Tough Call

This is about your friendly bartender trying to do the right thing, and a very young customer not knowing when to say when. Did he manage to pull it off? He certainly hopes so. Did the customer take offense? He’s absolutely sure of it. With her lower lip jutted out in pout and her party mood stopped in its tracks, she ended up looking like a sad little girl whose ice cream scoop had just fallen off the cone. For which he’s most sorry.

Here’s what happened….

I saw her come in out of the corner of my eye and wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect, for I’ve seen her performance too many times of late. And it hasn’t been pretty. She always comes in with a friend or two or meets someone new at the bar, then proceeds to drink what I feel is beyond her capacity. Now it’s not that she gets stupid drunk in the process (or else I wouldn’t serve her),ย  just louder and louder by the glass and more demanding. And her voice ascends into high-pitched shrill that arrives in a baby-talk mode, which not only annoys yours truly but those around her. But on a serious note… gradually moving from a vodka and tonic to a vodka martini straight up (the opposite progression for most) and ordering another when her glass is still half full, her behavior displays all the classic signs ofย  a “problem”. Or someone dangerously close to having a problem. Now I’m not trying to pass any judgment here, just callin’ ’em as I see ’em, and what I see is trouble just waiting to happen. Either from a habit that will only grow worse in time (she’s only at best twenty five), or a guy who will take advantage after they leave. And that really bothers me. But on this night she was alone and just as well.

“Give me a vodka and tonic,” she shouted, the moment she walked in the door, even before she’d settled herself on the stool.

This obviously wasn’t her first stop that night, it was somewhere around eight thirty, so someone else’s Happy Hour turned up her volume. Which I ignored. Because unlike what I normally do I didn’t respond to her shout, first to control my temper I guess but also to send a message she was showing bad form. You don’t just walk in a bar and shout out your drink like that. So I finished my chat with the nice young couple who happened to be first timers, then I made her drink, then slowly walked it over and set it in front of her. Without saying a word. No “hello”, no “How ya’ doin'”, no freaking nothing in way of showing a welcome. Then I returned to the couple she’d rudely interrupted. Now I realize that might sound petty on my part… giving her the silent treatment… but sometimes a message has to be sent and actions in a case like this speak louder than words. Or so I hoped.

“Where’s the piano player?” she again shouted, piercing the room anew, proving to me she hadn’t gotten my message.

He’s standing next to the piano,” I shouted right back. Then it started.

In her best baby talk voice she said (cooing is much more like it), “Awwww, don’t be mean, bartender, you remember m-e-e-e-e-e, don’t you?”

I just couldn’t help myself. I walked over and leaned in close and in a whisper that no one could hear I said the following. “Obviously I remember you, miss, that’s why I shouted. Listen, I don’t really know how to say this to you but since you’ve been coming in here… for what is it now a month?… it hasn’t always been a pleasure having to serve you. You don’t know when to say when most nights, which means you have too much to drink, and you do stuff like this whenever that happens… shout out orders no matter what I’m in the middle of. I’m sorry, miss, but that’s just not the way to act.” (Like I said, I couldn’t help it.)

After a good thirty seconds had passed and after her facial expressions had run the gamut of emotions, she finally spoke. “But I live right here on this block so it’s not a problem.” (Huh???)

“Where you live has nothing to do with it,” I said. “If you lived upstairs I’d say the exact same thing. It’ not about where you live it’s where you drink. And how you drink. Listen, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings here (her lower lip was jutting out) but really try to think about what I’m saying, okay? I’m sure you’re a nice person, just know when to say when and try to behave yourself. That’s all.” Then I walked to the other end to let her think about it.

But when I looked back I could see she was really hurt. Or extremely pissed.

Dammit! That’s what you get for trying to do the right thing. Or was it the right thing? Did you overstep your bounds here? You’re not her father, ya’ know. And she is over twenty one for crying out loud. Yeah, but you’re also running a bar, man, and female or male you can’t let the lunatics run the asylum.

So after a few minutes had passed, and in an effort to try and make this woman feel better, I walked back over and tried to start a conversation. “By the way, miss,” I said, “the piano player’s name is…” but she cut me right off.

“Give me my check,” she snapped, handing me a credit card. And so I did.

Let well enough alone, I figured, at least you won’t have to worry about how many drinks she’s having, or some clown coming over and trying to take advantage!

