This might be the most extreme example of bartenders who lack social skills that I’ve encountered recently, but it’s an alarming trend that I’ve seen in small pockets all around the U.S. The eponymous “Jimmy the Bartender” is a reference to a monthly column in Men’s Health magazine; a fictional bartender who, in my mind, represents a dying breed of old school barmen/women. Dying, because someone is killing them off. But who’s responsible? I have a few theories.
First Suspect: The “hot” bartender – and proprietors who hire them
Being a bartender used to mean that you were a master conversationalist with a PhD in Commiseration and Unconventional Wisdom. And maybe even Bachelor’s in Booting Your Drunk Ass. All that was on top of knowing how to muddle your way into a perfect Old Fashioned. Nowadays, themed bars with shiny countertops hire the first pretty face that walks through the door, barely knowing how to pour a gin and tonic. Or maybe, the new guy has studied mixology at the best school and can concoct a cocktail tailored just for you using the latest trendy ingredient (at this moment it’s St-Germain), but they never quite learned how to develop a rapport with their customers. Instead, these bartenders are preoccupied with dollars per check and drinks per hour, and the only conversation they’ll have with you is, “You want another drink?”
I realize that the type of service and socialization I’m referring to should not be expected in clubs or when the bar is crowded. I’m talking about a regular weeknight, in situations similar to what I described in the first paragraph. When the staff is making odd numbers of Red-headed Sluts and trying to deal with the asshole snapping his finger at the end of the bar, it’s very difficult to carry a real conversation.
Second Suspect: Shitty attitude toward the service industry
In many countries outside the U.S., it is considered a venerable career move when someone decides to devote their life to the service industry. In some places, they won’t even accept tips (Japan, Germany, Australia, to name a few) because their servers and bartenders get paid real wages for real backbreaking work, while being really fucking nice to you. Meanwhile in the U.S., the minimum wage for servers in some states have not changed in over 20 years. Twenty. Years.
I believe that the ability to serve people and socialize with them as equals is a talent that not everybody has. (As a server, I lasted exactly four hours at a Bennigan’s before I realized I didn’t have what it takes to serve.) And instead of attracting those talented individuals to serve us drinks and food, they are moving to “bigger and better” career choices in hospitality, commission-based sales or simply to jobs that they don’t enjoy but offer better pay, benefits and stability. And what we’re left with is a select few, truly great and passionate career bartenders, servers and establishment owners. The rest are simply waiting to get out as soon as something else comes by.
Final Suspect: You
You. Me. All of us. What’s the the easiest way to get us to spend money? Put a pair of tits or a handsome dude with a five o’clock shadow in front of us. It works for pharmaceutical sales, magazines and the fashion industry. So, why not make it work for the service industry? They hire them, because we think we want them. We want the music louder, our drinks faster. Crowded places with nothing of substance actually happening or exchanged. And if the bartender flirts with us a bit, we don’t care if they get our drink orders or names wrong. We want to have a burger and a couple of cold beers for cheap without ever lifting a finger. Never realizing how little of what we pay actually goes into the pockets of the people who brought it to you. We want all the proverbial blowjobs without ever reciprocating.
Yeah. It’s you. It’s me. We killed Jimmy the Bartender. What can we do to fix this? What will it take to bring back and keep the men and women who always have a story to go with that bourbon on the rocks? I don’t know. But I know a self-pouring beer machine ain’t one of them. Neither is a bar that only hires pretty female bartenders, or the mixology joints where every drink tastes like St-Germain or Absinthe. Nor should we keep paying them lowest of the low wages and expect them to give you an experience with that beer. No, none of that is the answer.
- Eric Wang