just because i bought you a drink, doesn’t mean that i’ll be taking you home

There are a plethora of reasons why people choose a career in the grueling yet rewarding world of the service industry. Most of the time, it‘s all about the Benjamins. Some bartenders are working their way through college, or are looking to supplement their desk job income with a nighttime gig. Some are trying to put off entering the “real world,“ while, for many, this is as real as it gets. A few don’t make it past their first shift before realizing this is not the life for them. Others look up after eight years and recognize that they are making more money than they ever would using their B.A. in English with a minor in Women’s Studies. Those of us who choose to stay, do so because we are damn good at it and we love the requisite crazy pace and late night hours, not to mention the fat stack of cash in our pocket come closing time.

And then there are the ones who do it because, as my illustrious friend, Lynn Lendyak, was recently quoted as saying, “Chicks dig bartenders.” Although he may not be fancy with his words, he speaks the truth. I think I answer for most chicks out there when I say that there is nothing better than a sweet piece of eye candy pouring you shots of Fireball and sliding them across the bar with a wink. In that regard, it’s safe to say that dudes dig bartenders, too. There is just this twinkle of hope in a boozer’s mind that tonight, between the cocktails, the flirty banter and the smooth use of over tipping, “last call” will not apply.

While I have tried to live by the Coyote Ugly rule of seeming available, but not being available, I will not deny that there is a power held by those of us who have control over the liquor. Even back in what I consider my chunky phase, I was still garnering the attention of boys almost a decade my junior. Okay, and girls. I will admit to my occasional inappropriate use of pool tables, pinball machines and storage rooms. After all, what’s the point of having the key to the bar if you never use it to lock yourself in?

But I would like to make a Public Service Announcement at this time: If I happen to tell you that this round is on the house, it does not mean that you should be waiting for me in the parking lot while I am locking the doors. It also doesn’t mean that I will ever give you another free drink again, so don’t bring all your friends in under the mirage that you have me wrapped around your finger. Don‘t hate the player, hate the game.

One of the job requirements in this industry is making sure the customers are having a grand ol’ time. When they are smiling, laughing and chatting up a storm, they tip better. Bartenders who are all business make less money than those who crack jokes and playfully harass their regulars. I don’t have any scientific research to cite for that statistic, but I have worked alongside all types of ‘tenders and am confident in my conclusions.

Do I flirt with you while pouring your beer? Of course. Do I mean it? Not always. Will I buy you and your friends a round of fruity shooters just to hear you “Whooo!” while you are toasting? Most definitely. Am I going to show up to your after hours party that you wrote directions to on the back of your credit card slip? Probably not, but keep the hope alive.

The funny thing about most people who gravitate towards a life of slinging drinks is that they are usually brutally honest, sarcastic and an almost painfully astute judge of character. If you follow my basic rules of patience and general social manners, I want to reward your good behavior so that you come back on another night with a full wallet. That reward may come in the form of a complimentary Jager Bomb, but that doesn’t mean you should slip your hotel room key into my hand with the check. If our flirtations leave me wanting to see you outside of work, trust me, I have no qualms about asking for your phone number. But if you write it down for me without a request, I am just going to staple it to the Wall of Shame behind the bar for my coworkers and your friends to enjoy.

this article was previously published in “the hard times magazine,” 23 sept 2011