Below is a guest post from a Charleston bartender who had to remain anonymous for reasons that will quickly become clear. The views, opinions, and positions expressed by the author, do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of Holy City Sinner.
I absolutely love Charleston. Having moved here several years ago from a big city, I found the hospitality, warmth, cost of living and quality of life to be an amazing change. Having bartended in several large cities, including LA and New York, when I took my first bartending job down here, I assumed that, like with everything else, I’d be pleasantly surprised. That the people here would be friendlier, more patient, and engage me in that southern hospitality and slowed-down pace I had heard so much about.
Man, was I wrong.
There are things bartenders and servers — a group that collectively makes up probably half of the people on the peninsula at any given moment in the day — wish they could say. To customers. To their bosses. To people waiting in line and most importantly, the people writing anonymous Yelp reviews like the cowards they are.
But we can’t. Because while southern hospitality clearly has no bearing on how customers treat us, we have to abide by it regardless of what it might take from us.
I love bartending. I used to love it a lot more. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, wiser, less patient. Maybe it’s because I have another job that gives me a different sense of pride and doesn’t force me to bow down to impatient, entitled customers. Maybe it’s because I refuse to let someone walk all over me or speak down to me for the almighty two dollar tip.
Whatever it is, the last month or so (and more than likely, the next month or so) has brought me here. To writing this. Because for the three times in the last month I’ve come home and cried over work related/customer related things, I realized it’s time to fight back, even if just a little bit.
So on behalf of most of the bartenders and servers I know (with exception to those who make kissing ass their second job and never deign to complain about anything that might bother them as a person in this industry, because apparently F&B people shouldn’t have the right to get upset about work), I give you ten things the F&B community wishes the Charleston community would remember when they walk into a restaurant/bar.
- Tipping. It’s not a suggestion. It’s 2017. There have been think pieces, news segments, TV shows, movies, and Facebook posts that have discussed, reiterated, explained, and supported the fact that a 20% tip should be standard across the board for a server or bartender. This power you like to hold over your servers, like somehow your opinion should even matter when it comes to whether or not a server can pay their rent, or whether a server can make a car payment if you’re feeling particularly cheap that dinner, is not real. Servers and bartenders make maybe three dollars an hour. Service charge is what covers the rest of their paycheck. And while you’re going to argue and say “that’s not my fault, talk to your bosses about actually paying you more”, delightfully proving you're stupid enough to not realize that if our bosses paid us more, it’d still mean you’d be paying us more, your argument is moot and you should just admit you’re cheap. If a bartender is busy, and they get to you, tip them. Tip them well even if it’s for just one drink. They took time away from someone else — someone who might tip them twenty dollars — to get your one glass of wine or beer or three waters so you don’t have to wait. That’s called service, that’s what we get paid for, that’s what YOU pay for. 20% isn’t unreasonable, it isn’t unaffordable, and if it is, it means you shouldn't be drinking or eating out. If you can’t afford to pay for the service you're receiving, you should either stay home and cook and prepare your own drinks, or wear a sign on your chest that says "I’m cheap and won’t tip” so that we know not to waste our time and energy on you and not get paid. This isn’t a debate. This isn’t an argument. If you find it acceptable to allow servers and bartenders to work for free because of loopholes in the current system, you aren’t a savvy spender, you’re a cheap asshole. At least own it.
- Twenty one is still the legal age to drink alcohol. College kids, I get it. You’re amazing, you know everything you could possibly know in the world, you took a really hard economics class AND a women’s studies class, so you understand everything. Your parents even let you get your own credit card this year to start building credit. You’re totally like, an adult. And your adult ass wants to go to an adult bar and drink an adult beverage before you go to that super adult frat formal. That’s fine. But if you’re not 21, stop arguing about it. If a bar doesn’t serve you, or let you in with your fake ID that says your name is Chung Lee when you’re real name is Mike Smith, get the fuck over it. Grow up. As for the actual 21 year olds, when we ask you for your ID, stop acting like I just demanded you donate your first born child to ISIS. I get it, you turned 21 like, a whole month ago, and clearly I, as a bartender, should see you as the adult you are. All I see is a spoiled brat in an outfit from Forever 21 paying with their parents’ credit card and tipping fifty cents (if even). I’m in my 30’s, and when I get carded, I’m thrilled. That’s how you know someone is actually over the age of 21. They don’t act like being carded is somehow an insult to their super adult-y identity. You’ve been 21 for six whole minutes. I’m carding you because if I don’t, there’s a good possibility SLED will fine the shit out of me, and I don’t want to hawk over thousands of dollars because you think even though you were 20 just four days ago, insinuating you MIGHT not be 21 is like, the biggest insult ever.
