Start with respect and then go from there

“Two shots of tequila blanco,” said a man squeezing between two women sitting at the bar. He and his friend, both in backward baseball caps, cargo shorts, athletic shoes and white ankle socks, were no different than hundreds of others I have waited on. And truth be told, I have been there myself.

I looked at the blanco tequilas on the shelf, not because I was unfamiliar with them, but partly to see what we had in stock and partly to see what was full. There’s nothing like recommending something only to find out there’s none left in the bottle, and the the other bottle is down three flights of stairs. Experience teaches you that recommendations can have consequences.

“Casamigos?” I asked.


Sometimes servers recommend something, like a temperature on a steak, not because they like it that way but as a way to motivate you to make a decision. When a customer says, “Whatever the chef recommends,” has no one noticed that servers never go to ask them?

I poured two shots in rocks glasses, as is typical these days, set them down and then pointed at the saltshaker just askew of the shots.

“Salt, if you like,” I said, indicating the shaker.

In days recently past, the quality of tequila wasn’t necessarily the first thing on people’s minds. People didn’t sip tequila the way they do these days. Shots were the preferred method and they were almost always preceded by licks of salt and followed by squeezes of lime. When something not only needs a chaser, but also a precursor, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of taste.

Things have certainly changed. These days, quality tequilas are most often savored. Blanco, unaged tequila, has improved in quality and in taste. The style of reposado “rested” tequila was only introduced in 1974 (typically aged a minimum of two months in oak, and up to a year, although there is technically no upper-age limit). And 1974 was also the same year tequila officially became the “intellectual property” of Mexico.

Extra anejo (aged a minimum of three years) was only codified in 2006. If you want to go down a deep rabbit hole, try getting some information on when anejo tequila (aged at least one year) was officially introduced. Go on, I dare you. It gets pretty murky. The point is that few people opt for salt with their tequila shots these days.

“Half,” replied the man who had ordered the shots.

“Half?” I asked.

“Is that a problem?”

I ignored his tone because in my business you can’t get hung up on things like that. If you did you wouldn’t last five minutes.

“It’s not a problem,” I said. “I just don’t know what you mean.”

He rolled his eyes. I ignored that, too. Because you can’t get hung up on behaviors either. If you did, you wouldn’t last 10 minutes.

“I still don’t know what you mean,” I said, not really ignoring the behavior.

“Half a salted rim,” he said, looking at his friend like I was the dumbest person in the world.

There is a saying, “respect isn’t given, it’s earned.” I couldn’t disagree more. Far too many people these days go immediately to offence. They attack when they should listen, they accuse when they transgress and they confront when they misunderstand.

Recently, I was talking to a man who does a specific car service. He told me a story about trying to help a woman whose car had been slightly damaged during the process — a broken piece of plastic. She started screaming at him.

“We are on the same team,” he said to her. Meaning that they both wanted a positive outcome. Sometimes things happen. But if we work together, we can fix it, he was saying. And as everyone knows, it’s hard to work together if the other someone is calling you names, cursing at you or visibly mocking you.

In the service business, you learn there is always someone dumber, ruder and more entitled than you can imagine. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone comes along and proves you wrong. Conversely there is always someone smarter, more polite and more giving than you also can possibly imagine. The weird thing about the bar business is that often they can be standing right next to each other.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• It never hurts to start off being respectful.

• Most customer service people want to help you. It helps if you let them

• “I want you to be nice, until it’s time not to be nice,” said Patrick Swayze as the character Dalton in the 1989 movie “Road House.”

• The men with the shots didn’t tip but the women left 30%.

• How do service people want to be treated, you ask? The same way that you do.