

(Although arcade tokens are appreciated, you can't really consider this a tip.)
First and foremost, I feel the urge to state my view on what a tip is, before going any further. In its basic form, a tip is a payment of gratuity provided as a way of showing thanks for awesome service. But where does it go from there? More recently, tips have been viewed as an obligation from the customer, and often make up the bulk of earnings for those in hospitality. 
What's happened over time is this: customer service industries have had a culture of tipping in exchange for hard work and good service.  Over time, currency has been devalued by inflation, but minimum wage hasn't risen to match inflation. In the hospitality industry, the practice is that you can pay people close to minimum wage, because it doesn't take any special training or credentials to be a professional in hospitality. What this also means is, if your employer had a choice, they would pay you even less; and this can be seen in the fact that a lot of restaurants and bars don't pay overtime, or don't pay their employees past their scheduled hours, even if they stay late to settle up tables. Moreover, some establishments force their employees to pay for dine and dashes, even having them sign contracts pledging them to do so; and again, the legality of this is all up in the air.

(These would all be good tips in their respective countries.
Wait a sec. Canadian Tire money? No... don't leave that.)
So what gives? What's going on that employees work past their scheduled hours, or settle for a job that doesn't give overtime. Heck, they won't even pay you enough to get you over the poverty line in most cases! What's happening, are tips. Because servers make tips, they've grown a tough skin to unfair treatment and set a new standard for employers to give them the shaft.  Essentially, the current status quo is that a good server can get by on good tips, and that you'll make more tips in exchange for your skill and quality service. So they've basically obligated the customer to make up for what they're not paying you by having guests pay a never agreed on percentage of their bill, directly to you.

In a lot of cases, what the servers make in tips, makes up for what they lost in wages. However, in most cases there's an unfair proportion of wealth being given to people who work less or more than someone else on the team. Worse yet, there's an even worse distribution of wealth going to people who work in establishments with low average tips per customer. The problem here is that you just can't control your tips in the way that you'd like to. Don't get me wrong, here. You can do a lot to improve, and even double or triple your tips. Sometimes this just isn't enough though. If you're working a support position in the kitchen, on the bar, or as a host, then a lot of the time you get tipped based on a ratio of total sales coming out of the pockets of the servers. And so now, the idea is that by getting one to two percent of the total sales, you're now getting a fair cut.

(No, your discarded candy is not a tip.)
If you've been following along, you probably know what's wrong with this whole thing. It's unpredictable, its unreliable and its unfair. And of course, these are the kinds of things most people want to avoid. So what do you think about the current tip culture? Is there anything wrong, and if so, how do we fix it?

Tequila Martinis... uhm... yum!?

Perhaps 'yum' is not your first reaction to the idea of a tequila Martini. Well folks, I'm here to reassure you that you're not alone.  Nearly everyone I have mentioned this idea to reacts with the same 'eww' or 'gross', that one would expect. Before delving too far into this topic, I would like to encourage you with the fact that we're not going to be looking at those 'mean' tequilas such as Sauza, or Jose Cuervo.

Don Julio Blanco, and Patron Silver are on the menu tonight.

So here's the gist of what you're looking at.
  • 1 1/2 oz Don Julio Blanco
  • 1/2 oz Dry Vermouth   
  • 1 drop Grand Marnier
  • granulated sugar
  • kosher salt
  • 1 Orange
Mix sugar and salt on a plate, with equal proportions. Rinse a martini glass with water, and rim the glass with the sugar and salt mixture. Add tequila and vermouth to a shaker full of ice, and stir. Add one drop of Grand Marnier to martini glass, and swirl in glass, so as to coat the inside of the glass, and strain tequila and vermouth mixture. Garnish with orange zest, twist, or peel, to taste.

Don Julio's citrus notes mix well with the Tequila martini recipe provided. It blends quite well with the hints of orange, in the garnish, but is subtle enough not to abstract the taste of the blue agave.

On the other hand, Patron mixes quite well too, but doesn't mix quite as well as the Don Julio. Somewhere down the road, I'm going to have to provide a Patron specific recipe, that takes into account the difference in flavour between Patron and Don Julio. That being said, it is still worth the time to prepare with Patron, but perhaps one might try a different fruit for garnish, or maybe even swirling Limoncello on the glass instead of Grand Marnier.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Glove regulation will affect Californian bartenders

Over the next year in California, bartenders are going to be finding themselves transitioning into the use of glove wearing. New state protocols will demand all food handlers to wear gloves, or utilize utensils while handling food, and this includes bartenders. Workers violating the new rule will be served a warning while the state transitions into the new rule over the course of the next year.

My take on take on this is that its completely stupid, and I'm going to tell you all of the reasons why I think its stupid.

