The Bartender Method isn’t just for bars

Listen: Bartender Method 1
Listen: Bartender Method 2

I was at the giant home repair store for no other reason than it was convenient. I am quite the regular at my local hardware store and I always try to patronize businesses owned by local people. But sometimes where you are, is where you are. And there I was, standing in the aisle trying to make sense of the shelves.

The numbers on the display didn’t correspond to any numbers anywhere. Since I understand how ordering and inventory works (having done both for more years than I care to count, pun intended) I checked both the SKU’s and the product numbers. None of it made sense at all. After 15 minutes of this I did what anyone else would do. I looked for a salesclerk.

The only salesclerk in the entire section was talking to a couple. I stood back respectfully, close enough that they knew I was waiting but far enough not to intrude. I stood, and I stood, and I stood.

“What’s that again?” asked the man in glasses.

“What did he say?” asked the woman with him.

“He hasn’t said anything yet.”

“Oh, I thought he had.”

“Well, he hasn’t.”

“Actually, I did say,” replied the clerk.


This was excruciating. I knew the exact product I needed; I knew how much of it I needed. All I needed to know was where it was.

“Excuse me,” I said after about five minutes. “Can you just tell me where…”

“I’m with a customer,” said the clerk.

“Can’t you just tell me where…”

“I’ll be with you when I’m done with these folks.”

I bit my tongue and wondered how far out of my way my local hardware store was. Since I was in a different town doing something for someone else, that calculation unfortunately didn’t apply.

In the bar business we are taught (or we learn on our own) to look at the big picture, not just the issue at hand. What is the best way to help everybody? That is why a bartender will ask you if you just want change, even if he/she is in mid order. Or he/she might take the next person’s order before making yours, so that he/she can then make them all together. Bars never have lines like the one at Starbucks, it’s more of an amoebous press of human flesh, literally. Or at least it was. Bars have been closed for almost a year now, and maybe people have forgotten what that is like. And in some cases, maybe they never knew it in the first place.

“What color did you say?” asked the man being helped by the warehouse store clerk.

“I didn’t say,” replied the clerk.

“Well, someone did.”

“It wasn’t me.”

“What?” replied the man.

“What?” replied the clerk.

“What?” replied the woman.

I almost screamed.

Once I was in a phone store, and the clerk there was training a new person. He said to her, “You have to be like a bartender, because sometimes it only takes a second to answer a question. And if you make that person wait five or ten minutes to do that, they are probably going to be pissed. And this business is built on return customers, not pissed off ones.”

I remember being impressed.

Meanwhile, a decision was finally reached amongst that slow moving trio.

“I’m going to get this in the back, and then I will help you when I return,” said the clerk to me, at least displaying some customer service awareness.

“Can’t you just…” I started.

“I will help you when I get back,” he said abruptly and then turned away.

Ten minutes later he returned. He then spent ten more minutes helping that couple load their cart. Finally, he walked over to me.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“Where is this item located?” I asked. “The numbers on your display don’t correspond with anything in this aisle at all.”

“Oh,” he said. “We moved all that stuff two aisles over. We just haven’t updated the display yet.”

45 seconds later I was walking towards the checkout with my items in my hand.

Leaving me with these thoughts

-Some business models don’t rely on returning customers

-It’s been a year since any bartender has really bartended in the true sense of the word. Hopefully, they have not forgotten how.

-Learning how to manage people is better than all the product knowledge in the world.

-That couple being helped by that warehouse clerk were in their 30’s, just saying.

-Making someone wait for 30 minutes to answer a 30 second question is never going to be received well.

-Shop local. Because you care, and because they do too, either out of necessity, or by design.