I had just returned to the bar and walked right into the middle of the conversation.
“Come on Jim,” said one of the three men sitting at the bar.
“I am not trying to be an asshole,” said the man commanding the most attention.
After easily over a million service interactions, I know one thing for sure, and that is that complaining is often a way of getting attention. I know this the same way that I know that the woman who says “she’ll be easy” won’t be. That the man who says he will be quick, will be the slowest ever, and the person who just answered “Yes” to the question “Are you ready?” most certainly isn’t.
I surveyed the scene quickly. Place settings are easy to judge. You see what’s there, and what’s missing. One leads invariably to the other. There were two three quarters filled bottles of house sparkling, two full flutes of that house sparkling wine, two draft beers, and a closed out credit card bill. I looked up at the clock, fifteen minutes after we closed.
It didn’t take a detective to figure out what had happened. When you spend most of your career having to evaluate people in less than 30 seconds, you begin to see tendencies. “Can I get a Paloma?” must suffice in its self-contained length and breadth of time for you to determine several things simultaneously. Do they know what a Paloma is? What kind of Paloma are they talking about? Made with tequila or mescal? What brand? And those are just the service aspects. Then there are the two major legal requirements. Is the person of age? And, is the person already intoxicated? And often you must figure all of this out while simultaneously doing several other things. The first four service aspects you can recover from. However, making a mistake on the last two can cost you your job.
It was with that sort of micro evaluating insight that I pieced together what happened. The other bartender had graciously offered to serve them “one more drink” just to be hospitable, in spite of the fact that technically we were closed. He probably had offered a glass of wine, a beer, and maybe a simple shot. Something not too complicated. Two people went along with the program, hence the two draft beers. The third asked for a glass of sparkling wine. And that should have been that. But it wasn’t.
Apparently the first glass of bubbly – out of a nearly full bottle – was rejected and a request for a “fresh bottle” to be opened was made, after closing time, mind you, so that one glass could be poured. I am sure it had been then explained to him that opening another bottle of sparkling meant that two nearly full bottles would then need to be left open overnight. An explanation that went nowhere, apparently. So now instead of being a courteous person going the extra mile, the bartender was now reduced to being “discourteous” or maybe even “rude,” all in someone else’s estimation.
It’s called “reading the room” and late arriving patrons are always the worst at doing this. But self-awareness is not part of the late night crowd’s mindset. My Grandmother always said, “Nothing good happens after midnight,” and it turns out she was right. She might have been talking about grandpa specifically, but this insight applies quite well to the rest of the world too.
“See!” said Jim holding up his glass proving his own point to himself, but missing the larger point not lost on anyone else. Certainly, the larger point was not lost on the other bartender who had already left the bar, and it didn’t appear to be lost on Jim’s friends either, as they looked at each other knowingly. So, Jim did what some people do when their intended audience is unsympathetic. He looked for a new one.
“Look,” he said to newly arrived me, while holding up his glass.
There are pitfalls to wading into a turgid pool that you just discovered, and it was in that spirit, that I tried a different approach. I pretended not to hear him.
“Jim,” said one of Jim’s seated friends.
“What?” said Jim. “He was being rude.”
“He was just doing his job. I mean they are closed already,” said the other of Jim’s friends.
“I am not trying to be an asshole,” said Jim, again.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-If your friends think you are being an ass, rest assured, so does the server or bartender.
-For some people, they don’t have to try, things just come naturally.
-“Rude” is the word the rudest people often use to describe others.
-“I am by nature an optimist and by intellectual conviction a pessimist,” once wrote William Golding.
-I might know one bartender who knows just what Golding means.