Always looking for fun, informative stuff. This is an excellent article from the UK about bartenders, tipping, free drinks and the economy. I chuckled, sympathized and learned a great deal.
Michael Butt: It's time to pay up
Last night I partook in a small number of beverages in an establishment of both quality and repute conveniently located near to Soulshakers Towers. The drinks were delicious, the company convivial and the time passed as perfectly as it only does when you’re resting against mahogany.
As I finished my allotted quota I called for the bill. The bartender, an acquaintance of mine, quoted a price that was obviously much lower than the correct amount. This put me in a difficult position, and one I find increasingly off-putting: was I expected to repay this ‘generosity’ with an extravagant tip?
Sasha Petraske (of Milk & Honey) once taught me that the correct response to receiving complimentary drinks is to tip to the level of the original bill. I have always thought this was a very elegant way to repay the largesse of a bar owner, while effectively giving the staff a bonus for looking after one of their personal guests.
Unfortunately in last night’s case, the owner of the bar was not involved in the decision-making process. Being a long-standing customer it is possible he might have produced a bill for the same amount, but as it was I felt guilty that I was being asked to partake in what cynically could be described as a stock-to-tips switcheroo. In the end I pointedly paid an accurate estimation of the correct bill, but the great feeling I had been nurturing had evaporated.
It has always been easy for bartenders to undervalue alcohol – both the financial and physical costs involved. A hardened liver and access to underpriced alcohol on many of their drinking occasions usually leads to incorrect assumptions about both a customer’s ability to maintain sobriety under an onslaught of over-strong straight-up drinks, and what their perceived value of the drinks ordered are.
And this misunderstanding leads to a decreased ability to perform one of the most important roles of the bartender – that of a salesman. Without an accurate understanding of a customer’s perception of value and capacity, the ability to sell each customer the perfect number of perfectly priced drinks is lost.
This laissez-faire attitude to alcohol has other dangers, not least to the bartender, who in a culture of giving free drinks to friends and colleagues inevitably partakes in far too many shots. More insidiously, as there really is no such thing as free booze, their behaviour is always noted by some of the drier members of the financial team, and with a culture as endemic as this one, the ‘free’ drinks become a significant factor in the low levels of pay and respect that are afforded to many in our profession.
On any particular evening there are hundreds of promotional events, product launches and society shindigs dispensing large quantities of free alcohol, and there, more than anywhere else, the pernicious nature of free drinks is exposed. Indeed, a social anthropologist who wanted to study the base and primal nature of earlier epochs could easily start at one of these receptions. Crowds of people, all pretence at civility evaporated, pushing and jostling, clamouring for their allocation, grabbing unwanted drinks to be left hardly touched, without care or consideration for the server, the host or the brand that foots the bill.
With no value attached to the drink by the customer, soon there is none attached by the bartender, so the quality of the drink inevitably declines. With no financial interaction it is almost impossible to manage a guest’s consumption of alcohol or be rewarded for quality of service, and the bartender quickly becomes just a cog in a machine, feeding the baying crowd.
It hurts me to write these words – and there have been times when sobriety would have been inescapable without the largesse of friends – but I Hate Free Drinks.Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – January/February 2013