Monday Night Open Mic: Plan B

March 2, 2009

Imagine if careers advisors suggested ‘bartender’ as the ideal profession for your child.

“Well, Mr. Smith, young Jimmy is basically a nerd, but with a bit of coaxing, I reckon he could develop a drink habit and an astonishing ability to withstand hangovers while essentially whoring himself for change from people who inevitably think they’re better than he is.
“I imagine his projected earnings would be somewhere in the ballpark of minimum wage, but he’d have tips on top of that.
“Excuse me? Sorry if I wasn’t clear. Tips would be related to the whoring, yes.”

I’ve been working full-time in a bar/brasserie/hotel/nightclub complex for about three years now. Before that, I spent somewhere north of two years working for a nationwide chain of food-serving pubs while at university. I’m still young – relatively speaking; among the staff at work I’m technically in the Ancient category (thankfully not in the Old/Creepy subset, so I’m told) – so there’s a chance that I could try a new profession in the future, but the hospitality industry looks like it’s become a career. Which was totally not the plan.

The plan wasn’t your normal sort of plan, lacking a part in which it was specifically planned, but I took my first bar job because I needed money and I took my current job because I needed money. There wasn’t a great deal of thinking, rather more, “I’m skint and they’ll take me,” followed by, “I’m skint and have a degree of experience.” And somehow, I’ve stayed in the industry, which is remarkable given that bars generally turnover staff quicker than suicide cults.

It’s incredibly hard work, for one. You’ll spend upwards of 10 hours on your feet and if you’re really lucky, the bouncemats will give you the knees of someone in their mid-70s. You’ll have to be outgoing and friendly to vast numbers of people that you would, given the choice, prefer to avoid (the percentage of customers that are actually nice is probably a good few zeroes down from the decimal point, though thankfully, so is the percentage of customers who are actually malicious), and you’ll have to help them reach a level of enjoyment and probably deal with them when they get past it. On top of that, there’s the cleaning – the normal stuff is bad enough before you let drunk people bleed and throw up on it; heavy lifting, because beer doesn’t move itself; the learning – the person who thinks a 70 drink cocktail list is a good idea is usually not the person who has to make those drinks. In the same round.

So, why stay? There’s better money to be made doing other things. Apparently, setting fire to £24bn can net you up to £700k a year – in retirement! Burning money’s way easier than tending a bar. But, after the first few hours, it’s nowhere near as interesting. I’ve lost count of all the people I’ve met at work, and that’s just staff. Some of the old-school staff reckon we’ve had upwards of 2,000 members of staff across all departments, which makes for some interesting social events. And then there’s the customers. Sure, staff bitch about them all the time. We mock them, give them stupid nicknames (shout out to Crazy Geordie Sailor Dude, Captain Narcolepsy, Big George, Little George and The Lady Who Basically Pays Our Part-time Wage Bill), and just occasionally, we do actually hate them. But they make the job amazing.

(Busy bar by S2 B, licensed under Creative Commons.)

Why? Because bars exist almost entirely to help people enjoy themselves.

Not because their owners are altruistic folk, but because happy people part with their money a good deal more easily than angry ones. And from that point of view, my job is to help people have fun.

You can’t knock that. Screw Plan A. Plan B’s magnificent.

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