Warren Column: Mood Swings

03 November, 2016

What’s the best way to cope with feeling moody when you’re behind the bar? Jan Warren shares

I had a rough Monday before work last week. A package came to my house with the incorrect order in it and, during the unnecessarily long customer service call, which overlapped with my bike ride to work, I got a flat tyre. I am a creature of habit and I start every week with a hamburger lunch at Peter Luger (home of one of New York City’s great steaks, and perhaps the world’s greatest hamburger) in Brooklyn. Adding to my first-world stress level, the Monday in question was a bank holiday, which meant my usual bar seat was taken by an interloper. On top of that, my unexpected trip to the bike shop had made me later than I like to be. Needless to say, after all these trials and tribulations (definitely mollified in part by the gracious hospitality of the Peter Luger maitre d’),I was in a bit of a mood when I got into the bar to begin my opening shift.

I can be a moody and brooding bastard, and one of my great challenges behind the bar (as well as in life in general), is to not transmit these emotions to the people surrounding me. Frankly, it is something I have struggled with my entire life, but I am sure it is a problem for every bartender in the world at one time or another.

For me, the first and perhaps most obvious step is to try to take a breath and get a bit of perspective. For instance, one might take the fact that they are comfortably in Brooklyn drinking a fine cold-brewed coffee while walking down a sunny street to work as some comfort, considering the manifold and horrible alternatives. The second, and perhaps equally obvious step, is to lose oneself in the minutiae and repetition of some of our simpler tasks, such as cutting garnish, or, if you are lucky, ice. These quiet, and often lonely, moments before we see our first customer are great opportunities for what is essentially meditation, especially if we can turn the sound of a knife slicing through fruit into the murmured chanting of a thousand monks. I find it easy, and comforting, to empty the mind in the presence of a repetitive task.

A third, and perhaps slightly dangerous way to deal with being in a bad mood at work, is to share about it, as long as you can make it funny. Several years ago, my father was battling cancer (he’s fine now, and yes I did just knock wood), and my girlfriend had suddenly left (with a fair bit of my money). Granted, the girlfriend leaving was ultimately a good thing, but still, at the time it felt rather bad. Guests at the bar would say “how are you?” and I’d answer with “pretty tired from taking my father to radiation therapy this morning and still a bit broken up about my girlfriend moving out and stealing a few thousand dollars from me (not exactly true, but effectively true)”. I’d let a look of surprise settle on to the guests faces then hit them with a bit of light vapidity such as: “But I really love these new Nikes I got, so things are looking up!” A dangerous tactic, to be sure but, in deft hands, very effective. Always got some laughs.

I guess the point is this: we are lucky enough to have a job where our day gets better in the course of our work, through customer interaction, reproduction of beauty, and through simple kindness to other people. Confucius said “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” which, for our profession, rings especially true. We have been gifted with the easy ability to blur the line between work and play in our careers. Let’s all take ourselves a little less seriously and laugh a little more.

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