The Warren Column: Wrestling with ego

28 June, 2016

Jan warren cautions that taking a reality check should be a part of everyday bar life

EGO. SELF ESTEEM. The conscious mind. What defines us as unique personalities. One of the most important tools a bartender has and one of the greatest potential pitfalls in our careers and guest interactions. Aligning our egos with reality can be one of the most productive learning experiences we can have. At base we serve, but some of us let ego get in the way of service. In the course of a night behind the bar, we meet many people. Some are interesting and articulate, some are not. The thought might creep into one’s mind: “Why is it my lot to serve this person who I am clearly smarter, better looking and funnier than?” It is these feelings that cause us to make the biggest mistakes with customers and teammates. I am still guilty of some of these mistakes.

“Can I have a vodka soda?”

“But sir, you are in a temple of modern mixology where your job is to worship at the altar of my bar station as I create beauty and life from the primordial stew with only jigger, beaker, and flask as tools.”

We are all capable of so much more than a vodka soda and our ego tells us we should be recognised and rewarded for our studies and expertise. We’ve all memorised hundreds of drink specs in mls and parts of ounces. We’ve visited distilleries and bought special tools with which to practice our craft. We’ve spent hours observing the viscosity of a solution on the inside of a mixing glass and using it as indicator of a drink’s “doneness”. We DESERVE to be seen for the experts we are, yet when we feel DESERVING of adulation and praise we are DE-SERVING our guests.

“Can you bus table two?”

“Look pal, I’ve just put out about 70% of the drinks in this bar while you jawed with your friends. I’ve been washing glassware and refilling my mise en place while you’ve been relaxing…”

At different times during almost any bar shift, someone is doing more work than someone else. There will be times when the person doing less work is you. Try to enjoy those times instead of being angry at your teammates and begrudging their few minutes of glory and rest. We must strive to serve those we work with as much as we serve those who visit our bars.

“Ahhh you make that with a sugar cube instead of simple syrup. That isn’t the way X cocktail book says to do it.”

“Yes, you twit, I use a sugar cube because it is the classic preparation. I use a sugar cube because as your ice melts slowly into that Old Fashioned I’ve painstakingly and perfectly prepared for you, the added water content in the drink allows for further dissolution of the solid sugars, giving your drink a story arc and a life. Like us, aggressive and harsh in our youth, mellowing to perfection in middle age, and weak and insipid before death…”

As the world becomes more accustomed to what we do, challenges to our methods and techniques become more common. Civilians will come in and question our process. There is almost no affront greater than this, nor one harder for a well-trained bartender to avoid bristling at. Guess what? Even among our colleagues, methods and specs differ and we sometimes see people using techniques that we would not. We just know better than to comment on it (hopefully).

Author Shannon Alder said: “Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask: ‘What else could this mean?’.” How true is this? Try to find the hidden meaning instead of the obvious.

John Lennon said: “Part of me suspects that I’m a loser and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.” Balancing the competitive aspects of our egos is a key to success in service.

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


La'Mel Clarke

Service isn’t servitude: the skill of hosting

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.