Tuesday, July 3, 2018

:: hospitality in tiki ::

"I am a bartender and I'm full of shit, but that doesn't make me wrong," began Mike Neff at his "Hospitality in Tiki / The Business of Tiki" talk at Tiki by the Sea. Despite the title, it had nothing specific to do with Tiki but more to do with role of the bartender in hospitality and in making a living. In addition, he questioned the role of the drink making craft in the scheme of things.

Mike explained that the bottom line in bars is a bit boring but very important. All of the spreadsheets amount to the concept of "don't spend too much money but also not too little." The top line is more difficult for if there is a problem, we the bartenders are the problem. But we are also the solution. Taking a moment from this train of thought, Mike requested a piece of paper to demonstrate his paper airplane folding skills. He stopped speaking and began folding while making a few comments about how great of a paper plane maker he was. After he was finished, he launched the plane across the room. What was the point? We spend too much time looking down doing the craft of making good drinks that we forget why people were there. While he made a good plane, he stopped speaking to the audience as they got lost in his focus. Also, someone in the audience yelled out that he and his friends would like 10 of those. Mike continued on that "the [drink making] craft is part of what we sell but is not just what we sell. We sell escapism." Moreover, Mike paraphrased a quote as, "the drinks are free; the hospitality is what the guests pay for."

As for the finances in the transaction, there is a fee built into the price of the drink for the bartender to make it for the guest. The hospitality is where everything additional comes in. Mike explained that hospitality has been corrupted by Starbucks and their use of that fake "service voice." There is another step beyond that, and that is where there is a lot of money to be made. That layer is hard to name, but Mike stated that the closest is "humanity." He continued that he was not in this business to make friends but to make money, and figuring out how is key. For example, does the guest have to bring his own fun? Mike asked, when a single guys goes into a bar alone and orders a beer, what happens? Does he get entertained? Does he get a goodbye at the end?

Mike set up a scenario where a boss tells a bartender that a particular night of the week is slow and that they can have that night on a trial basis. The bartender has 6 weeks to work and make it busier, otherwise, they will give the night to someone else. It is nothing personal against that bartender, but it is just business. The answer is that the bartender needs "to be so goddamn awesome that people come back." Mike proffered that we have bred out the ability in the job. There are three good components to being a successful bartender: being really good looking, really funny, and really fast. You need at least two; if you have all three, you can work anywhere.

Harkening back to the paper aircraft moment, Mike described how we have made an entire generation of weenies. We taught them that everything important was in books. We taught them there was a purpose. And we made people famous, and they started forcing their staff to do it their way and thus created orthodoxies. Being a bartender is more than this for it is one of the most important jobs for humanity. A bartender can touch millions of people over their career, make tourists think fondly of their trip, and be part of a profession that is responsible for more pregnancies than any other one besides OB/GYN. Bartenders need to show humanity, and this is something that bartenders do not know until they have been at an establishment for years, served the same guests for long stretches of times, and integrated into the guests' lives. This is why Mike rarely looks at resume with less than a year at each establishment. Our guests "need to drink giggle juice, do it with [other] people, and do it with rhythm." A bartender's demeanor has the ability to screw up their guests' life from making their rare night out go poorly to ruining their romantic chances with their date.

Mike brought up the tale of a Jack Daniels rep whose drink of choice was said whiskey on the rocks with a side of a soda -- an order that can be acquired pretty much anywhere that stocks that nearly ubiquitous spirit. The question is why a guest like that should return to your bar? It all matters about what happens at that bar. Is the place one of those serving "paper planes" that can be tied down and taken out of the game with a large order? We train our guests to expect a greater amount of time on each drink build, on better ice and garnish, etc. to the point where the bartender cannot provide hospitality. And this also affects the degree to which the bartender can make money. Next, Mike enjoyed telling the story of how a few of his bartender-guests saw him free pouring instead of jiggering and told him that he is not making drinks right. Again and again, these same bartenders came to his bar and chastised his technique. Mike finally replied, "The difference is that you guys keep coming back to my bar and I don't come to yours."

Mike next defended the concept of tipping. What the boss gets per order is fixed, but we get to negotiate with the guest and figure out what they want. The good bartender will set the rhythm, and they need to get everyone to look at them. This level of respect avoids the frequency of calling guests out for their behavior. He also noted that if one of the guests realizes that they outnumber the bartender, we as bartenders are in trouble, so that level of control is crucial. It is also important to have your guests see you as a human being. Our tipping structure, as flawed as it is, is worth keeping. The hourly a bartender receives is merely so they turn on the lights and not steal from the boss. With tips, the bartender can have a side deal with the guests. Bartending is a job of both sales and production, and it is one of the few professions where workers craft their own stuff and sell it as well.

Making a cocktail is a gift -- it is something that the bartender constructed with their hands and that the guest is going to put into their mouth. That is intimate. So the first thing that you should say after presenting the drink should not be about money. It could be a few of the ingredients or it could be exclaiming "Shazzam!"; regardless, make them realize the value of it. Even when making bespoken drinks, other than asking the regular questions like stirred or shaken, ask something like "Superman or Wonder Woman?" Why? Because now you know the guest better than before, and that guest will be more likely to return. They will feel that the drink is more attuned to them. Mike asserted, "I cannot make a transformative cocktail unless I love you."

Mike pleaded that bartenders not be dicks. "If you're going to be a dick, be a big dick... [be] the Dick." People do seek out that experience of an abusive staff known for their antics, but anything less than that is unfortunate. Whatever you do, you need to be a real person. Mike disclosed that the game is knowing the guest's name. And secondly, what profession and other things that they do in the world. "We have an ability that is close to magic. We have the ability to flip switches in their minds to change the way [the guest] thinks." While it is important what is in the drink itself, it is merely a vehicle for what we do. In the end, it all about the people.

In terms of knowledge, no manager hears, "I have read all these books and know how to use a jigger" and replies, "Cool... you get to work Saturday nights!" Overall, knowing about movies is more important than knowing about piscos. Mike finished up with the fact that bartenders "are micro-dosing love -- it's a powerful thing. This generation is born with supercomputers in their pockets... and they can always drink at home." Getting them to leave their home and return to your bar is the goal of every shift.

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