- I’m a server, not a servant. I was raised to say please and thank you. And when I moved to the south, I was told by so many that "yes ma’am, "no sir," "please," "thank you," graciousness, and humility were southern priorities instilled in southern children from birth. Apparently, none of that shit applies when you southerners are engaging with a server or bartender. I get it — you look at us like we’re less than you, servants, the help. We aren’t even real people. So the basic rules of human decency simply don’t apply here. Wrong. The “customer’s always right” motto you heard for so long, I hate to break it to you, it’s been debunked. Your regional sales manager job isn’t exactly the same as Attorney General of the United States. Stop acting like you are better than me just because I’m a server or bartender. "Please" and "thank you" still apply here. “Get me a gin and tonic” isn’t the right answer to “Hi, how are you?”. “I want” or “give me” isn’t how your mother taught you to ask for things, and if it is, she’s a shitty mother. You have no idea who I am, what I do, what I’ve done, what I’ve seen, and where I’ll be in a year. It is not my job to allow you to treat me like shit so you feel important. Trust me, I don’t get paid nearly enough to even entertain the idea of letting someone, be they a college student with daddy’s credit card and a real Louis Vuitton purse, a drunken cast member on a trashy reality show, a super rich bro on a bachelor party, or a down home South of Broad housewife, treat me like I owe them something, like they are better than me, like they are entitled to treat me poorly because of a job I have on Saturday nights. Trust me when I say, we remember the bad ones. And the internet is a fun place to expose them.
- We have hours of operation for a reason. Do you hang out in CVS until 7:45 if the sign says they close at 7? Do you bitch and complain when you get to the door of Home Depot and realize they shut down for the day? Do you throw a fit and demand your dentist stay open later for you because your friend is in town and you NEED to have whiter teeth for photos? Do you write bad Yelp reviews about your kid’s pediatrician if you are too stupid to Google their hours of operation and show up at 7:30 when they close at 6? So why exactly do you get SO mad when servers and bartenders stick to THEIR hours of operation? Why do you think food and beverages somehow give you a magically sliding scale to determine on your own when a restaurant should close down? I know this comes as a shock to you, but we (the managers, the bartenders, the servers, bussers, cooks and dishwashers) all have lives too. We sign up for a job sometimes based on its hours because we have kids, elderly parents, dogs, or second jobs. So when you proceed to try to sit at a bar for an hour with an empty glass talking to like, "oh my god your best friend ever that you haven't seen in like, ten years, oh my god," yeah, we’re going to be pretty pissed. You aren’t tipping us, we are making no money off of you, and more than likely we have to wait to start cleaning and breaking down for you to leave, which only adds extra hours to our day. It’s called Google. My 64-year-old mother knows how to use it. Look up the hours of operation, and don’t come in six minutes before closing demanding a three course meal, a bottle of wine, or a slow-sipping bourbon. And if you have a problem with that, please let me know which real estate firm you work at, which law firm you clerk at, which high end clothing store you own, and I’ll be sure to come in a few minutes before closing, buy nothing, waste your time, prevent you from closing, and then write a bad review about how I felt “rushed” in my experience because you refused to change your set-in-stone hours for my own lack of self awareness. We don’t make the rules, we just follow them. So asking us to open or close earlier or later for you, isn’t a rational, reasonable request. You are not Queen Elizabeth, and even if you were, I’d still tell you we open in a half hour or that we just called last call. Stop acting like you are so important that businesses should literally allow the sun to rise and set on your whims.
