Tuesday, February 3, 2009

This One's On Me: The Apologetic Bartender

Bartenders make mistakes. Some more than others, some fairly minor, some quite explainable. Life goes on, people get their drinks and an occasional bad review gets posted on the Internet somewhere.

Sometimes, however, a bartender makes a mistake so dire that it causes them to go against their bartender ethics. For these, we must repent.

One recent evening, as I was looking forward to wrapping up my shift, I noticed that a fellow was returning to the bar for his third pint of the evening. I have the luxury of being able to offer people a drink on the house at or around their forth drink. This is the buy back, and it’s no mythical creature, as some presume. It doesn’t exist at all bars in New York, as it is said to have in the past, and it is a discretionary gift from an attentive bartender where it does. I am unapologetic for those occasions when I miscalculate, when I misestimate the members of a group who are buying. In short, I do not feel bad if I forget to give you a buy back, it is a luxury extended to my by the owners of my bar, and it is my prerogative.

I did, however, make the ultimate blunder, for which I must now confess. The gentleman in question was a foreign chap. Possibly German, but possibly from an entirely different region of the earth, we only exchanged basic pleasantries and the name of his desired beer. His hair reached his shoulders and was a bit scraggly. By the time he came up for his third beer, it was clear that he either had been living in some part of the States for a while or had miraculously managed to read the section in the Rough Guide that covers gratuity. He had been leaving a perfectly appropriate dollar a beer and a genuine “thank you.” So I resolved that, should he return for a forth, I must remember to buy him his drink.

The bar became busier, and the number of long, scraggly hair wearers increased (the bar I tend is in a part of town where men take the occasion to wear their hair in this manner. There was probably a lot of confusion due to plaid, as well.) When our soon to be slighted friend returned, I was pleased that I remembered him and happily informed him that he need not pay for his drink. He, it seemed, was unfamiliar with the buy back process, was quite thankful, and asked me if I was sure twice. Again he left me a dollar tip, and very generous “thank yous.” So it only occurred to me after I had served a number of plaid wearing, long haired men that perhaps I had inadvertently bought someone’s first drink. Perhaps our foreign fellow was still sitting in the back, with his third beer. Perhaps I had bought back the wrong drink.

The thought of having bought some unassuming person’s first drink annoyed me a bit. There are only two reasons a female bartender would buy a strange male’s first drink. I do not find the scraggly/plaid look particularly attractive, and I am perfectly capable of paying my rent without using my boss’s alcohol reserves as an ATM machine. Nonetheless, mistakes do happen, so I carried on.

But it wore at me that perhaps this nice foreign fellow was going to go all night now with out a drink on the house. He’d have to drink eight or ten beers before he’d be up for another one, and by then my shift would be long over. I became consumed.

When he returned and ordered afresh, I put on my repentant face and as I handed him his next beer asked him if I’d bought him his last. He looked a bit confused, so I stuttered, mumbled, felt quite foolish I just, um, wanted to know if I got you you’re last beer, I’m, it’s busy… Suddenly I could see that something dawned on him. He said yes, and thanked me again. I picked up the ten-dollar bill he’d left on the bar, and by the time I turned around with his change he was gone.

I left the change under a coaster near where he ordered, and to my relief, he soon came back past the bar towards the bathroom, but when I tried to hand him his change he refused and looked down, embarrassed. My mission to show appreciation for a friendly, if not uninitiated, drinker was botched. I had inadvertently taken on the role of the greedy bartender and utterly failed at introducing someone to the simple kinship of the buy back.

Photograph from the Internet

No comments:

Post a Comment