Thursday, 6 August 2015

5 Handy Life Lessons You Learn Working at a Bar

A standard night at the joint.
If you aren't already aware, I work in a bar. You know, what sells drinks and stuff. Rhona works in a bar too. Lots of other people work in bars, and some of them run lifestyle blogs with pastel-coloured backgrounds covered in cupcakes where they write grammatically-inept, obnoxious list articles about what amazing, fulfilling life lessons you learn working in a bar. Others post lists on BuzzFeed, featuring no words, only mildly related gifs with a title above each.

I, however, am so different, self-entitled and far more unique compared to you common folk in every which way that I am going to do neither. We shall blaze our own path of glory through the hell of list articles and burst forth into the sea of completely identical and just as easily accessible list-shaped content, to be lost in the swell forever. I'm going to tell you about the skills and knowledge that come from working behind that most sacred of wooden platforms that can be transferred to your everyday life.

Prepare yourselves, for these are the lessons taught only by the tap, the harsh truths of the back-bar that might well be just what you need to MacGyver your way out of a sticky situation in the future:

1. Soda Water is Your Best Friend

You've been to a bar before, I assume. If not, you've at least offered your patronage to some sort of fast food place, be it a Subway or MacDonald's. Either way, you'll have likely tasted the wonders of post-mix soft drinks; that uniquely awful mix of weird syrup and crap soda water that's apparently the same as drinking an ice cold bottle of Pepsi.

This loathsome contraption right here. 
You might be surprised to hear that this little doohickey actually does more than just serve refreshing cavity water; in fact, it is the first and most useful tool in the barman's arsenal of gadgets against that most insidious of enemies: stickiness. The plain soda water (usually found under an ominously large button labelled "CARB") from these guns is used for everything, from keeping fruit fresh once it's been cut to cleaning out the measures so you don't get hint of Chambord and Aperol in your vodka coke. It's most important job, however, is actually to clean out the glass cleaners.
"Who cleans the cleaners...?"
Round the back of every bar in the world, there will be a row of massive glass washing machines which work by firing lots of hot water at the establishment's shitty glassware until it looks less filthy than when you first put it in. These machines get gungy faster than a bukakke porn star, filling up with loose straws, bits of dirt, cigarette butts and god knows what else; eventually the filters in the bottom of them end up resembling that slime monster from Spirited Away. What we do is pull those filters out and chuck 'em in a bucket of soda water to soak for a few hours and all that grime slowly bubbles off, forming a lovely film (buy Oilatum today!) on the surface of the water. Fish them back out, give the more stubborn patches a quick scrub with an old toothbrush, and sling the lot back in the glass wash; job's a good 'un. All in all, there are two lessons to be learned here:

1 - Soda water will clean anything.
2 - Everyone is disgusting (see entry number 2)

2. Everyone is Disgusting

We are vile creatures, we really are. That's not even regarding this post; human beings are just horrible. But we reach a new level of gross, both as patrons and publicans, when it comes to being around booze.

"Who would have thought being in close proximity to this stuff would impede my judgement?!"
Quick quiz. If you're sitting at home making yourself a drink and you spill something, do you:

a) Clean it up
b) Throw a napkin on the spill and walk away
c) Look expectantly at the nearest person to clean it for you

Two of those options happen at a bar; and neither of them are a). Customers will knock drinks over, leave rubbish anywhere they can think of, shove random crap in their lipstick stained glasses, cover (as in absolutely coat) the toilets with toilet paper, sanitary towels, nappies, drug residue, and just generally be absolute lazy pigs. I once spotted a pair of people sitting on a patch of grass, smoking, with their discarded butts littered around them and an unused ash tray literally within arms reach on a nearby table. It took me actually handing it to them to get them to use it. Then there's the folk who almost seem to be running interference on you; like those who will be sitting at a table, finish their drink, get up, and, instead of just leaving it there for us to collect, shove the glass in a nearby bush. Like elbow deep in there. Why? Why do you do this to me?
A re-enactment of what is likely going through that person's mind. 
But we get our petty revenges, oh yes we do. Because you may be disgusting, lowly public, but we are disgustinger. Oh my are we terrible. It's not just our glass washing facilities that are filthy, it is our very selves. Have you ever sniffed a barman at the end of their 10 hour shift? I'll save you the experience. Don't.

Even the most hygiene-conscious barkeep cannot keep on top of the constant onslaught of muck that gets thrown at them. You restock the bar, you have to go lug about some filthy boxes; you change or roll a keg, your hands end up looking like a chimney sweep's; you go walk around the site fishing items out of the foliage, you make friends with a healthy dose of spit, ash, dirt and bird poo; you lean on the damp, sticky bar; you touch the bar taps and measures and bottles that a dozen other grimy-handed colleagues have also touched. There is not one part of the job that doesn't involve getting at least a little dirty; and if, like me, you work on a temporary site with no immediate access to running water... Yeah.

