No matter what type of bar you work at, whether it be a straight-forward beer-and-shots sports bar, a trendy cocktail lounge, or a high-volume nightclub, you know when the rush hits, your perfectly mannered customers can turn into evil money-waving children in about a minute flat. You know the types, waving money in your face and yelling “hey,” steam pouring from their ears because you are not ignoring the ten people in front of them. So how does one deal with these raving lunatics? Over the last thirteen years of tending bar, I have found a system that works well for me:
2.) Stay confident
3.) Don’t take shit
This is hard. But a smile is essential. Smile and make eye contact when you take a drink order. It sounds like common sense, but it is not easy when you are swamped and stressed. Do it anyway. The funny thing about smiling is, even if you are faking it, it not only calms the customer, you will feel less stressed yourself. According to Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman’s study on the science of smiling, at the University of Kansas, a smile, whether genuine or forced, reduces stress. Also, thanks to mirror neurons, smiles, and the fellow-feeling they communicate, are contagious. Often times, when I smiled at a customer, even if they were upset, they smiled back.
Smiling also aids the next important component of customer relations, confidence. Not cocky, but confident. Confidence will assure the customer that you know what you are doing and you will get their drink to them. If you give them an inch of insecurity, they will run right over you. So remain cool, even if you think your ship is going down in flames. There is nothing wrong with “faking it ‘till you make it.”
In all my years behind the bar, no one has ever called me out on pretending that everything is all good. I am a notorious klutz, and have worked crazy nights where I have even spilled drinks on customers. Yes, this was not awesome, but a confident apology, smiling, and (duh) a comp drink saved the day. If I had freaked out, those customers would have treated me like a doormat, mirror neurons are not. No thanks!
Another way to confidently change the tone when an impatient customer is freaking out, firmly thank them for their patience. A funny thing happens here, they usually chill out. An important rule my sister taught me about baby-sitting is that if a kid scrapes her knee, tell her she’s ok. Adults sometimes need the same guidance: tell them they are patient, they will often stop their crying.
Take No Shit
And lastly — and possibly most importantly — take no shit. Armed with a smile you can confidently tell someone “waving guy, I will be with you in a minute.” Chances are, they will laugh and so will others around them. Sure, you are humiliating them a little bit, but aren’t they doing that to you by treating you like a servant? Besides, you are gently letting this person and everyone around him know the value of manners in this bar with humor- which is pretty nice, actually! And I can bet you, these others will act more patiently after they are reminded that you are not a doormat.
Ironically, I and my fellow bartenders have noticed, that nine times out of ten, when people wave, they actually are not ready to order. I know this does not make sense, but I have tons of anecdotal evidence as proof of this phenomenon. Regardless, these folks need a little bit of training. One solution that has worked for me is that I simply say, “No problem. I will take someone else’s order while you figure out what you want.” I am polite and, again, I smile. But I am firm. I have even had people apologize after I let them know I was moving on to someone else. These were true teaching moments: learning how to order at a busy bar! After all, they might just be new to going out and need a little direction. (I remember my first beer.)
I have also found that if I refuse to take shit from a customer, they tip me a lot better. After I let someone know not to wave or yell at me, upon delivering their drink, I often get some sort of acclamation for doing a great job, and sometimes an apology, but I almost always get a noticeably good tip. Are they trying to buy my affection? Did I have to beat my chest to prove I deserve respect? Who knows? Who cares?
I have found that if I kindly smile and confidently don’t take shit, my night will be more smooth, I will feel happier and my better navigated customers will leave bigger tips. Of course, this is not always the case, we are all human. Sometimes mustering up a smile is downright impossible. There will always be that one jerk you can not win over. Still, a cool happy demeanor should tame most beasts and keep sanity in check. You’ll see that demeanor is reciprocated way more often than not. And, after all this is a job, it’s an attitude that pays.