(Food poisoning is actually less of a first world problem, and more of a third world problem.)

First of all, is that it gives workers the false sense of cleanliness. While I would hope kitchen personnel will wash their hands after handling raw meat, or possibly contaminated surfaces or body parts, the truth is that I know a lot of people don't. But for those who do, I hope they realize that even though the likelihood of infection is low, its significantly lower if you wash your hands regularly. Once gloves are involved, I'm almost positive that the vast majority of workers will not change gloves and/or wash their hands, not realizing that there are billions of bacteria. And I really want to reiterate that wearing gloves and changing them simply isn't enough; hand washing is still necessary.

(Cholera are an example of rod shaped bacteria.)

With this in mind, brings up point number two; bacteria multiply faster in wet, warm, and dark areas. As anyone who's worn food preparation gloves or "finger condoms" knows, those things do not breathe. The fact of the matter is that bacteria multiply much faster on the hands of someone wearing a glove. The bad thing here is that if you get cut, then the moisture and excess bacteria increase your chances of getting infection. But this isn't about us, right? It's about the customers! Well, it turns out that researchers found that when you wash your hands, twenty percent of the bacteria remain. Since people wash their hands less, and bacteria multiply faster with a gloved hand, its not much of a stretch of math to see that you end up with more than you started. And of course, when you take of those gloves, you're contaminating a lot of new surfaces such as your arms, face and gloves. That can't be good for customers, right?

(A bacterium as seen up close. The singular of bacteria, is bacterium!)

And that brings me to point number three. It actually isn't bad for customers. Here's a startling statistic for you. Each millilitre of saliva contains one million bacteria. It gets better folks. Our best way of protecting against bacterial infection is to ingest bacteria. There are 1 500 000 000 000 000 bacteria living on the surface of your entire digestive tract. In fact, they're called gut bacteria, and most people are first exposed to them during birth, but we accumulate more over time as there are billions and trillions of bacteria and fungus living in the food we eat - that's actually what causes food to go bad. We have a symbiotic relationship with these creepy organisms, but if they somehow made it into our bloodstream, they could kill us. We build up a high tolerance to organisms we ingest. In fact, a lot of food allergies have been linked to c-section births, where babies did not have initial exposure to gut bacteria from their mothers. We build a very strong resistance against those first few bacteria (which likely include E. coli and streptococcus), and when exposure comes late, we grow a tolerance against food instead. Lactose intolerant? You might want to ask if you were a c-section baby.

This brings me roundly to the fourth point. Food poisoning actually is a legitimate concern. Rotting food, or under cooked meat can cause sickness, and that's a risk that we in the hospitality industry should take seriously. There are dangerous bacteria, such as salmonella, which are common sources of food poisoning. However, this just returns us to the fact that being educated about bacterial food poisoning is an important thing. We have to understand that by and large, we coexist with bacteria, and it's the harmful bacteria that we should be afraid of. Returning briefly to the last point, if you wear gloves while handling raw meat, that's a good thing. But imagine if you will, that you've been switching between soggy gloves all day. Back and forth between all different types of food. We already know that washing your hands doesn't kill all the bacteria, and that wearing gloves causes bacteria to multiply faster. So shouldn't this raise concern that perhaps we have some of those serious contaminants - such as salmonella - exposed to our gloves, and are multiplying rapidly?

(A friendly community of bacteria.)

Lastly - and this point is almost completely conjecture - we need to consider that perhaps there's an [unfounded] political or economic motive behind these regulations and laws. Again, they probably aren't good reasons, but it can't hurt to try to figure out what they're thinking. As it turns out, I have a theory about this. A lot of politicians don't have a small business background and additionally, tend to be lawyers or big business moguls prior to getting into politics. As such, they may be trying to create jobs for business and legal professionals by creating more red tape for industries. Anyone with an introductory to contemporary economics can tell you the problem with adding more taxes, and regulations is that a large chunk of money simply disappears from that economic system, and that regulations can keep businesses from being able to compete; thus going bankrupt. The double whammy to this is that the legal and business professionals are depending on industry jobs to stay in business. Less industry, means less jobs all around. Unfortunately for us, a lot if politicians and regulatory boards try to get by with common sense and ideology, rather than science and numbers.

(Just wash your d--n hands folks!)

To close, I think it has to be said that nothing can substitute washing your hands properly, and frequently. Don't be too cool to wash your hands up to several times per hour. Also, scrubbing the wrists, and underneath the fingernails. Be conscious of food, garnishes, or juices that are going bad, and dispose of them. Remember that rigorous labeling can also help keep you and your coworkers conscious of food that is possibly going bad.
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