Southwest Brewing News

The struggle against mediocrity
Southwest Brewing News. (Austin, TX) 1994, 3:2
by Richard Vang

Presented by the Upstate Chunk & Paradigm Company


Well, now.  In the first edition of this column, I set forth some principles of good behavior aimed at cultivating more refined behavior in the average American beer drinker.  It was received with a positive, but limited, response.  I say limited because the major portion of the feedback was received from microbrewery owners, and not from those to whom it was directed.  Their silence leads me to believe that my fellow drinkers may soon be asking for my head.  Therefore, we will now turn the tables, and look at proper behavior for the owners and their staff.

What's that you say?  You're an owner and you can do whatever you want?  You're a bartender and you'll get your tips no matter how badly you treat the customer?  Well, I've got news for you my friends: this whole drinking thing is a two-way street, and you're just as responsible for decent behavior as the slobbering drunk on the bar stool.  Don't ever forget that if everyone brewed at home, no one would be around to drink your beer!  The patrons put food on your table, so you are under obligation to treat them nicely.  I hate to tell you folks this, but there's a lot of mediocre beer being sold out there, and average pubs are a dime a dozen.  I would rather drink swill in a dive where I'm treated  nicely than a mediocre brewpub that's too full of itself to please its customers.  For me, it's the Little Things that make one bar stand apart from the rest, and brings me back to this particular establishment time and again. 

So for your convenience I've listed some of those Little Things which I feel are a problem with bars and restaurants today.  They may sound like common sense, but you'd be surprised how often they are simply forgotten.  So take a look, evaluate your own place, eat some humble pie, and get your act together.

10.  Disorderly bar areas.  Being a dive bar is one thing, but never cleaning again after the Grand Opening is another.  This is pretty simple stuff.  Empty the ashtrays, wipe up drips, clean the dirty glasses.  Your patrons should be able to lean their elbows on the bar without fear of wet spots.  And if you see a patron cleaning off a spot at the bar, you're simply not doing your job.

9.  Having to wait too long for beer.  This is a sin for bartenders, especially when it comes to your regular patrons.  People sit at the bar for a reason, and that reason is to drink, and to drink in a timely manner.  They should not have to use a flare gun to get your attention, and if you can't scan the bar while you're talking to your latest squeeze, then you're in the wrong business.  If you'd like to see the Platonic Ideal of this, try the Ole memorial Lounge in Tulsa, where beers appear if you've got money on the bar and less than half a drink left.  That may sound extreme, but a bartender like this makes good money, and packs them in.

8.  Mixologists.  What's the difference you ask?  Bartending is an honorable profession, and should be looked upon as such.  A good bartender is intelligent, has personality, and can converse with a wide range of patrons.  A good bartender gives the regulars just enough shit to make them feel interesting and entertains the first-timers enough to want to come back.  This fosters a good atmosphere at a bar, and blends the regulars together into a sort of fraternity. A mixologist, on the other hand, is someone who is just there for the tips. Apparently, The Art of Coversation is not required at all mixology schools.   The truth is that there are a lot of lonely people in the world, and you can bet that most of your regulars are them.  A good bartender makes the patrons feel wanted. They like to drink at your bar because they feel that someone is glad to see them.  Like it or not, you're someone's best friend.

7.  Lazy bartenders.  Regardless of what you may think, your patrons are watching you.  If you're standing around talking, especially when they're ready to order, your tips will be reduced drastically.  Everyone notices when its slow and you're using extra time to wipe the dust from the liquor bottles.  And you never know which member of the SWBN staff might be travelling incognito.

6.  No buybacks.  Nothing sours me more than spending hundreds of dollars in a joint and never getting a free beer out of it.  This is probably the best way to establish a regular clientele.  Some bartenders with a conscience will go against the wishes of the owner, but really, it should be a given, like Happy Hours and free food.   One every five would be nice.  Hell, in Santa Fe, one every three years would be doing good.

5.  Bars with no distinct identity.  Too many bars try to be all things to all people.  One thing the world doesn't need more of are those pseudo-Irish/sports bars.  Pick and identity and settle on it. If you're a sports bar, then show sports on 20 TV's and have sports oriented entertainment.  If you're more of a restaurant, then cook with your beer and make the food the star.  If you're an Irish bar, serve corned beef and cabbage more than once a year and sponsor live Irish music and cultural activities. Find your niche and go with it.

4.  Fancy glasses.  This drives me crazy. If you're going to serve beer, put it in a beer glass, not a champagne flute or a brandy snifter.  Tall glasses without stable bases can be easily knocked over, especially with a more animated talker.   Even the tall pilsener glasses make me nervous.  So if you must serve extra-large glasses of beer, try using those big 32 oz. mugs that you can get at any county fair.   Who are you fooling anyway?  Everyone knows this guy just ordered a HUGE beer, and trying to hide that fact behind a facade of fancy glass is sheer denial.

3.  Skimpy portions of food and beverage.  Don't skimp on your drinks.   I'm not saying to skip the mixers,  but give each mixty a full shot of liquor on every round. And pour a full pint of beer for Pete's sake, or top it off after the head has settle down.  When it comes to food, I'm sorry, but the pussy willow-stuffed artichoke leaves appetizer is usually just enough to piss me off.

2.  No Happy Hour.  C'mon, relax that sphincter once in a while.  Put out some free finger food, knock a little off your beer prices, or offer a special drink for the week.  If you don't have a kitchen, a nice thing to do is to bring in a crock pot of stew, or hot dogs, or something.  The great advantage to offering free food is that your patrons are at least eating something when they drink.  And  Happy Hour brings in people after work, people who have jobs, people who can pay their tabs!

1.  Filthy bathrooms.  This is the biggie for me. Bathroom accidents are the number one killer in America, folks. Is this a difficult concept?  Sure this is a responsibility shared by your patrons, but if I'm not mistaken, there are laws regarding health and sanitation.  Let's face it, it's a nasty job, but someone has to do it.   After a couple of days, even the newest of bathrooms can get downright disgusting, and I understand that sometimes the women's side usually isn't any nicer.  In some places I've seen lately, it's probably more sanitary just to piss on the floor.


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