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Ask Not What Your Bartender Can Do For You

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Mar 12, 2015

In case you don’t know from personal experience, waiting tables and slinging drinks is brutally hard work. In many cases, your server or bartender is perfectly happy to take care of you -- from getting you barbecue sauce ASAP to making sure you get home safely after a boozy night out. But what can we do to make life easier for the servers and bartenders who work so hard so that we can enjoy our nights out?

Carly Silverman, a server and bartender at Timmy Nolan’s, an Irish pub in Los Angeles, gave us an insider's perspective on how you can make your server happy in return (a skill that pays huge dividends).


Talia Ralph: Why do you think Irish bars are so prevalent and so popular?

Carly Silverman: The Irish bar is why people love dive bars -- it’s a judgment-free zone. It’s the comfort food of bars. People see it and they recognize it -- they all look the same. And you’re going to find the same thing all over the country. It’s very universal. You also know you’re going to get a pretty good deal at an Irish bar. Even the fancy ones have decent prices.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

The worst part of my job is definitely sexual harassment. Not in the way that I’m constantly being sexually harassed, but in the way that when it DOES happen, it’s so hard to know how to deal with it. When it happens to me, it’s often with the regulars. So like, a regular will grab my ass, and I have to quietly pull them aside and say, “Hey, I know we’re friends, but you can’t really do that because it makes the other customers think they can do that.”

I don’t want to be this weak person that quietly pulls someone aside and talks to them quietly…I want to be like, “F*ck you, you can’t do that.” But I can’t because they’re a regular, so I see them every time I come in and I can’t really yell at them. I’ve actually talked to my management about it a lot because -- not that they’re not supportive -- but I need to know that they would support me if I got really mad at somebody because I sometimes feel...that I’m just going to blow.

How do you deal with difficult customers?

The trick to dealing with a drunk customer is that you have to not blame it on them. You have to be like, “oh my gosh, do you know what sucks around here? The cops. The cops are so terrible around here. You can’t leave here and drive even after one drink because the cops will totally get you. I left here one time and got pulled over.” You really have to lay it on the cops and make it totally not their fault and make them feel like they’re not alone. Don’t embarrass them...because the last thing you want to do is say, “You’re drunk, you can’t do this.” No one wants to feel like they’re out of control.

It’s always about not embarrassing someone. When someone’s card gets denied, I just say, “Do you have a different card? My machine’s not taking this one.” I’ve had more than one person say, “Well, you have to call your company; my card works.” And I’ll just say, “You know, just call your bank, sometimes certain banks don’t like certain machine companies” and just make stuff up.

Has working at a bar changed how you act at bars?

CS: Yes! I don’t know why I didn’t know that you had to tip on drinks before I started working at bars. I really didn’t know! I’ve worked in the service industry my whole life -- since I was 12, both restaurants and bars -- but I was never a bartender until I moved out to L.A. and I guess I just never thought about it. I must have tipped in bars, but I think I tipped a dollar or something on a drink, whereas now I do 20 percent on bar drinks, or at least 15 percent. I do think of bartending more as an art now and I see it more as a service professional. If someone is making me a nice cocktail, I will tip them more.

If you think your server is cute, what’s the best way to let them know?

CS: If you’re going to leave your number for staff at bars and restaurants, which I’ve seen happen at least a dozen times and I’ve definitely encouraged friends to leave their numbers before, you HAVE TO LEAVE A PHYSICAL DESCRIPTOR ON THE SLIP.

Most likely, someone picked up the slip who wasn’t your bartender or server. You need to describe yourself, because no one is picking up that slip is immediately going to look at it and read it; they’re either leaving it until the end of the night, or closing it immediately. And so they’ll probably think, “this could have literally been anybody here.” Make things clear for them, like: “Hi, I’m the girl in the green sweater…I’m talking to you, guy with the Mohawk.” We’ve gotten numbers where two guys at the bar actually thought it was for them, and had a little tiff over it -- it was adorable.

What is the nicest thing a customer can do to get on your good side? What pisses you off the most?

Honestly, no one should be allowed to go into a restaurant unless they’ve worked in a restaurant. You really can tell when people have. If you say you’re going to close out and that it’s the end of your shift, the best people in the world are the ones that will close out with you, because they understand how tipping works. They’ll close a tab with you and open a tab with the new server and not get annoyed. I KNOW it’s annoying, I go to bars, but it’s just the way it is -- you just don’t get the money if they end up sitting there all night and don’t close out with you. It’s not like I’m going to wait around until after that girl’s shift and ask for four dollars.

The worst thing people can do is ask me to make multiple trips for things. I’ll say something like “does anyone need anything else while I’m here?” and then I’ll come back and they’ll ask for something else! It takes up so much time to go back and forth to do that, especially when you walk by other tables and they see that you’re not paying attention to them.

What do you wish people knew about waitressing that they don’t?

I know everyone knows this in their heart, but it’s so hard to get people to wrap their minds around it: unless you see your server idling or having no sense of urgency, they’re busy and it sucks. They don’t want to be that busy that they can’t pay attention to you. They’re probably very, very swamped. It’s very rare for me to not be attentive to a table, but I can’t tell you the amount of times people wave at me looking angry five minutes after I came over to make sure everything is okay and two minutes later they decide, no, they really need ranch dressing and they haven’t been able to get my attention for three minutes and so they’re horrifyingly mad. You have to wait your turn!

Eye contact is probably the strongest thing you can do to get your server’s attention; just don’t be rude about it. Make eye contact, give a little wave, say thank you, and that’s totally fine. Just please don’t be angry. It makes me feel like I’m serving kings and I’m some peasant they don’t understand.

You’ve also worked at an Irish bar in Boston. Do people drink differently from one city or coast to another?

I work at more of a neighborhood bar in L.A., but my regulars are primarily older gentlemen, either single or with wives I’ve never met, who come in every day to have X number of beers. So many beers. I sometimes have to ask my bartender what their usual cut off is, because they drink so much!

In Boston, all the regulars were post-college graduates still looking to live the college life near this college at this college bar, just looking to relive the glory days. There was so much more vomiting in Boston.

None of the regulars in my bar now are trying to relive the glory days; they’re trying to forget the glory days. That’s the difference.

What’s the best thing to eat drunk?

Greasy food, hands down. Also, drink water. It’s not going to make you any less drunk, which people think it does. It’s just going to make you less hungover! I’m always confused when people refuse a glass of water.

Talia Ralph is a freelance writer pursuing her Master's in Food Systems at NYU. She also helps produce Eating Matters on Heritage Radio Network and contributes to VICE Munchies, Lucky Peach, and several Edible magazines. Follow her on Twitter @TaliaBethRalph.

Photos: Darin Salerno and The Boston Public Library

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