Most bartenders are expected to buy an occasional round for a regular or a big-spending party, but what about baristas who dole out coffee drinks "on the house"—is it harmful to business, a shill for higher tips, or simply a show of hospitality?
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We've read both sides of the story here, many times over. Customers complain about "hipster" baristas who are too cool, too slow, or too lecturey. Baristas complain about customers who breach line etiquette, don't understand what a macchiato is, or order espresso to go. Coffee-loving friends, listen to me: We can and should peacefully coexist across the counter. Here's how.
There has been an interesting comment that that keeps popping up in the threads of these columns. It goes something like this: "I'm sick of the trend where bartenders think that they are god's gift to humanity. Your job is to make drinks, not to educate, babysit, or judge people. So do us all a favor; stow the attitude, and do your job."
Your life sucks. Sure, you make good money, but you're never home, you hate your boss, whatever industry you're in is either uninspiring or downright evil, and you want to take your ill-gotten gains and leverage them in to something that gives you the lifestyle you've always wanted. Do you open a Subway franchise? No way. Where's the fun in that? You want to do something fun. You want to open a bar.
Every bar has its own culture—a philosophy on how guests should be treated, how the bar itself is set up, how the cocktails are made, how employees interact with each other, and a million other details. As bartenders and other staff come and go, they absorb these details, then spread this culture to other bars in their region and sometimes beyond. An interesting example of this is the rise of Fernet Branca.
I grew up as the second of seven children, so the concept of sharing was ingrained in me at a very young age. This was not out of some high-minded ethics on the part of my parents, but a matter of necessity. When finite resources are expected to be shared across a group, ideas like fairness, justice, and equality spell the difference between a happy home and one divided by conflict and animosity.
I began my bartending career in Seattle in the mid-90's, when the microbrewery revolution was transforming how people drink beer, and the philosophy of using fresh, local ingredients was pervasive in restaurants and on the upswing in bars. This was before the bubble popped, so every internet startup had an office with an on-site masseuse, and paper-millionaires populated the slew of new bars and restaurants that popped up to house them. Those of us who worked in these joints were both a close community of friends—but we were also stiff competitors. We competed for jobs, clientele, and bragging rights.