Bartending, and What Not

Y’all remember that time I worked at a country club for four years? If not, get yourself up to speed here: When I quit serving at the country club to move to Southern Missouri in 2004, I swore off restaurant work forever. I had seen all I needed to see, and learned all I needed to learn. But, I still wasn’t ready to get, like, an office job, and I was far from being mature enough to give college a second try, but I still needed a job, which meant one of two things: Either sell drugs (which was a super easy job to break into along the I-44 corridor) or work in a restaurant. Now to be fair, there were obviously other jobs out there, but I already knew how to do the restaurant thing, so I shrugged my shoulders, applied to the first place I found that was hiring, and got hired immediately, because duh, look at me.

This place was a popular, casual dining establishment. It’s funny to me that I seldom name the actual place in conversation. It’s like I am protecting it for some reason. But to be honest, it did me no favors, so I worked for Ruby Tuesday. To be specific, I worked at the Ruby Tuesday at the Branson Mall in Branson, Missouri. At the time it was built it was part of a franchise owned by a man we will call Johnny B., who was total fucking nutcase. The restaurant was short-lived. In fact, not long after I quit they boarded that bitch up. Which has always brought me great joy, cause I was one loyal SOB to that place, and they took me for granted.

Though to be fair, I met some of my bestest friends and worstest enemies at Ruby Tuesday, and I still love and hate them just as much as I did back then. Shout out to the P-Trio Plus! We were some bomb-ass playas, ya dig?

Anyway. Things I learned from transitioning to a private country club in Leavenworth, Kansas to a public, casual dining establishment that actually had to for real, publish their health code violations:

  • You cannot stick your finger in the food of people you hate
  • It is frowned upon to carry cases of beer wrapped in trash bags out to the “dumpster” when the “dumpster” is actually your friend’s car
  • You don’t just walk up to the line and ask your favorite cook, the one who you sometimes make out with in the linen closet, to drop you a cheeseburger and fries, you have to like, ring up and pay for the food you order, because: inventory?
  • But, you actually don’t even really need to do that, cause you can just graze on the awesome salad bar all day long, which for real, is awesome, go eat it right now
  • You have to tip the bussers, but also, you don’t have to keep a detailed list of all the times you clocked in and out because the GM was stealing your tip money and/or a portion of your $2.35/ hour paycheck to pay for his mistress to have an abortion
  • Oh, but there are still people who scam the system: Looking at you, Hugo or “Richard” (who is now, no shit, working for Taney County in some real, adult role and trusted with money) and Jerry (who last I knew drives a cab and delivers pizza)
  • Again, how to make a realistic looking police report

I learned a lot in the serving industry. In fact, like most places, you can always learn from those around who have done more and seen more. Take for instance, Truck-Stop Judy. Now, I did not make up that name for her. She had that name when I arrived at Ruby’s, but it would appear that she came by it rightly. She, in her manners, look, speech, and demeanor, looked like a woman a man may find soliciting herself at a truck stop. But, she was kind of nice, sometimes, and she was the day bartender when I started working.

She was the first person to think I was worth more than the job I was doing. She told me this in between smoke breaks and what must have been a painstaking process of apply enough eye liner to stay on through the sweat of the day, but just a bit too much so that it would often run down her face when she’d sling the ice into the bar bucket. Truck-Stop Judy said that I was fit for “management” (cue that scene in Waitingwhere the guy is holding an ice pick and erratically jabbing at the ice, and if you haven’t watched the movie Waitingplease stop reading this and run now to watch it. It is real, real life).

Anyway, one day Truck-Stop Judy asked me to “watch the bar” for her while she ran to Walmart to pick up some Mucinex or some other over-the-counter drug that you probably use to mix up meth in your bathtub. I said sure, unknowingly walking into the late-afternoon bar rush. That’s when all the people who work first shifts, in retail, other restaurants, and down at the charcoal factory are done for the day and pick places that have cheap burgers, but also tequila. Shout out to Jimmy Cuervo, the mid-day manager at the McDonalds across the street who would come in every afternoon for two shots of, you guessed it Jose Cuervo, in the middle of his shift. Hey, we all have our things.

Anyway, she set me up. Hard. So I should have been mad, except I rocked that shit like I was rocking the cash bar (which is how I heard the song in my head), and I made a hell of a lot more money than I did serving soup to senior citizens at three o’clock in the afternoon. I was hooked on the bar and she was happy to have someone getting ice for her, so I unofficially became the bar bitch.

That lasted for a few short weeks until Truck-Stop Judy didn’t show for work one day, then the next, then the next, and they were like, “Hey Missy you wanna be a bartender?” And I was all, “Shit yeah, but does anyone know what happened to Truck-Stop Judy?” And they were like, “Ehh.” And I was like, “Who cares?! Dolla, Dolla, bills y’all!” And just like that I was a bartender, only this time it was legal and I was making a hell of a lot more money.

Being the day bartender at a casual dining establishment like Ruby Tuesday in the middle of Branson, Missouri isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. But to be fair, I tried the weekend shifts, and the Sunday morning shifts, and the only nights thing, and the day bar worked best for me. I didn’t have the right mentality to flirt with drunk men on Saturday nights, I didn’t have the desire to hear old-timers impart wisdom on me after they left church and stopped by for a Bloody Mary or two on the way home to their extended families, and I certainly wasn’t built for the sad sacks that roll in at 9 pm on a Wednesday all alone and tired of watching porn in their hotel rooms. Jesus, I have some limits.

