Monday, October 13, 2008

Tuesdays with Eben pt. 2.5

or A slight detour about service style

This was harder than I thought it'd be. Not that I never had thoughts of, "Wow, it must be a really hard job to stand behind a bar several hours a night and serve people," but I was beginning to FEEL that I would pretty much suck at being a bartender.

I don't think I'd been behind the bar even close to an hour, and I was already tired. I wish I was joking, but my arms were tired from practicing with the jigger and the bottle of water. And I don't mean the bottle was heavier than I thought it would be, I mean actual muscle fatigue from tilting to pour. Like I'd been doing curls at the gym or something. Also, my lower back was starting to stiffen up just from standing behind the bar and trying to work on it.

"Are you kidding me," I asked myself. "Are you tired from just PRACTICE?"

First off, let me remind you there was no one there. I wasn't serving anybody, yet somehow I was pretty flustered and nervous. I'd hesitantly reach for a jigger and shakily pick up a bottle and pour. Eben was going back and forth getting the place ready for an event, but when he saw me nervously pouring he came over to tell me that I needed to pour with more confidence. I was grasping the body of the bottle like it was going to turn and bite me, My lack of confidence was definitely affecting my pour. The slow tilt of the bottle was making the speed pour top gurgle and sputter water out in a very undignified way. Eben would grab the bottle about the neck and confidently tipped it forward, and water poured out in a smooth, unending stream.

While we're on the topic of bottle handling, a slight detour. So while I was being taught the basics of pouring and stirring, Eben also took time to talk to me about the style of service he learned about in Japan. It was all kinds of neat to hear him talk about this because I could appreciate the adherence to rules in service, and it meshed well with what I was being told about present a professional front.

First off, right hand is for pouring, but your left side is where you shake. So Eben explained when you reach for a bottle, you'd always grab it from behind you with your right hand from your right side. If the particular bottle you wanted is behind you or to the left, you stepped over so that you could grab the bottle with your right hand.

While this may seem like an oddly unnecessary bit of flourish, I thought about it for a bit and here's what I came up with. To pull this off it meant that you had more than a passing familiarity with the bar's stock and where everything was. And you weren't turning around all the time, so your back wouldn't be to the patrons. It made for less of a messy and hectic look to your bar service. Probably not doable for everyone everywhere, take out of it what you will.

Also, a bottle's label always faced out to the customer. As you picked it up off the shelf, carried it, poured it, the front label faced out. There was even a way of cracking a bottle open to achieve this. Eben showed me how you'd pull the bottle in (still in your right hand as how you picked it up from behind you) close against your body. When you twisted it the top open with your left hand, the bottle would stay put in your hand in the correct position.

You could also set the bottle down on the bar for the customer to look at (again label facing out), if it wasn't too busy or if you work at the type of place where you can leave out a bottle of liquor without worry. Eben said that as a bartender you often get patrons who want more info about what they're drinking. By giving them the bottle, it might answer any of the initial obvious questions they have about ingredients or flavors, and gives them a chance to educate themselves and figure out what they like. An added bonus is other patrons seeing the bottle might get curious about what the other person is drinking and can ask for what that guy is having with that stuff in it.

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