The Warren Column: Virtual reality

03 June, 2016

Jan warren bemoans the rise of social media heroes over the workaday' tenders who deliver the goods

WE LIVE IN A STRANGE NEW WORLD WHERE the currency of success isn’t always monetary. It seems to be just as important these days to have 5,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook, or at least that many Instagram followers. I’m not sure when these social networks started to be such a large part of professional life, and I might be too old to really succeed at manipulating them with the success of some of my younger peers. I feel we ignore the bartenders who keep their heads down, noses to grindstones, and pound out solid shift after solid shift, and spotlight those who do a better job ‘connecting’ to far-flung colleagues via social media.

I see many more posts about service and hospitality than I see service and hospitality in real life. Of course, service and hospitality mean different things to different people, but having someone stand on a bar and pour a Layback into a neighbouring bartender’s open mouth isn’t it for me.

Seeing a group of industry folks treated completely differently (read: better) than a group of everyday customers isn’t it either. Of course your fellow bartender, might be a little kinder, and more shots might come your way, but I believe a bartender’s full attention should be on customers first and industry friends second.

There is nothing I like less than seeing a bartender ignore ‘normal’ customers and put on a show for people who work at other bars in his or her city.

It is an open secret that many of the most successful, award-winning and well-known bars in the world spend vast amounts of money on public relations firms, yet it is something only talked about in the shadows. Of course, in most cases, those bars don’t put out bad drinks, or provide less than exemplary experiences to their guests. The question, for me, becomes: Should the dividing line between these bars and other great bars be the skills of a great public relations person or social media manager? Or should we push back against a trend that can only be a bad example to the newest members of our trade?

It is not right that we tend to praise the brash and loud over the humble and hard-working, the well connected and beautiful over those who simply go to work every day, tell dirty jokes and fill glasses with simple pours of straight liquor or exquisite and exacting cocktails.

These problems, of course, are endemic to modern society, and their expansion into our professional world is as unsurprising as it is unwelcomed by me. I propose the coinage of a new term to describe these folks, ‘prtenders’, which my writing software of choice hilariously tried to autocorrect as ‘pretenders’.

I’ll reserve my unflinching respect for people such as the waiter at my local diner, who works from 6am to 6pm every day, is unfailingly kind and welcoming, and will never win an award for his service, or the bartender at my neighbourhood pub who is nearly 70 and has spent 44 years working at the corner bar.

I’ll leave you with this, from Henri Nouwen, writing about the priesthood (trust me, it applies):

“But still – that is our vocation: to convert the hostis into hospes, the enemy into a guest, and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.”

That’s a bar.

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La'Mel Clarke

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La’Mel Clarke, front of house at London’s Seed Library, looks at the forgotten art of hosting and why it deserves the same respect as bartending.