The third time isn’t always that charming

Listen: Third time part 1

Listen: Third time part 2

“I recommend the sausage pizza,” said the bartender unbidden. Again.

It was the third time she had mentioned that pizza. The first time we had politely nodded, and the second time we explained that we didn’t really want pizza, we were looking for something lighter.

The third time we didn’t know what to say. Indoor seating is now a thing again, and so is sitting at the bar. But a year in the bar business is an awfully long time, so while the bar you might remember might still be there, chances are the bartender you remember won’t be. And that can be both good and bad.

A casual look at the restaurant jobs wanted section will give you an insight into the state of affairs. There are more restaurants than ever looking for staff: everybody from executive chefs to dishwashers. And of course, bartenders.

A friend of mine recently shared a story with me about trying to order a Manhattan at his newly reopened local watering hole. The bartender he didn’t know spent more time trying to talk him into some new concoction he had invented than he actually spent making it. And that was considerable considering that drink took 10 minutes to make.

“But I wanted a Manhattan.”

“This is better.”

“But I don’t want this.”

“Trust me, it’s better.”

But trust was the very problem. Trust is an earned commodity, not a given one. Not only that, but we get used to what we like. In fact, many of us look forward to the simplicity of getting something we are familiar with. It’s not that we don’t want to experiment, it’s just that we don’t want to experiment every single time. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Well, someone should tell some of the mixologist out there that. It’s not that I am not impressed with your enthusiasm, or your penchant for the unusual, or even your product knowledge, but I am meeting a friend for a drink, not going to Disneyland.

In the service business it is important to know when to be there, and when not to be, when to talk, and maybe most importantly, when to stop talking.

In my 30 years behind the stick, I have had many conversations with many people that have ended abruptly when their guests arrive. It’s not a personal thing, but it is a thing. And if you are going to thrive in this industry, you might want to get used to it.

But not everybody thrives. There’s always the server who sits down with the couple on date night and hogs their conversation. Or the manager who wanders over to the table just as the  food arrives and then goes on for ten minutes about nothing while that food gets cold. For every bartender who listens there is one who tells. In fact I remember one bartender at an airport bar somewhere once telling me all his troubles!

It’s not that bars aren’t places for convivial entertainment. They are. But not everybody who goes to one wants the whole show. And good bartenders learn to figure that out.

Some years back, a young lady was having a lively fun conversation with me and a customer sitting at the bar. After she left, I noticed that she had left her phone. I grabbed it with the intention of chasing her down and returning it. I looked at it, then at the gentleman still sitting at the bar.

“Do you want to go give this to her?” I asked.

It took him a second to understand, but a second of understanding can lead to a minute of action. He returned some of those minutes later with a smile on his face.

“She gave me her number,” he said.

Sometimes being the hero isn’t the most important thing, sometimes being the wingman is. And sometimes it’s just as important to be neither, but just to simply get out of the way.

“I swear, if you say sausage pizza one more time, I’m going to scream,” replied my normally mild mannered friend after our bartender recommended it for the fourth time.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-The customer might not always be right, but they should be mostly right. It isn’t called the hospitality industry for nothing.

-Was there a sausage pizza contest that night? I don’t know, I’m just asking.

-The old expression, the third time is a charm, leaves out what happens the first, second, and fourth times.

-It’s never all about you, it never has been, and it never should be, on either side of the stick.

-Odd, now I do feel like sausage pizza.