So, you want to be a bartender?

During several summers, I worked in Saratoga as a dining room manager at Union Coach House on Union Avenue. Oh busboy, it was a great job for me as I lived right across the street. Working at such a fine restaurant kept this hospitality professor’s skills sharp.

During the summer I had lighter teaching responsibilities, so I had some extra time to moonlight in my favorite profession. The wait staff was professional, the owner, Tim, was a good friend, the chef a skilled comrade, the food was superb. This was a citadel of the way a restaurant should run.

The building was right in the middle of horse racing action. The restaurant entertained a parade of skilled horse trainers, Owners with their wives, jockeys with their fans, betters with their tall tales. It was an enjoyable and interesting place to work.

Although my favorite part of the restaurant industry is the service end — and I was content to stay in the dining room, managing, hosting and organizing — I thought I had better branch out. I had decided to add a responsible alcohol course in the fall to my program of restaurant management at Fulton Montgomery Community College and needed more practice bartending before I taught others how to perform.

Tim was reluctant to let me tend bar, probably because I was so splendid in the dining room and he would miss me there. But he did agree to let me tend bar at lunch if I promised to return to the dining room if my bartending didn’t work out.

I was very confident that I would also be splendid at the bar. Why wouldn’t I?

There are a lot of competencies required to be a good bartender and I had all the skills needed. First and foremost, and most importantly — I was honest. I taught and understood the DWI laws very well. I was aware of the Dram Shop laws in detail. I had a good short-term memory. I was dexterous. I knew how to shake and how to stir with precision. I knew how to pour a beer with a one-inch head. I knew which glasses to use for which drinks. I knew most of the recipes for different drinks and I was aware of what was in most of the bottles. I could stock and take inventory. I knew there was a difference between rye and bourbon. I was neat in appearance, and neat in my procedures. I knew how to set up, and could use a triple-glass washer with low-suds soap. I was aware of what the sanitation inspectors would look for when they visited a bar. I could add multiples in my head then make change. I already knew how to, and had, taught students to record sales, write up a check, use a cash register and balance the sales at the end of the day. And I was personable.

What I didn’t know I could learn or look up. Things like the standards of the house like how much vodka to go into their vodka martini. I could check on the prices for each drink, how their back bar was set up, how the tips were shared and how to make their Galloping Cosmos and their Loser’s Lament. I was a practiced learner. And I was personable.

So I thought my two weeks, yes that was all it took, went very well. By the end of the first day, I knew all the regulars by name and could make their favorite drink with ease so when Tim told me I was going back to the dining room, I didn’t understand his concern.

True, I had made a mistake once adding spices to the already spiced Bloody Mary mix but other than that…

Tim said the waitresses were complaining. True, the wait staff got aggravated when I didn’t get their requests right away. I explained that sometimes I was talking to George, one of the regulars, about his son who wouldn’t come to visit him. Tim said sales were down. True, I didn’t always see/hear some customers if I was involved with others. Tim said I was too slow. True, I had trouble sometimes making polite conversation and making drinks in a timely manner. Tim said I talked too much. True.

Did I tell you I am splendid at managing a dining room in a full scale upscale restaurant? 

Email your questions and comments to: anita@aitaalacarte.com.