Annoying things people ask in bars…

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Mindful that barwork is a service industry, then ‘service’ is the business of the bar employee. That said, there are other criteria or ingredients, that make good service, not only possible, but a pleasure, to give and receive.

Good manners, consideration, respect and logic are four that spring to mind, immediately. Personally, good grammar and diction are required, too.

Any bar worker will tell you, when asked, a list of things they get asked, that customers do or say, every day and night, in every bar in the world. Not all of these things are, by any means, offensive or irritating, but some are.

So I’ve made a casual list, derived from conversations with bar workers in several Dublin bars.

But first, I own personal bugbears, creeping Americanisms.

The American version of the English language has crept into our lives and daily argot through film and television and these days, by even more common inference, through the internet and YouTube.

But when people persist in prefacing their request for a drink with ‘can I get…?’, my immediate reaction is ‘no, you can’t, because y’see, that’s why I’m here…to ‘get’ it for you. On the other hand, if you ask me, ‘may I have?, then all becomes clear and order, proper English and good grammar is restored.

The other ‘Americanism’ that has taken a niche in Irish conversation occurs when a customer is asked, when their glass or their plate is almost empty, ‘may I get you another or something else? is ‘I’m good.’ What does that mean, for God’s sake? I haven’t made any inquiry regarding your moral disposition, so why tell me if you’re good? Like I care?

But that’s me. I’m a writer. So, shoot me.

But here’s another few of those nonsense irritations:

abbreviations, like cabsav (Cabernet Sauvignon), or heino (Heineken) or what about ‘sauvignon blanc white wine’, eh?

Then there’s the customer who saunters in and orders ‘a pint.’ Well, a pint of what, exactly? Sure, there was a time, now almost forgotten, when a pint, meant a pint of stout and the other three taps in a pub, lager, ale or cider, were the secondary alternatives. Now most pubs have multiple choices in stouts, ales, lagers, even ciders and wheat beers. So think specific or ask advice, it helps and everyone’s willing to help, if you ask.

Then there are the drinkers of a particular American beer (Coors) who assume, when you name the brand, you will know exactly what they want. Unfortunately, ESP (extra sensory perception) is no longer a requirement for bartenders, although, in the case of a good customer and an experienced bartender, it can be a useful asset.

I worked in a bar, once, where the oldest member of staff was close to retirement age and most of the customers were a third of his age. He was, not to understate this, intolerant and fools, in his mind, would never be suffered, gladly or otherwise. So when an unsuspecting misfortunate approached the bar and asked for ‘a Guinness’, he got our man’s gimlet eye and question, barked, ‘d’ye want a pint, glass or a bottle, I’m not a fucking prophet, y’know?’

So I caution those who ask for a beer to be specific, in quantity and product, ‘a Coors’ can mean a bottle, a pint or a glass.

And that brings me then to every bartender’s greatest bugbear, an English customer. Don’t get me wrong, this is nothing against English people, per se. It’s just that their bar rules are very different to ours. Having worked for years in English bars, I have first hand knowledge of their drink ordering technique. First, they order one drink at a time.

Now that’s just wrong, especially to an Irish bartender. We have memories and we pride ourselves on our ability to remember long, complex orders and to deliver the drink in the most efficient manner possible, given that knowledge. So, please, don’t order a drink at a time and, above all, never end your order with ‘and a pint (or multiple pints) of Guinness.’

And finally, while saying this list is by no means conclusive, let me add just two more caveats. There is a saying, ‘it’s nice to be nice’ and a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can go a long way. Most bartenders remember a customer by their drink but a small gesture of recognition and respect with a gracious request and a word of gratitude, will lay a ground mark that will be remembered and reciprocated.

Which brings me, neatly, to my final bugbear, the customer who demands that you ‘smile.’ Why? because you’ve bought that with your drink? I don’t think so. I do believe and agree that a happy, smiling bartender can make your visit to a bar more interesting and make the whole experience more pleasurable, for all concerned. But since you don’t know the circumstances of the frown or grimace, why interfere with an inane and insensitive demand that they ‘smile.’ Give them a reason, tell a joke, give them a tip, say please, smile at them first, say hello.

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What’ll ye have?

 

cropped-img_0880.jpgI chose this title carefully although my first choice was ‘over the bar’, but, unfortunately, that was taken. What’ll ye have? is a question put to people countless times a day, the length and breadth of Ireland.
It’s a greeting, an invitation and a specific enquiry. First, since the first to ask it on stepping in to a public house or lounge bar, has declared their intention to play host and buy the first round.
Second, it’s an invitation to their guests to name their poison, so to speak.
And thirdly, it’s a request to inform the bartender or curate of your choices so he, or she, can set about lining them up.
None of these priorities are named in any sense of preference although, as we shall see, there is a certain logic applied, particularly in an Irish bar, but more of that later.
I’ve worked in pubs, on and off, all my life. An uncle owned a pub and guest house in Sligo and I used to spend two or three weeks of my summer holiday there, every year for five years, between the ages of 5 and 10. During that time, to while away the summer days, I collected eggs from the hens in the barn behind the bar, every morning. Then, I’d be dispatched to stock the ballad lounge bar with soft drinks and bottled beers. Back then, we’re talking the mid-’60s here – pubs bottled and labelled their own bottles of stout, provided in barrels from Guinness’s James’s Gate brewery in Dublin. Our job was to fill the bottles and cap them, using a hand yanked stamp press and then apply the labels from a tray of a milky adhesive substance, mixed by my uncle. It was great fun and whiled away the afternoons, after which we were rewarded by a glass of cold lemonade.
I pulled my first pint of stout there, a progression that was considered a rite of passage in my informal apprenticeship. I remember it well. I was ten and it was in the main bar or public house, at the front of the building. On one side there was a bar, about six foot long, that curved at one end. On the other side, nearest the front door, there was a grocery counter that sold household essentials like milk, butter, sausages, bacon and sliced ham, cigarettes and matches, sugar, flour, salt, jelly and custard.
On the left of the door, opposite the food counter, there was a small room, a snug, with two bench seats and a small table and a hatch that opened at the end of the bar.
The snug was for ladies who, while, by custom, were not welcome in the male only bar, could take their ease with a glass of stout or sherry, while they waited for their grocery order to be filled. Ladies were always welcome in the Lounge bar but that didn’t tend to open until late in the evening, after the evening tea had been served and the children washed and put to bed.
This is said by way of observation of the times, without comment or judgement. Bars tended to have their own etiquette and rules, some common to all and some peculiar to the house you were in. On a first visit to a pub, a person was best advised to keep their head down, order their drink and respond, with geniality, to the colloquial openers, such as the state of the weather or one’s thirst. This way, one could ease themselves into the company without challenge or offense and then learn the pub’s own customs by acute and silent observation.
Sport, of course, was another good topic of conversation and a working knowledge of the top contenders in Gaelic football, hurling, rugby and football, enough to interject intelligently and occasionally, but never enough to invite contention or challenge.
Horses, too, were an essential ingredient in an interloper’s pub argot. To speak form and recent results could put one in good standing; to tip a winner could put you in prime position and the toast of the company.
Politics was avoided, unless it was among friends and fellow travelers, although a well informed acquaintance with the day’s headline stories, was always a good icebreaker. Jokes, too, were always good, as long as you didn’t start with one. Get the foot in the door, first, so to speak and, once people are smiling , throw in a joke.