After signing the slip she stayed a while longer but except for exchanging glances we made no more contact. Good or bad, villain or hero, the movie was edited and done so roll the credits. But then something told me to go over and check her credit card receipt. Which I’m glad I did. For in the space where you put the gratuity, on a tab for $8.75, she’d written in a whopping fifty dollar tip. And now I felt worse.

Miss, miss,” I said, taking her hand, “please don’t do this. It’s not necessary. And I’m definitely not going to accept that amount, I assure you.”

“But like I said,” she said, “I live right here on this block… I really, really like this place, and I’m going to be coming here over and over and over again.”

“And you’re welcome to come here over and over and over again,” I said. “And I mean that. But you don’t have to do this to make yourself welcome. Again, I’m sorry I hurt your feelings and maybe I could’ve worded it better but I’m just trying to look out for you if you can understand that?” Then I let go of her hand, picked up the pen and said, “Look, I’m scratching out the fifty dollars and putting in a dollar twenty five, that will make it ten dollars even, how’s that?” But apparently she didn’t want me to do that or simply couldn’t care less, because she turned away and never acknowledged the gesture. And whether that was just more pouting on her part (in keeping with “baby-talk” central) or simply saying, “Go to hell, you bum!” which is entirely understandable, I haven’t a clue. Because after I walked to the other end to make a drink for the waitress, I looked back and just like that the woman was gone. All that was left was a glass and her copy of the bill. Left blank.

So will she remember I rewrote her fifty dollar tip the next morning? Doesn’t matter. Will she remember that I tried to plant a seed that may take root down the road? I certainly hope so. The seed of taking a very long look at the road upon which she’s embarking, that life can’t be an endless “happy hour” devil-may-caring through life, unless you’re prepared for the saddest of hours at road’s end.

Hey, sorry to be so serious this week and come off like Father Flanagan, but these are the things that happen sometimes in Bar-land. For what started out as a mere annoyance progressed to a cautionary tale, which wasn’t about how I reacted but how she reacted. To something quite serious. And by the way, in case you happen to be wondering, would I have said and done the same thing to a guy? You bet. I have and will again, but with a different tone and with far less care for his safety. Maybe that sounds chauvinistic but that’s the deal.

See ya’ next week-end.

19 Responses to “Tough Call”

  1. 1 Comrade PhysioProf October 2, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    I would interpret her behavior as knowing you were correct, and feeling really ashamed of herself, and trying in an immature and ham-handed way to make amends. If she really is a decent person inside, and if she really just needed a wake-up call on how her behavior when drinking appears to others, then she will behave much better in the future. If she doesn’t give a shit how others perceive her, or if she really can’t control her behavior when drinking, then maybe not.

  2. 2 Petro October 2, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Good job. And, I’ll bet, if she does come back, you’ve made a new friend. (Caveat on the drinking problem, of course…)

  3. 3 Donna B. October 2, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    There is a young woman I care about very, very much who is that age, living alone and trying to make a place for herself in NYC. No, I don’t think she was your customer and I don’t think she would have acted or reacted that way. (And you would probably have commented on my friend’s physical appearance, I think — she is stunning in several ways.)

    But I hope that whatever establishment she frequents, that there’s somebody like you behind the bar there.

    You are a good person.

  4. 4 flygal9 October 2, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Scribbler, you did the right thing. You cared enough, and had the courage to say something. While her behavior illustrates that you hit a sensitive nerve, it sounds as if a well-deserved lesson was effectively delivered. (Score 1 for friendly bartenders everywhere!)

    Now I’m just a Coors Light gal [go ahead… judge all you want ๐Ÿ™‚ ], but the way I see it, it can go one of two ways: 1– she stays away (likely impossible given the magnetic personality of one Scribbler) or 2– she shapes up and in the future when she bounds through the door, she’ll be met with such enthusiasm, you’ll remind all the other partons why they love the place so much.

    Keep us posted!

  5. 5 scribbler50 October 2, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Comrade Physioprof: I think you nailed it, my friend, now let’s hope she got that message sent.

    Petro: And I hope you’re right as well, I’m not in the business of trying to make enemies.

