Dr. Drink's Apothecary

Because we serve people, not drinks.

Shameful Bartending: How Hubris & Arrogance is Replacing Hospitality

The voices started a couple of years ago. The voices got louder and began to swell. Now, it’s a roar. The guest is angry. Pitchfork and torches angry. Bartenders have become self involved, mean-spirited, talk too much, snobby snob, fancy panted mixologists… or bar chefs… or cocktail artists. Polite conversation and warm welcome has been replaced with diatribes on ice dilution and the hauteness of  hollywood princesses. Hubris and arrogance have replaced hospitality. What have we created in the blind pursuit of our craft and at the expense of the guest? Excuse me Dr. Frankenstein, but your monster is loose.

The following was posted recently by Sean Kenyon, a Rasputin bearded, third generation bartender out of Denver:

“I was recently enjoying a drink at a cocktail bar. The guest next to me, who was probably in his early 50’s, asked the bartender if they had Jello shots. To which the bartender snottily replied “ABSOLUTELY not” (a simple no would have sufficed). Undeterred, the guest then ordered 8 mixed shots for him and his group of 7 women in their 40’s and 50’s. The bartender’s response to that request? Eight shots consisting of a mix of Green Chartreuse, Lemon Hart 151 & lime juice. Two overproof spirits & citrus? Was he punishing them for daring to order mixed shots or Jello shots? Not one person finished any of those shots (there was a lot of funny faces made) and the smarmy barkeep gladly charged them full price for all. This is a classic example of the bad direction that our craft is headed. The bartender let his ego get in the way of making his guests happy, and was more concerned about his needs than his guests. Shame.”

OBEYDisturbing. A fireable offense. But not surprising. The guest has become the enemy; it used to be Front of House vs. Kitchen. I had a conversation last month with a Chef/Owner friend of mine about the animosity towards the guest and this is what he had to say:

“I don’t know what has changed; when servers and bartenders are in the kitchen, all they do is bitch about the guest. They hate them. Didn’t they know that there was going to be assholes in the restaurant tonight when they got into car to come to work? Professionals do, they still welcome them and give great service.”

Which brings me to how I see bartenders treat their colleagues. With disrespect. With animosity. Mixologists above Flair. Flair above Mules. Everybody above Beertenders. Even large market vs. small market. Here is what a colleague said to me over the weekend:

“Tales of the Cocktail felt different this year. I was disappointed at the attitude of bartenders I met from the East Coast, West Coast, and bigger markets like Houston and Miami. They acted as though I wasn’t relevant.”

This from a bartender who was an invited speaker at Tales. And whose bar has been nominated for an award at Tales the past two years in a row for its cocktail program. And who has a book coming out this fall. He marked it up to working in a mid-size market and the hubris of those who choose to work in major markets. He might not be too far off base. This is what one of my friends told me after he returned from a major cocktail competition this summer:

“Jane [name changed to protect the arrogant] told me I really needed to get out of  Cleveland if I’m going to make a name for myself in this business.”

Wow. Really? I hope “Jane” realizes that we bartenders are sort of like poets; those who “have made a name” for themselves in our business are only famous to us, the rest of the world doesn’t care. Except for the guest. And they’re at the castle gates Dr. Frankenstein, and they’re pissed.

Author’s note: The article Shameful Bartending: How Hubris & Arrogance is Replacing Hospitality has taken on a life of its own, much like Frankenstein’s monster . Thousands of people all over the world have read it and many felt the need to share it with their friends. I hope more of you choose to share  Angels Among Devils. It’s more important. 



48 comments on “Shameful Bartending: How Hubris & Arrogance is Replacing Hospitality

  1. nicolebarker
    September 14, 2012

    We belong to the greatest profession in the world– we provide the party, harbor the guilty and campaign for the one night stand. Bartenders are the best of the worst and the worst of the best. To be self serving is by financial definition, counter productive. Be true to the identity of your concept, but be hospitable first. Love your profession and hate the annoying guests behind the scenes. Arrogance is only perceived as assholishness. The average guest could give a flying fuck about how your favorite gin is distilled. You are supposed to be having fun and facilitating the party, not teaching a class. Drink and be merry, everyone else will appreciate it :)

  2. The Liquid Culture Project
    September 14, 2012

    I’m active on Instagram and have found a wonderful little community of mixology lovers residing there. They come from all over: Philly, D.C., NYC, LA. It’s not one of these “big-market” territories that dominates the scene there, however; in my opinion the most intriguing cocktails, those pushing boundaries and having fun doing it, are from the tight-knit group of barkeeps from Sacramento. They do great things and they exude great hospitality, even on IG.