The Monday-Friday day bar shift was the shit. I could roll in about ten am, eat some breakfast from Jimmy Cuervo’s McDonalds, set up my tables, get the bar rolling for the day, and usually not have a single guest until noon. Then from noon to 2:00 pm be balls to the wall busy, then have a small reprise from 2:00 to 3:00 to scarf down that salad bar, stock up for the next rush, and talk shit with the other servers. Then promptly at 4:00 I’d get the second bar rush of the day, usually women meeting after work (while they were still supposed to be at work) bitching about their bosses and their husbands, and families with a couple of kids who were headed to a show later, but who were totally hip enough to take their kids to the “bar area” of the restaurant. By the way, we were a “smoking” bar. This was before they passed the law in Branson that you can’t smoke inside, so people could puff it up, then blow their smoke directly into my face and their tiny kids’ faces. And they did. All the time. Eww.

Shift change was at 5:00 and nothing is sharper than a shift change at a bar. If the evening bartender was not there at 4:55, their ass was getting a call from me. “Where you at, Bro?” and “I’m not fucking kidding you better be here at 5:00 if you want you bar stocked.” Because I had to stock the evening bar up for them, you know, “Set them up for success” but I wouldn’t do it until they got there and took over the guests. So the longer it took for them to get there, the longer it took me to get home, and the longer it was before I was in pajamas in front of the tv watching Brokeback Mountain for the fifth time. That bitch needed to hurry.

When they would stroll in at 5:05, I would be pissy and short with them, and head back to dry storage with my list. Five Budweisers, three Mich Ultras, 15 PBRs, and napkins, tooth picks, and sugar packets. I would end up inside the beer cooler longer than I wanted because someone had knocked over a keg, or dropped a beer bottle and not cleaned it up. Assholes, I would mumble. Sometimes someone would walk by and lock the cooler up when I was in it and laugh and laugh. I would of course get them back by writing, “Sometimes I drink so much I pee my pants when I am asleep” on the receipt paper right before they printed off their table’s ticket and they would be met with laughter when they stopped back by the pick up the payment, realizing as they open the book what had happened. It’s the little things, really.

For all this bullshit, I still made only about $100 a day in tips, and that was good for this joint. Of course, the management liked to remind me, I’m still making my $2.35/hr while I am mopping up spilled vodka from the bar floor, or carrying a dead mouse out of the beer cooler, or ushering 22-year-old girls into the bathroom to vomit. So, there’s that silver lining.

I don’t know how normal fucking people make it in the service industry. I was not normal. I lived with my boyfriend, who always worked a “day job” in an office somewhere, and worked a couple bar shifts a week himself. We lived on a beautiful lake, in a house that his parents owned and we paid very little to live there. We both had working vehicles, and insurance, and some sense of obligation and duty to our community. We even fucking volunteered on Sunday afternoons at the damn library helping senior citizens learn how to work computers. But there were an awful lot of people that I worked with who did not have our life.

I quickly worked my way up through the ranks and before I knew it I was the manager on duty. I was doing initial interviews with possible candidates, I was making schedules, and helping people fill out I-9s. That is when I really learned the shit people go through for a crappy job.

Branson is a highly transient area, with a large hispanic population and many of them do not make it here in legal ways. This was my first experience with this and the first time I ever learned what a “coyote” is. We had a couple of them who worked in the kitchen from time to time. So I was forced to have uncomfortable conversations with immigrant workers who I knew for a fact where in the US illegally. I had to repeatedly ask them to bring in a social security card that was real (I had been trained to spot the fake ones) or an ID with their picture on it. “No me importa qué nombre es,” I’d say in broken-ass Spanish, “pero tiene que ser tu cara.” They’d smile and say no problem and promise to bring it in the next day, then I’d never see them again. I didn’t realize when I was living this life, and I lived it for nearly six years, how much of an impact it would have on me. Hindsight, right?

Today I tip the fuck out of people, yo. I tip servers and bartenders at least 20% even if they sucked, cause yeah, we all have bad days. I tip valet dudes. I tip hotel workers. I tip the dog groomer. I tip the mailman, but in baked goods cause I am still not sure how that works. I tip anyone in a service job who I think would appreciate a tip, and sometimes people who I shouldn’t tip. They look at me nervously and say they can’t accept that and I want to scream, take it, you deserve it, to the lady filling up the salad bar at Harris Teeter.

And you need to be doing the same. And if you are in a situation where you are not sure if they can get a tip, ask them. If it is someone who does something for you and you know they can’t be tipped, like the guy who drops off your Amazon package or the dude behind the deli at Walmart (I’ve asked), tip them in compliments. Tell them they are rocking it back there and that they are the best at cutting your roast beef. Tell them you like to come see them. Tell them their smile made your fucking day. Do it. And do it some more.

Serving sucks, y’all. My husband and most of my friends have lived that life and if you haven’t, then count yourself lucky. It takes a certain kind of attitude to do that work. To have a service mentality toward others and to outwardly show it. To deal with the day to day bullshit of what is thrown at you. And make no mistake. Servers you come across are not in that line of work “for fun”. They are there because that’s the only place they can get a job at that moment. Or it was the only place hiring. Or they live close and don’t have a car. Or they aren’t comfortable in an office, or a strict 9-5 and there are not a lot of other places that offer that. So remember to be kind. Especially to people who can totes stick their finger in your mashed potatoes and you’d never fucking know.


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