stly, my life is a rollercoaster of compulsory self-deprivation punctuated by short periods of unreasonable overindulgence. As a career bartender, I make a good living practicing a trade that requires lots of skill, but no formal education. I have no debt, and I pay my rent in cash. However, thereality of working for tips means that any minor miscalculation leaves me eating microwave ramen for days at a stretch. My personal income is directly reliant on the whims of total strangers and the weather,and sometimes it’s slim-pickings. Maybe that’s why some bartenders steal. I don’t steal. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some very good people who also do not steal, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some very good people who rob bars blind. Google would have me believe that most of the American workforce steals. The Global Retail Barometer recently released a report that says retail employees are responsible for more theft than actual shoplifters, to the tune of about $18 billion in lost revenue a year. According to Vault.com, seven out of ten office workers admit to stocking up on everything from bagels to post-it notes for personal use. Then there’s time theft: goofing off, cell phone use, extended lunches, and naps (the National Sleep Foundation says that 29% of Americans actually nap at work). Studies say that a smoker costs roughly $5000 more to employ than a non-smoker. Is there a symbiotic relationship between workforce theft and wage theft, regularly practiced by employers, which amounts to an estimated $60 billion a year that comes literally out of a worker’s pocket? Shit, I don’t know. It’s easy to steal from any cash-based business, but let’s define stealing in restaurant terms: firstly there is actual stealing of
money, by far the gravest of offenses. This happens when an employee pockets money that was paid for a product (food and drink). More common is theft of food and booze – when what goes into a cook’s belly isn’t paid for, it’s stealing, even when said cook is smack dab in the middle of a fourteen hour shift, he should not expect to be fed and watered. Time theft is reserved for employees like bussers and hosts, who actually get paid an hourly wage. While security cameras and close track of inventory are effective tools, it is almost impossible to prevent petty theft in a bar, and it just be maddening for any bar owner to see the many ways he can be double-crossed. Coupled with the fact that most restaurant staff is quite young, and sometimes unreliable, it’s easy to see why the boss is so red-faced and sleep deprived. Bartenders bear the brunt of this exaggerated, but not paranoid, scrutiny. As guardians of the bottles, even a good bartender, trusted and respected by management, is under constant scrutiny. The most common accusation is that of a heavy hand: namely, pouring strong drinks. A standard cocktail in a good bar consists of oneand-a-half ounces of spirit, measured by a silent count, or, if you’re really good, simple muscle-memory. Some bars even have special speed-pourers (bottle spouts) that will do the counting for you (nobody likes these- they are fundamentally flawed and impossible to work with, especially when you’re busy). Nothing pisses me off more than management hissing in one ear that I’m pouring too heavy, and guests hissing in the other that their drinks “are all soda.” Everybody shut up! First of all, if you “can’t taste the alcohol,” it means I’m doing a damn good job. The booze is in there, so don’t slur at me that your mojito is too light. Order a real drink if you want to fall on your ass – something neat or on the rocks or in a shot glass. If your butcher weighs out a pound of beef, do you ask him for extra because the bag doesn’t look full enough? Do you expect to get that for free? Are you out of your goddamned mind? If you don’t like the way I make your drink, offer to pay for more alcohol,
or stay home and put a straw in your bottle of vodka. Don’t make me get the jigger. So help me, I will use the jigger to measure to the ounce every last drop of liquor in your tequila sunrise, and your social life will be cursed forever. Bossman, it is in my best interest to make you money, a higher check average equals more money for you, and better tips for me, so back off and let me do
my job. While you’re at it, chill out about my very modest buyback tab. The magical unicorn of the bar is, of course, the buyback. Buybacks mostly serve to show appreciation for patronage. There is not a specific amount of money you must spend to win a free drink. There is not a special way to complain about your experience that will award you a free drink. This is a straightforward
transaction, not a Mexican marketplace, there’s no negotiation involved with your check. Once again: absolutely nothing entitles you to free alcohol. Having said that, if you’re a good human being who chooses to spend your money at our bar, you will sometimes be gifted with the beverage of your choice. Some of us (you too, dear reader) are thieves, some of us are not, but please, nobody has to be cheap. Stay generous, friends, and stay flush, and I’ll go home with just the tip in my pocket, just what’s mine.
Bartender | The Bistro Grove Square BY I-Z-Z-I 20 pERCENT
WHY I DON’T STEAL
58 | METNIGHTS.COM