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 15, 2012

      Thanks as always for contributing. I think talented and hospitable bartenders exist everywhere. I was in a bowling alley bar in Naples, Florida several years ago and I noticed the bartender doing small flair moves to keep himself occupied on a slow night. So I asked him if he was a flair bartender. Turns out he was, in fact, a really good flair bartender. Has competed at Legends good. He was on break from college and staying with his parents, hence the gig at the bowling alley. He thought it was fairly amusing that no one at the bowling alley knew about his talents and he didn’t care, he just liked bartending and serving people.

      By the way, I truly love the photography on your site. Cheers.

      • The Liquid Culture Project
        September 18, 2012

        It’s the love that makes a good bartender — he obviously had it. Thanks for the comment on the photography and keep bringing your knowledge! We appreciate it!

    • Andrew Calisterio
      September 20, 2012

      I am Sacramento Bartender that’s uses IG! This coment was pointed out to me by a friend and it makes me so elated that with this type of social media presance we can really expo our talents and raise the bar. Thank you for the kind words -boozehoundcc , Andrew Calisterio. I invite you to Sacramento anytime feel free to contact me

  3. mtinylights
    September 14, 2012

    damn. They are getting as bad as baristas! :-)

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 15, 2012

      I swear my local barista must moonlight as a dominatrix.

  4. OnBartending (@OnBartending)
    September 16, 2012

    Good stuff. It’s funny when “mixologist” behave this way.

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 16, 2012

      or sad…

      • OnBartending (@OnBartending)
        September 17, 2012

        This new breed of mixologist is a spawn off the hipster crowd.

      • Joseph DeLuca
        September 27, 2012

        I don’t think you are too far off base in your observation. Thanks for commenting. I enjoy following you on twitter.

  5. commercialfreecocktail
    September 16, 2012

    Reblogged this on Commercial Free Cocktail and commented:
    They say great minds think alike, well in this case, I guess its great bartenders who are a slightly concerned with the direction the cocktail culture is headed. I found this post through my facebook and thought it would be the perfect follow up to last weeks “Celebrity Culture vs B.O.H. Work Ethic.” Cheers!

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 27, 2012

      Thanks for the reblog. Your article also nailed this; is it strange that I almost always have more respect for the dishwashers and barbacks in our industry than any other position?

  6. Nancy
    September 16, 2012

    Boy, I have experienced this. I was with a friend who is not as adventurous as me. When asking the bartender for a specific spirit, he received a haughty, “the owner doesn’t believe in that stuff”. Would it have been so difficult to say they don’t carry those types of products? To make matters worse she just looked at him when he ordered their only beer, then said, “oh, I thought you were kidding.” They insulted him and ruined my experience.

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 27, 2012

      This is exactly what will undo the hard work in our industry over the past fifteen years. I’m sorry for your experience and I’m sure a more hospitable bar will be happy to serve you and be rewarded for your patronage.

  7. Joseph Schwartz
    September 17, 2012

    Make a name? Don’t try to make a name, try to make good drinks and experiences. You are talking to people interested in the wrong thing and (Ihope) in itfor different and in my view the wrong reasons.

  8. Natalie Bovis
    September 17, 2012

    I’m over the attitude, as well. I visit bars around the world and have seen the most charming to the most arrogant assholes making drinks. I consult with big-name spirits companies, host videos, etc. and i use the term “mixologist. BUT when I bartend, which i do a few times per week, I am a bartender. A hospitable host. The goal is to make them happy, welcome and accepted. When the bartender thinks he or she is more important than the guest, something is off-balance… and I ain’t just talking about the drink.