I guess the lesson here is don't shake hands with a barman.

"You can let go now."
"It appears I am stuck..."
I have learned, however, that if you're looking to clean your beleaguered hands with something other than shitty alcohol gel, rub an ice cube for a bit. Works a treat.

3. Money Keeps You Alive

I make good money at my job, I do. And, unlike some countries where your basic human rights are shunned spectacularly, I don't get taxed on tips. That means no-one is obliged to give me any more than they have to for their drinks. That said...

If you buy some drinks that tally up to £4.95, or any other amount that results in small change, why not just leave the 5 pence? It's nothing to you and, frankly, it's nothing to me, I'm not going to remember someone who hands me shrapnel; however, that tiny token means so much more to the person who just served you than its face value. That pittance says you know you're going to spend your evening enjoying yourself, and you know that person is going to stand exactly where they are and make sure you do. It's a metaphorical pat on the back if you will. Now to those of you who say "you shouldn't need patted on the back when you're already paid to do it", I'll agree but also remind you that I'm not telling you to do this, it's just nice. It's an action that costs you very nearly nothing, but is simply good to another person; and shouldn't we all try to make each other's days a little brighter? It's not a one-way system either, you know.

"Quid pro quo, Clarice."
That 5 pee quite often turns into a measure overflowing a little bit, a better garnish, and a much more genuine smile from the person wishing you a good evening. Money shouldn't be everything, and it definitely shouldn't be a motivation to do better at what you should already be doing well, but in the context of the barman/customer dynamic it's a token of appreciation that helps remind the sleep-starved, paper cut-riddled husk on the 14th hour of a shift that they want to. Tips stop us from collapsing into an exhausted heap, not through their value, but by splashing us with a little milk of human kindness. Oh, and if you ever tip a member of staff on floor duty while they're picking up cigarette butts and performing topiary cupectomies, that's you just earned a fast track into heaven, you wonderful creature.

4. Always Have at Least Two Pens Handy

There are three more things that are essential to have on your person when working behind a bar. The first is a bar blade; those things are wonderful. The only issue with them is that you will be guaranteed to have it swiped by another, likely bar blade-less, member of staff; often from your pocket while you're working. The second is a pen. And the third is another pen, for when exactly the same fate befalls your first pen as did the bar blade. I swear, sometimes it feels like bars have a similar recruiting strategy to the Night's Watch.

Incidentally, this is my ID photo.
Pens are great, though, so always have a spare for when the first invariably goes missing. They can open the tape on a box just as quickly as a pair of scissors, be used to write (holy shit, that's what pens are for?!) down random crap you need to remember (stock, weird orders from management, names of staff members you keep forgetting cause there's like a hundred of them), and, most importantly, they are the best procrastination tool around, save for juggling a few mangy looking limes. Working on a bar has a habit of being extremely busy for the majority of the time and deathly boring the rest. I got through two puzzle books while chilling about waiting for stuff to happen last year, including the fucking word searches; no-one chooses to do a word search if they can help it.

They are the middle child of the puzzle world.
With a pen at hand you can doodle to your heart's content and keep on top of your various odd duties with ease. Speaking of odd duties...

5. Routine, and then More Routine

You know how in the Holocaust the Nazis made the people in their work camps pick up heavy rocks and move them needlessly from place to place just to keep them busy? Working on a bar is nothing like that because, christ, who would be so insensitive as to compare pointless tasks at work to the greatest example of human suffering in modern history?!

Not this guy. Nuhuh.
Bar work has its fair share of really stupid shit to do, which will obviously vary from place to place, but wherever you are you will very quickly learn the universal truth that half the crap someone makes you do has absolutely no purpose whatsoever. So you stack all the chairs at 1am to unstack them again at 9 the next day; makes sense so you can sweep under them. Why do I also have to take all of the flower pots on the tables and put them together on one, though? They don't get cleaned, they just get moved every evening and put back again every morning. Why do I have to wander around with a stick and poke the grass back down through the decking? It's grass.

I have no quarrel with thee.
Why do I have to lug cleaning supplies to and from the toilets for the cleaners to use when there is a cupboard in there full of the stuff? Why do I have to take all of the bottles out of open boxes in the store room and put them all together in a different crate also in the store room? I just don't understand. Nothing makes any sense any more. I should just resign myself to the fact that I will never understand what is going through the mind of my manager.

That's it. That is the greatest lesson bar work can teach you. Eventually you will grow to accept the cosmic absurdity of existence and learn to live your life free of the confines of mortal toil. Pulling pints is the path to ultimate enlightenment. Join me, brothers and sisters! Worship the one true God! Praise be unto it's glory, the infallible Soda Gun!

One day we will all be drinking the Great Post Mix in the Sky...

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