If you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you are getting

It seemed like an odd response to the question: “Can I get a nonalcoholic beer?”

Because it wasn’t all that unusual of a request, especially during Dry January. But the question to the bartender had elicited this response.

“We don’t believe in it.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that comment. And neither did my guest.

“What did that mean?” my guest asked moments later.

“I’m not sure,” I replied.

But the ramifications of that response led to us leaving. I don’t think the bartender cared all that much. And that is exactly the problem.

Another Dry January moment happened when I arrived to talk to the staff at a restaurant about service. I had been invited by the management. When I arrived, I asked the bartender for a bottled soda water.

“We have soda water on the gun,” she had said.

“Nothing in the bottle?” I asked.


Which is probably where it should have ended, but for some reason she tacked on this part.

“We are a bar. We serve drinks.”

“Oh, OK,” I had answered.

But the look on her face when she entered the back room for that talk on service was particularly priceless.

There seems to be a lot of bars opening lately — odd since staffing is still a problem. And if you don’t have staff, you don’t really have a bar; you have a building. Sure, you can put anyone behind the plank, but if it isn’t the right person, you might be better off having nobody at all because having nobody back there is not going to drive people away.

Recently, I was forwarded a resume to peruse. It was three pages long and I skipped the opening pages and went straight to the experience.

“Bar manager,” “head bartender,” “lead bartender” was listed at almost all of the nine or so places.


Ten years and nine different bars actually isn’t that far out of the norm these days, especially with the COVID pandemic barely beyond the horizon.

“Responsible for 100% customer satisfaction.” “Exceeded all sales goals.” “Maintained the highest possible employee morale.”

Wow and wow!

“Level one sommelier,” “certified beverage expert” and “certified beer service professional” also figured in.

Wow, wow and wow!

I realized then that I had somehow skipped their last place of employment, the place where all of these milestones had happened. I flipped back through the resume to the first page, looking for the recipient of all this greatness. I laughed out loud when I got there. Their last place of employment had opened and closed in less than four months.

It really changes the meaning of all those milestones if you tacked on the words “at a place that opened and closed in less than four months.”

But these people are out there and they are getting jobs. The plural on that is deliberate.

Recently, I read an online forum where the author said, and I paraphrase, “I am a second-level sommelier and I have a degree in oenology, and I am getting tired of customers disagreeing with me about wine. They are arguing with an expert, and they are just plain wrong.”

Except that they aren’t. Because all those technicalities of expertise can be overcome in the service business by just four words: I don’t like it. And that is that. In a business dominated by personal tastes, there is no way for someone to be wrong in what they like. That is why César Ritz’s famous adage (often misused and misquoted), “The customer is always right,” actually included, “If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked.” Meaning that the adage was meant to be applied to personal taste and not to everything at large.

It is when customer service professionals begin to try and make people wrong in what they like that things start to go askew. Why do you care if they want a shaken Manhattan? Or a nonalcoholic beer? If they want their white wine decanted, it’s your job to do it. Period. People often like to become experts so that they can tell other people that they are wrong, never realizing for a second that, in making someone else wrong, you don’t make yourself right. You often just drive people away.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• Keep doing what you are doing, it makes what I am doing so much easier.

• If there were only one thing to like, there would only be one thing on the shelf.

• The actual quote from Ritz is: “The customer is never wrong.”

• Recently, I learned that a major bar in San Francisco asks prospective applicants whether or not they read Jeff Burkhart. Still not sure which answer they are looking for.

• If you need to be right, I suggest that you join an online forum. If you really need to be right, I suggest that you buy one.