    I’ve been wanting to write a post called “Could Everybody Please Get Over Themselves” — thanks for your write up — obviously, I’m not the only who feels this way!

    Natalie Bovis, The Liquid Muse

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 27, 2012

      Thanks for the comment Natalie. You should write the article; we all need to raise our voice and lead by example or this attitude will undo everything we’ve gained in the last ten years in our profession’s positive image.

  9. e*star
    September 17, 2012

    Thank you so, so much. This is the validation I needed. For awhile, I was starting to think I was crazy for hating a “star” guest bartender at my own favorite neighborhood cocktail bar for leaving me at my end of my frequented bar without a drink for 40 minutes…because the cameras were at the OTHER end. Two months later, I had to watch him MC the 4-hour long Spirited Awards.

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 27, 2012

      As bad as I want to raise my hand and shout “Oooh, oooh! I know who you’re talking about!”, I think I’ll sit on my hands and be quiet. Thanks for the comment; I think the problem stretches from ‘celebrities’ who should know better to the local bartender, or chef, or somm, or barista…. you get the picture. It comes down to leading by example. We all can employ humility a bit better.

  10. Webb Sanderson (@BOHFOHguy)
    September 20, 2012

    A real bartender sucks it up and keeps the smile on his/her face when a customer is being a douche (service industry terminology not mine). The customer is maybe not always right, but the customer is the customer and they are the ones that tip. Why bite off the hand that feeds you? Makes no sense to me. This article is spot on. I publish a newsprint magazine for the service industry. It’s stories written by bartenders, servers and cooks. For the past two years I have traveled around the southeast US and found the same attitudes in a lot of cities. And not just with bartenders either!

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 27, 2012

      Thanks Webb. I’m afraid that our focus on education (BOH & FOH) has clouded all positions in our properties on what is truly important. I do believe however that the pendulum is swinging the other way, professionals, owners, and guests will not suffer this much longer.

  11. jennifer seidman
    September 21, 2012

    1. We are in the business of saying “yes” to customers
    2. Leave the customers remembering the solution to the problem not the problem itself. ie: my steak was overcooked, but the re fired it and the chef came out personally to apologize.
    3. I can teach anyone how to make drinks, I can’t teach you how to not be an asshole.

    Jennifer Seidman
    owner, Acme Bar & Company est. 2002
    owner, Handle Bar, est 2012

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 27, 2012

      Thanks Jennifer. I always warn my clients that I can’t fix stupid or lazy; I’ll be adding #3 to what I can’t do also.

  12. Jenny
    September 25, 2012

    Sommeliers have a similar problem in many markets. Knowledge and craft are great but mean little if you alienate your guests. Listening to what the guest wants and giving them what they want is more than 75% of the job.

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 27, 2012

      I think any highly educated service person has the potential to abuse the guest by forgetting what the guest’s true needs and desires are when visiting our properties. From chef, to manager, to barista, we all need to stay guest focused, not ‘look how smart I am’ focused.

  13. Zoltan
    September 27, 2012

    “You hold in your hands an important piece of the puzzle, perhaps as important as the Rosetta stone which helped crack the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual presents not just the recipes in use by the bartenders of the late 1800s, but it provides a glimpse into the mindset, the business, and, more importantly, the pride in craftsmanship that was important for bartenders to focus on as they performed their craft.”

    This was written a while ago. It might need to be reread from time to time. Every craft could be arrogant, but doing so theiy would loose business.
    Please come back to earth, stay with two feed on the ground and smile otherwise we would be expelled again from the bar.
    PS: shave off those funny facial hairs.It does not suit everyone!

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 27, 2012

      I often share Mr. Johnson’s words of wisdom with young bartenders (see OBEY). The ages have not diluted the importance of what a bartender should be. Thanks for the comment. Love the design of your website; wish I could read your blog but my Hungarian is pretty rusty. PS – looking for my razor as we speak…

  14. Jessica Rice
    October 1, 2012

    Awesome article. I have had experience with bartenders ignoring me because I am a women (typically women bartenders) at a beer bar. Little do they know, I am a beer blogger so I know my shit and I happen to be a good tipper. If only they weren’t such bitches! Most of the time it’s all good, but every so often bartenders assume I am uneducated. Thanks for the article!

