Why The Bartender?


After restaurant meals we tip our server, the individual directly responsible for a pleasant experience. That server “tips out” the kitchen, hostess, bus people, bar and so on. Popped in for a cocktail – we leave the bartender a couple bucks. Tip the valet, coat check, washroom attendant – we recognize unspoken gratuity parameters.

Where polite acknowledgement goes the moment people attend catered events is beyond me. For some reason, every last expression of gratitude goes to the bartender.

Take tonight for example. With multiple events taking place, I found myself in a private home, managing a 70th birthday party with upwards of 70 guests. Multiple events spread our staff thin, translation – my chef and I had to rely on 2 temp agency staff scheduled to meet us on site. Arriving half an hour before their start time, we get to work unloading our truck, rolling tables in place, setting out chairs.

Five, now ten minutes late, I call the agency. Unsure if they’ll make it, now I’m setting up the bar, hauling racks of glassware, beer and wine, and setting up a water station as guests trickle in early. Half an hour late, two bewildered looking women arrive with their driver. Driver immediately compensates for their rather limited grasp of the English language with – we got lost, what time are they off and the bartender doesn’t know how to open wine could you do it for her.

Bartender immediately puts the red wine on ice. Oh my. Have you ever tended bar? “I’ve poured wine at hotel banquets” she replies. Can you pour beer into a glass? Bartender’s face lights up – “I’ve seen it done, you tip the glass a little, right?”. All I can politely muster is “give them the bottle unless they ask for a glass”. I uncork six bottles of wine and hope for the best.

My chef is in the weeds, I should have been helping him organize the kitchen. Our client indicated a few guests would bring food he’d like us to platter and pass. All we could do was exchange silent WTF’s as every last guest cheerfully plonked contributions on the counter. The merciful deposited frilly toothpicks strung with seafood or deli staples. Far too many good intentions arrived with assembly required. “Turn this baguette into crustini, spread it with guacamole, top with poached prawn and decorate with cherry tomato halves and petals of edible flowers”.

Oh shit, the bar! I run outside to find temp one and two debating possible ways of extracting a wine cork in light of a hinged corkscrew. Hard to say which caught my attention first – the bemused guest audience or valiant temp effort. Gotta hand it to those temps, man they wanted to open that bottle. “Where’s your bartenders tip jar?”  slurs one of the guests. “She’s doing a great job, let her have a tip jar”.

My chef hasn’t stopped in six hours, the yard is littered with empty glasses and kitchen looks like a bomb went off. I haven’t stopped moving, patience is becoming a premium and server temp now prefers offering moral support to bartender temp over bussing dirty dishes.

“I want to tip your bartender, where’s the tip jar – your bartender is working so hard”. “Thank you” I reply, that’s very kind.

What is it with bartenders? Did anyone think of the chef or notice temp couldn’t tend bar if her life depended on it? Why doesn’t it occur to anyone to tip the chef? His cheerful competence soldiered for stoic hours. I sent temp one and temp two home at 10 pm. Chef and I took down the tables, stacked chairs, cleaned the kitchen, loaded our truck, drove back to the shop and signed out after 12 hours of relentless shenanigans.

The next time you attend a wedding or catered party – look beyond the bartender. It takes much more than a bartender to make a party fabulous.