- Yelp is for cowards. Anyone who has ever worked in a job that deals with the public knows that Yelp is a scam. It’s like the mafia, but with a webpage. If you haven’t watched the South Park episode about Yelp and those who utilize it, I suggest you do. Immediately. As a customer myself, I never take negative reviews seriously on Yelp. Because I have been in this industry long enough to know customers see, hear, and think only what they want, facts be damned. Everyone wants to be the victim, and if something irritates you, you’re going to make some hyperbolic story about how the person who served you was really Jeffrey Dahmer reincarnate, or at least that’s what it felt like because he was SO rude. The reality, of course, being that your server simply said we don’t have a cheese plate on our menu, and how dare a server tell you he can’t find cheese and put it on a plate for you, even if you’re eating in a vegan restaurant. The customer is always right and you are IMPORTANT! You don’t read menus, you don’t use menus, you make up your own because you are so special and important, you have that desk in that IT company in Summerville that says “manager” on it. Yelp is for cowards to hide behind anonymity and rip into a business and its employees if they don’t treat you like a God damn pharaoh. It’s the epitome of special snowflaking. You don’t care that you could ruin someone’s livelihood, or get them fired, you just know that you were SO offended you don’t even WANT to give one star, but Yelp is forcing you to (you’re going to Yelp about Yelp after this too!). You act like you have any idea what goes on in the kitchen, how busy a restaurant really is ("they only had four tables, they couldn’t have been THAT busy”, meanwhile the kitchen is short 2 guys and literally on fire), that your server is somehow colluding with the kitchen to make your food take longer because they are awful people, and actually, you know what? That food you didn’t like? Your server cooked it too. It’s their fault. So Yelp about how terrible your server was because the food wasn’t cooked well enough for you. I find it terribly funny that very few people ever Yelp about the good shit. I always Yelp about the good shit. And if something at a restaurant bothers me, I don’t write a review like I’m Hannah fucking Raskin. I just don’t go back there. I don’t call out a waitress by name, or act like the executive chef himself assaulted me and took my iPhone because the steak was medium, not medium rare. If you use Yelp for bad reviews, at the very least grow a pair of balls and put your whole name in your account. You won’t, because like the internet troll you are, anonymity gives you a sense of security to be an asshole you would never be in real life. The reality is, in this day and age, we laugh at your reviews, because we know the truth about what happened. And with more and more managers stepping up to the plate and defending their establishments, chefs, servers, bartenders and FOH staff from bullshit lies by telling the REAL story in a Yelp response, instead of kissing your ass and offering you a discount on your next meal, the reality is Yelp will last only so long. So enjoy it while you can.
- Patience is still a virtue. My grandma used to say that. She’s dead, but guess what? It still applies. If you are in a very busy bar or restaurant, patience will get you a lot farther in life than waving someone down, rolling your eyes, looking pissed off or not tipping. We see you. Whether we’re a server or a bartender, we see you, we know what’s up. We get you’re waiting, but, shocking as this may be, I only have two hands and can usually only make so many drinks at a time. When you’re feeling pissed off, I mean, oh my God you had to wait four whole minutes for the bartender to acknowledge you, look around you. Is the place total chaos? Is it clear maybe they’re understaffed, someone called out sick, too many people came in at once, a five top turned into an eleven top, they’re by themselves? Then wait. And if you don’t want to wait, go somewhere else. I have been in so many situations, especially this time of year, where people refuse to acknowledge the reality of the situation, which is sometimes I’m behind a bar by myself with literally 40 people waiting to be served, plus a service well for the servers. Sometimes, people are going to have to wait. And acting like you’re the only person in the bar who should be acknowledged and served isn’t going to help you and it certainly isn’t going to effect me. If a place is slammed, and your time is just too important to be told “we’ll be right with you”, go somewhere else, seriously. Your 2 dollar tip won’t make or break my bank account, I swear.
