A few weeks ago, I left my part-time job as a bartender. Few of us aspire to eke out a living in the F&B industry, for the simple fact that it is notoriously difficult to rise through the ranks. Also, this journey involves a large degree of grueling menial work – the very thing we’ve studied so hard to avoid. But I have a soft spot for the F&B, due to some inexplicable satisfaction derived from providing impeccable service to make someone’s night out better.
I was there for barely 3 months. It might not sound like a long time, but it was my second job. 5 days a week I work in an office, and on my 2 off days, I’d spend all night slugging it out at the bar. To say it was tiring would be a gross understatement.
But the experience will probably stay with me for quite a while. The job didn’t quite pan out as well as I’d expected, because the F&B industry is, at the end of the day, operations-centric. They’d let a newbie mix, but only during lulls – and there’s no such thing as Friday Night Lull in a bar. I did have tons of fun making many cocktails, from martinis to mojitos, daiquiris to margaritas, and even alcoholic coffees. Virgin, half ice, sugar-free, double shot; you name it, I’d make it. I tapped keg after keg of beer. But that load spread over 3 months works out to be only about 10-15 cocktails a day, which was far from what I was looking for.
I wanted 50 cocktails a day. I wanted to be Main Man, behind the counter, not Occasional Visitor whose primary job was delivering drinks. But operational efficiency was the catchphrase of the day, everyday. So I decided to leave.
But it’s not that which I want to immortalize in writing; it’s the innumerable nonsensical situations that I faced. Some are longer stories, and some are one-liners. For all the “educated” or rich (or both) people out there who have never tried a F&B job (this is already my second and I doubt it’ll be my last), I think you’ve shortchanged yourself, for F&B is one of the most colourful and eye-opening industries the world has to offer. The icing on the cake is that Client is often as rich and as successful as we would like to see ourselves be in time to come – exactly what makes all these lessons so poignant.
So here are some of my more interesting encounters, in no particular order:
1) “Can I have some ice for the wine?” Had to explain (with different words) that Baron Rothschild would roll in his grave if he saw ice cubes swimming in a glass of Château Lafite.
2) “Why didn’t he serve me?” Had to explain the ladies first rule to a man, in front of his wife and daughters.
3) “Can you make the wine warmer?” followed by “How did you make the wine warmer?” Had to explain how our supervisor hugged the wine bottle to his chest for 10 minutes, leaving out the colorful language unleashed in that time.
4) “Can you take the ice out of the mojito?”
5) An order came for a warm coke, a coke with 2 ice cubes and a normal iced coke. Upon serving, I was told by the 2-ice girl that she wanted a bucket of ice. Upon fetching the bucket of ice, I was told to "get that thing away from [her]". That Thing was the paper wrapper of the straw that she had just opened, and she was gesturing like it was a dead lizard with leprosy.
Still at the table, I eavesdropped on a debate as to whether the warm coke needed two or three ice cubes, watching the mother touch the glass with 2 fingers to gauge its exact temperature. Well, māṁ, it looks like the coke has to be 28.7C. Anything hotter and throats burn, anything cooler and your son will die of a coughing fit.
6) A man sits down and takes out 4 Blackberries from his pocket, and proceeds to line them up in a row. Did I forget? This guy is the patriach of the family in number 5.
7) “Bring me the rest of the can (of coke)” This is so classic, and yet it happens at least once a week. For the record, I work in a bar where the average tab is S$150 per head, where Aventadors and MP4-12Cs are regular visitors to the carpark.
8) A particularly fickle man who ordered a double shot whisky on the rocks with a side of water, poured too much water and insisted we had given melted ice.
9) “Why are you taking so long to clear the table?” Because one person only has two hands yea?
10) A bizarre lady who sought compensation for her shoes ruined by a thunderstorm, on the grounds that there was no covered walkway between the road and the restaurant.
11) An attention-deprived lady who commented loudly onthe aesthetics of each drink I carried past her, but each time I stopped to give her an explanation, she insisted she was not interested. About 10 drink explanations later, she eventually ordered one drink - a strawberry mojito - to be shared amongst her three friends.
12) “See, how sharp am I, I know that there’s some wine left inside the bottle!” A lady who ordered me to tip the bottle upside down over her friend’s empty glass before I took it away, despite my insistence that there wouldn’t even be enough for her friend to take a mouthful.
The best part? 6 drops dripped out, one by one. Drip drip drip, drip, drip…drip.
13) The women (lady was misused) from 10 to 12 are actually all the same frightful and particularly peculiar person.
14) An especially fun night where a man pretended to do a magic trick with me as his impromptu assistant. His sole aim was to slip me his credit card without his friend’s knowledge because it was his treat.
15) “What are you going to do if I say it tastes absolutely horrible and makes me sick to my stomach?” A man, jokingly, when asked if he liked the tasting portion of a bottle of wine.
16) “It’s too warm and it tastes absolutely nasty. Get me a new one.” A grumpy man, seriously, when asked if he liked the tasting portion.
17) “I would very much like a triple shot, but that’s something my wife would very much not like.” One particular married man, but this could potentially come from any married man.
18) “I think it’s quite fruity. A bit dry.” An 8 year old girl receiving wine training from Daddy.
19) “If I have another pint, sir, my wife will have to carry me home. She doesn’t like doing that.” Possibly the most creative way to turn down what the industry terms as upselling, the act of forcibly recommending upon an unwitting customer another dish or drink for the sole purpose of profit.
20) After a scolding session by a superior, a senior colleague dropped two coconuts on the floor, and we had no choice but to consume them. Dropped.
21) “Cheers, Bing. It’s been a long week for all of us.” This was my best day. A complete stranger and her two friends offered me a drink, invited me for a toast, asked about my life and sent me on my way. She’d read the name off my minuscule nametag in the 4 times I brought rounds of drinks to her.
There are truckloads of other stories about bizarre customers, and also of good times, but I cannot recall them all.
What I do remember, though, is how many of my foreigner co-workers are degree-holders back home who have come here to earn money to support their families. They are so humble you wouldn’t have known unless you asked. To top it off, many of them are very poor, to the point where they will eat nothing more than rice with sauce because it’s what the restaurant provides for free. But these same people will never hesitate to offer you their food, drinks, muscle, time or anything that they happen to have at all, to make you happier and your job easier.
The biggest takeaway I had is that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how ‘successful’ you are if you are obnoxious, uncultured or just plain cocky. It’s a shame if you have to wave it in the faces of others before they can tell that you have what you have, or are who you are. I’ve met people drinking expensive wines who courteously asked if I was having a busy evening as I served their cocktails, as well as people with the keys to their Ferrari on the table asking me to bring the rest of the coke.
All in, I must tout that a job in F&B will give you fresh and possibly startling insights into the various types of people who exist in this world. It will humble you, yet it will teach you so much you could never learn elsewhere. It is hard menial labor, but it is hard menial labor you’ll probably never do again after university. Bankers, Doctors, Lawyers or Politicians you may aspire to be, but between an internship running coffee at a bank and a job running coffee in a restaurant, I think the latter offers an unparalleled wealth of experience you cannot really get anywhere else. You’ve got to try it once.
If anything, you’ll know to treat your waiters properly the next time round.