If you’ve ever seen a job ad for a bartender, you’ve probably seen the line, “If you like meeting new people, this job is perfect for you!”
I couldn’t disagree more.
You’ll surely meet what’ll seem like billions of people every day, but it’s just like they say in my favorite movie Fight Club: they’re only single-serving friends. My advice is to get to know your regulars and maybe even become friends with a very few of them, but try to keep your private life as separate as possible, for your own sanity.
Of course it’s loads of fun if you know what you’re doing (and even if you don’t), but before you even see your first customer, there’s an endless cocktail ingredient list, work ethic rules, and all other different types of legal regulations that you have to know by heart if you’re serious about what you do. Overall, with tending a bar comes hard work, heavy lifting, sore legs, sweaty and dirty clothes, and a big risk of your liver suddenly exploding.
I’m sort of an expert when it comes to guessing the behavior you can expect from your customers.
I got my bar training in London’s Piccadilly Circus, so before I moved to Lisbon, I was used to a certain standard of service and behavior in the bar. When I started working here, I quickly realized that in this amazing country, people are much more laid back and don’t really care about staff’s professionalism — they just want their attention.
Over the past nine years that I have lived in Portugal, I have worked in two completely different types of bars. I’ve become sort of an expert when it comes to guessing the behavior, drink order, tip amount, and topic of conversation you can expect to get from your customers. They’re based solely on stereotypes* of course, but a lot of my guesses have turned out to be accurate over and over again, so I’m going to let you in on how a bartender might size you up. It happens more than you think — actually, it happens pretty much every time.
#1: An old girl looking for a man or compliments from other girls to reassure herself that she still “has it.” She’s only fake-nice to you if you are working your ass of to please her. No conversation — she’s not here to talk to the staff. She drinks only nice-looking cocktails that don’t look too girly, two or three tops. No tip.
#2: Hippy – freak. Probably has her own bottle hidden in a bag, so watch out for sneaky sips and/or frequent trips to the bathroom. She’ll order a few small beers, three or four, but she’ll be the last one to leave. She might try to thrill the bartenders with stories about her dog or school or whatever comes to her mind at the moment. No tip.
#3: Young girl having fun. She’s not here to please anyone but herself. She’ll share a bottle of wine, drink shots, then a whisky coke or something. Could beat the hippie for “last man standing.” Will ask you every possible question about where are you from, if you like working here, etc. Extremely friendly. Tip: €1,5.
#4: First time in the bar in ages and/or on vacation. She’ll enter the bar with a friend or her husband and order an alcohol-free cocktail or a Piña Colada with a bottle of sparkling water. She will compliment the bar, nothing else, and will avoid using the bathroom. Tip: €2.
#5: Student. She came here to get together with her friends and stay out later than usual. She’ll ask for a coffee and a water, or maybe one small beer or a glass of white wine later on. No conversation with the bartenders. Tip: €0,5.
#6: Underage. Will drink a coke that her parents are paying for but she will definitely roll her eyes when she orders it. Parents like hers might actually leave a decent tip, but I’d have to see them to be sure. If she’s by herself or with a group of similarly-aged kids, prepare for some attitude when they are asked to leave.
#7: Pretty nice working woman. She has a higher-level job and is relaxing after a hard day at the office or design room. Doesn’t really talk to the staff much but is polite when she does. She’ll have two glasses of red wine and pay with a 10€ bill. Tip: change left from paying the bill.
#8: Hipster who’s here just because it’s a cool place to be. He’ll be looking at others and doing his best to show himself. He’s fake nice, just because he thinks it will gain him some attention. Might have some smart-ass comments. Not here to talk to staff. Two glasses of wine or something in a cocktail glass. Tip: €0,1
#9: Loner with a side of weirdo. He will ask all the possible questions about all the cocktails offered and after five minutes of debate will choose a small beer in the end, alongside a debate over which is better — Sagres or Super Bock. He will stay for a while, but only drink one or two. No tip
#10: Big boss guy. He’s chatty and happy and doesn’t know when he’s had too many. He will pay for rounds of drinks for the people he’s with and possibly for friends he makes at the bar. He’ll drink four pints of beer or three Gin and Tonics. Tip: €5
#11: Druggy. He either came to get laid or to sell something in the back to another customer. Regardless, he’s got a bag of coke in his pocket. If he stays, he’ll have three or four draught beers and take trips to the bathroom often. No conversation unless he sees a girl he’d like to have a go at. No tip
#12: Party animal. He’ll be ordering loads and loads of pints over a long period of time and will offer you a drink instead of a tip. He will talk non-stop, mostly joking, but at one point he will most definitely spill something. Tip: A shot or small beer
#13: Just a regular guy socializing. Two whiskey and waters or possibly even two old fashions. There is minimal conversation until after his drink, then he might chat about music to the staff and actually offer some good recommendations. Tip: €1
#14: Narcissistic big foreign-company clerk. He’ll have three drinks and never sit down. He alternates between pints of beer, G&Ts or whiskey cocktails, but sticks with one all night and doesn’t mix. Actually, his ass will never come off the barstool. He’ll chat to the staff about the weather. Tip: €3
*My answers are based on a bar in Cais do Sodré where I worked for years and years.
To my cocktail colleagues: Cheers and don’t forget to smile regardless of who is across from you. Remember, your job is 80% of your lifetime, so ultimately, it’s not about the tip, it’s about remembering that we are all human — and that hey, people can surprise you.