You Give Booze A Bad Name

by Francine Cohen

Why is now the right time for a deep look into some unpleasant things impacting the spirits industry? Let’s chalk it up to the fact that school is well in session and Jewish people the world over just concluded a period of deep reflection during Yom Kippur and so, we’re inspired to learn something about ourselves too.

It’s something that’s sparked quite a bit of conversation over the last few months and it goes well beyond the discussion of bartender versus mixologist and how to be hospitable and guest focused.  Right now, before it's too late and you before you detonate your future, it's time to talk about professionalism.

Too many reports and comments have come back following big and small industry events indicating there's a serious lack of professionalism out there.   Recently we overheard one group of bartenders, who previously had been seen as influencers and gatekeepers to brand success after being courted and brought on board to help spread the word, derisively described as, “a group of people that go from free event to free event.”  That doesn’t say much about their usefulness, now does it?

The fact that comments like that are being made about your colleagues (and possibly you?) makes it obvious that this kind of behavior is bothersome to those noting it.  And that's not okay.  In fact, it's a warning sign.  And one that should be heeded.  If folks within the industry are behaving in such a way that makes their colleagues uncomfortable, imagine the message it is sending to guests and employers; the folks who impact your way of life (i.e. your bank balance).

Certainly not all that interesting a thought for someone early on in their career, or even a few years in.  For this is supposed to be a fun job, right?  Where you can drink and drink and hang out with friends and have a good time and be the hostess with the mostess behind the bar every night, right?  But think ahead a few years.  And consider moderation.  Why are we not exhibiting the same responsible drinking guidelines amongst ourselves that we apply to our guests?  Do you really want people saying about you/the industry what this veteran bartender said, “These people seem proud to be drinking until they black out and can’t remember anything.  It’s not healthy, but it seems to be the direction this industry is going what with all these crazy ‘cocktail weeks’ that are an excuse to drink your face off in various cities.  Tales, contests, even Speed Rack seemed messy and crazy to me. Is it just me?” 

Definitely not, oh one who has been behind the bar for a while.  We’re hearing it from many others too.  Lynn House, at Blackbird in Chicago comments, “Boy oh boy have I seen and experienced some really bad behavior.  I think what is happening is that there is real lack of awareness of how hard so many have worked to get this industry where it is today.  Today there is so much information available and that is great.  However I have had way too many youngtenders sit at my bar and act like just because they read a few books, they can now be judge and jury.  Bartending is so much more then memorizing a few recipes.  When I go to a lot of their bars it's a cold, pretentious reception.  The art of true hospitality is getting ignored.” 

She continues to talk about some disturbing things she’s experienced beyond a lack of graciousness at the bar and notes, “I also tend to avoid the big liquor sponsor events because in many cases they are turning into a drunk fest. This is a very public business; and yes, it's great to be treated to a wonderful event, but the kids need to realize it's more than just free booze.”

 Lynn’s colleagues Bridget Albert and Kyle McHugh created a viable alternative as she explains, “Here in Chicago we have formed the Chicago Professional Bartenders Roundtable.  We meet once a month, it is open to all and free and void of liquor sponsors.  The topics vary.  It's used as a tool to better the community.  However a subject that frequently comes up is Bar Behavior - Honor your RSVPs or send regrets if you can't make it, behave properly in other bars or at events, and don't think a sponsored night means you get to take all the booze home with you.”

Continuously behaving in a manner that disturbs House and her colleagues guarantees you’ll take nothing home with you but booze and a hangover.  Certainly not the respect of your colleagues and potential employers who could eventually lead you to more professional success.  House concludes, “I personally feel that this second spirit renaissance is in its adolescent years.  As such theirs is a lot of misguided behavior.  How people deal with it and how they evolve will be what separates the true professionals from the rest.”

Taking a page from celebrities who are always in the spotlight and understanding that whether or not they get a movie deal is often predicated on whether or not someone is willing to overlook their past behavior and hire them now, maybe this Fall is a good time to hold a mirror up to how you approach your job and determine whether this behavior is going to lead to just a few years of fun, or a lifetime of good fortune through hard work that's rewarded by great experiences along the way. 

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