  15. Pingback: Spotlight: Three Great Booze Bloggers You Should be Following | The Liquid Culture Project

  16. Man Fuel
    October 17, 2012

    Fantastic post! I couldn’t agree more. Granted, I’m a lay person that likes being treated nicely at the bar no matter what “shameful” drink I’m ordering, but still!

  17. Pingback: So You Want to Bar Tend… | MostMetro.com | Things to do in Dayton | Restaurants, Theatre, Music and More

  18. kimosays
    September 5, 2014

    hey “mixologist”: make me a drink half as good as I can make it at my home, and you’ve done your job. no need for attitude. nor me and my party bending over backwards to commend your ability to follow a 3 ingredient recipe. and keep your moustache wax out of my old fashioned, thank you.

  19. speakeezie
    September 5, 2014

    a chef in a kitchen contends with dozens of ingredients, varying degrees of heat, proteins that vary in shape/size/consistency and so on on a regular basis. A bartender pours the same 2 or 3 shelved (read: not changing) ingredients into a room temp glass over and over and over again, following a recipe that’s 100 years old. generally speaking, there’s a fairly low threshhold for f’ing up this job. it’s not as much a craft, nor an art form, as cooking. or making art. it’s following directions. yet perhaps in this monotony is where “mixologists” have found heaps of time to deem themselves something far more important than barkeeps. so it goes.

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 27, 2014

      Please see the first three words of the title of this post – pretty much applies to you as well.

  20. Jess
    September 13, 2014

    The unnamed bartender that you quoted about TOC wouldn’t happen to be the former bar manager at a tapas place in St Louis would it? As soon as I saw it I said to myself, “that sounds like my old boss!” Haha

    • Joseph DeLuca
      September 27, 2014

      I’ll never tell Jess, though he often sports a mohawk…

  21. Fank
    September 15, 2014

    I tended bar in D.C. for many years. Had the good fortune to train under some old school pros! They always reenforced the idea that every new customer was just a regular waiting to be welcomed to the fold. I also learned that there is nothing more satisfying than killing a cheap tipper with kindness and converting them into a good customer. We are not behind the bar to like everyone, we are there to serve EVERYONE. Your handling of the tough customers says more about your skills than any amount of bottle spinning ever will. While I applaud these new age tenders for their vast product knowledge, that alone does not a bartender make!

  22. Julian
    September 29, 2014

    I’ve always loved the bartenders/sommeliers who listen to me – I’ve sometimes described how I’d like to feel from imbibing or the kind of icy surface I’d like to see on the top – and bottle after bottle and martini after martini have been life sustaining. These kinds of people are tender hearted, well educated artists. I’m remembering ATL here – South City Kitchen…Crescent Avenue. Just leave someone who wants to be lousy over a drink or makes lousy drinks…the whole outing is for the joy of it…find the people still serving it!

  23. Mitch cullins
    October 15, 2015

    I read the “shameful bartending” article with great interest. I bartended my way through college and many years past. Now, I work a corporate gig, but am also in the dissertation phase of a doctorate in psychology. When I get time, I record instances of hubris in my corporate world with the idea of some day publishing them as a book of fables. Would you be interested in telling a detailed story from the bartending world? I have to be upfront – I may never complete the book, and I am asking that you give me full right to the story without financial compensation, so it’s not a great offer. Then again, it’s 1-2 hours of your life (to write ) for a possible publication that would be credited.to you in name, so it’s a small expenditure to maybe get some mame recognition.


    • Joseph DeLuca
      October 16, 2015

      Mitch – I would be happy to contribute and understand the caveats. I may not be able to get to it for several weeks, but I will; I think it’s a great idea for a book. Cheers!

  24. Attila Farkas Fehér
    October 16, 2015

    They are afraid that if you don’t get out of Cleveland, you will make Cleveland famous.

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This entry was posted on September 13, 2012 by in Hospitality, Operations and tagged , , , , , .

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