- It’s called VENMO. Dear bachelor and bachelorette parties. I get it. You’re here to celebrate the idea that you will TOTALLY not be part of the 50% of the population that gets divorced. You and eighteen of your closest friends, all of whom you’re forcing to wear stupid hats or penis necklaces because that’s what friends are for, are rolling through Charleston to celebrate your impending marriage. That’s great. Here’s the thing though. If you’re going to order eighteen drinks, maybe take a look around and realize that’s pretty fucking time consuming. And doing eighteen separate checks isn’t necessary and to be honest, it isn’t appropriate. You organized this extravaganza? Organize how to pay for it, too. Venmo is your new best friend. Let one or two people split the tab, and then work out the specifics and send each other the money. Because when I make eleven of the most complicated drinks on the menu, taking up easily 15 minutes of time away from other customers who will probably tip me better, then spend another 10 minutes splitting the checks only to get a one dollar tip on every one of them even though the collective bill was 170 dollars, it’s really fucking rude. If you are all too cheap to buy each other a round, then have a bachelor party at your house, get three bottles of Barefoot wine and watch Netflix for free. I don’t know what to tell you. And this goes for more than just the bachelor and bachelorette parties. Ladies, especially you freshly minted 21 year olds, when you travel in packs of sorority sisters to bars, figure out a way to not make the bartender want to rip her hair out by paying for stuff all together, or at the very least, splitting the bill evenly. If Jenny’s beer is 6 dollars and Maggie’s drink is 8, I’m sure you can find a way to cope with the two dollar disparity. It’s much easier to split checks evenly than going through and splitting items individually. Be an adult, stop proudly waving your cheapness around like a flag for the world to see, and step up and take care of tabs up front and deal with the specifics later.
- Last call. If I’m calling last call, there’s something implied there. Last call means “we’re closing pretty soon” which means I’ve probably started putting stuff away. Which means ordering the cocktail with 22 ingredients and fresh fruit at 1:30AM isn’t an option. If you walk into a bar and they’re calling last call, or called last call but are kind enough to get you a quick drink, beer or wine. Maybe liquor and a mixer, but preferably something off the gun. Does the bar look like it’s been broken down? Yes? Than maybe don’t order the muddled raspberry mojito with the mint simple syrup and the double strained foam on top. Maybe order a Heineken. And, if you do insist on being the asshole who orders a cucumber Cadillac margarita with extra salt and lime two minutes before closing, at least tip well. The dollar you gave me for pulling out every syrup, the muddler, the shakers and the fruit from their respective bedtime places, isn’t worth the trouble.
- Know where you’re drinking. Ok, different establishments call for different etiquette. I know I’m not gonna end up spending the same amount of money at Burns Alley as I would The Dewberry. I also probably wouldn’t order the same kind of drinks. Are you going into High Cotton and ordering five red headed slut shots ten ways? I really fucking hope not. Are you going into ACs and ordering a Stolil elite dirty martini up or a Don Julio 1942 neat? Godspeed, my friend. Look around you and realize that different bars cater to different environments. Which also means different pricing. I know it’s hard to fathom, but a glass of wine at Grill 225 isn’t going to be the same price as a glass of wine at Juanitas. If you’re going to a high end bar, realize the pricing is going to be higher, if you’re going to a dive bar, it’ll probably be lower. It’s the most basic knowledge ever. And if you’re the type to bitch about pricing, realize the bartenders and servers don’t set the prices. I know we look super important, and honestly I’m flattered that you think I make those kinds of major decisions, but I don’t set the prices for the cocktails, the wine, the beer or the food, and no, I can’t change it for you. No, I don’t care that you just paid two dollars less at another restaurant, and no, I can’t help you by talking to a manager about it. And no, skipping out on the tip is NOT a reasonable response to a high priced bill. If you can’t afford to hang out in high end establishments, don’t. But to be honest, if you’re going to be that cheap and pissy about the prices, don’t go bother my friends who work in dive bars either. They don’t need your shit.
- Respect. It’s sad that I have to list this as something we wish customers knew, but I do. Respect us. Treat us like humans. Like people. Remember that we are someone’s family, someone’s friends. Someone’s son, someone’s daughter. Treat us with respect, and I promise you’ll get it back ten fold, because there is nothing a server or bartender loves more than a good customer. Someone who is patient, kind, and gracious, will get drinks a lot faster, apologies for long wait times a lot easier, and comped rounds a lot more frequently than the person who has a toddler temper tantrum over their vodka drink being tonic, not soda. While we can’t always stand up for ourselves against rude, unfriendly, ungrateful, nit picky, condescending asshole customers, it doesn’t mean you should take advantage of that and be all of those things. Be kind to people. Because if you don’t think we’re all keeping a running list of the names on the credit cards of the people who stiff us, are rude to us, write bad Yelp reviews, or treat us poorly, to use once we quit our respective jobs and let the internet know how awful a person you are…. well, then just keep tipping 10% and see how that works out for you in the future.