    Donna B.: Once again you’re too kind, but maybe I should tell you where I work so your young friend can stop in and say hello. For the right reasons of course.

    flygal9: Where the hell have you been? I’m tired of talking to flygals 1 through 8! But seriously, I appreciate your take on this (and the compliment of course as well), and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a Coors Lite. I sell a ton of ’em. Thanks for stopping by and “Cheers” to you!

  6. 6 flygal9 October 2, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Ah Scrib– thanks! I just hope that if ever I’m the one buying a your “ton of ’em” I’ll get a similar nudge!

    As Donna B said, you are a good person. You did the girl a favor.

    Have a great rest of the weekend!

  7. 7 jc October 2, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    You are a keeper Scrib, not just a barkeeper. You may have changed the direction of her life.

  8. 8 Anonymoustache October 3, 2010 at 9:19 am

    You absolutely did the correct (and gutsy) thing, dude. And I have a feeling that someday she will thank you for it.

  9. 9 Sara N. Dipity October 3, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    I wish I had met someone like you, not just in bars, but in many areas of my life. What would also be a good thing would be if something I said made a difference in a life. Scib, just keep on doing what you are doing.p.s. I did not spend a lot of time in bars!!

  10. 10 Mikey C. October 3, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Working in the service industry for sometime, I’ve grown somewhat immune to the loud requests of “GIVE ME” and “I NEED” thrown out by customers without a bit of courtesy. I think you handed the situation well, in my case I’m positive I would have responded with sarcasm. It is refreshing to see the customer dealt with care after coming off loud, tipsy and flippant.

  11. 11 scribbler50 October 3, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    jc: And your comments each week are “keepers” as well. Thanks, friend.

    Anonymoustache: Don’t know if it was “gutsy”, bro, I was peeved and the scene just unfolded. But thanks.

    Sara N. Dipity: I don’t want to take this too far as I doubt I made a difference in her life, but I definitely made a difference in her evening. Where it goes from there, who knows? And by the way, don’t be so sure you don’t say things that make a difference in someone’s life, your sweet comment just affected mine!

    MIkey C.: Hey, man, I’ve done sarcastic too in the past, and grumpy and pain in the ass… just ask my customers.

  12. 12 Scicurious October 4, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    You are the best, Scrib. I really think you did something wonderfully caring, and I wish there were more bartenders out there like you to give girls (and guys) like this a kind notice when they need it.

  13. 13 scribbler50 October 4, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Scicurious: Hey there, long time no hear, my friend, glad you’re still tuning in. And thanks! But just for the record, as this post points out, people don’t always take kindly to being given a “kind notice”, it’s a touchy situation. You would, of course, though I doubt you’d ever need one. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. 14 d-a-p October 4, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    ….what good advice..i hope the young lady gets a small hint of your meaning…
    a story,rather sad,but well worth remembering…

  15. 15 scribbler50 October 6, 2010 at 11:35 am

    d-a-p: Yeah, this was a heavy one and I hope you’re right… that’s it’s a story worth remembering.
    Thanks, man.

  16. 16 mvpalex October 6, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    I ran out of tissues reading your tale. As a fellow bartender seldom is the case where I decide parenting is an option. At this point in my life it’s here are the rules, behave or out. I admit I go a little easier if it’s a lumberjack who looks like he could rip my lungs out (tks Warren Zevon). You, my good pal, are a GENTLEMAN…..

  17. 17 scribbler50 October 7, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Alex the MVP: Sorry you ran out of tissues, man, I’ll drop off a box Friday night. Listen, my friend, on one level I agree, sometimes it’s good to be tough (I’ve done it myself in the past), but sometimes it just plain ain’t and this was one of them. And just for the record… you, Mr. self-proclaimed hard-ass, whether you want to admit it or not are a gentleman too! ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. 18 PalMD October 7, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Yeah, in my business people don’t often like to hear what I have to say either, but I do get paid to tell the truth.

    You may not be paid explicitly to tell the truth, but it’s your job and you get to decide how to approach it. Sometimes a bit of paternalism, if delivered correctly and respectfully, can be quite useful. Sometimes not immediately though.

  19. 19 scribbler50 October 7, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    PalMD: Thanks, Doc, and speaking of “truth”, I appreciate the truth in your comment. As you well know (and not trying to be flip here), sometimes a dose of reality is the right prescription. If delivered “respectfully”.

    Thanks again.

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