Will Skilled Performance Ever Be Understood in Restaurants? (Short Piece #8))


I think it is time to return to bartending once again. I first got into bartending when I was a retail manager and needed a part-time job that was good as a real job. I ended up bartending fulltime and was dragged into restaurant business afterwards. I think bartending is still a great part-time job.

What is good and bad about bartending is that it is skilled labor. Restaurant jobs are grouped into the levels of skills and many of them have no skills or are semi-skilled. A few require real skill. That means a person can undergo the training and work till experienced and still prove not to be a skilled professional in that position. I succeeded and never thought it was that great but has many advantages. I think bartending skill works good as a part-time job a couple of nights each week.

I made my best money when it was the busiest and out-of-control. That is because the customers expect to be ignored or receive poor service but a good bartender can handle them all great and everyone tips great because feel as if getting extra attention and service just because the place looks mad. A bar scene can look crazy and not be or look normal and be out of control. Unless a person has solid experience, one cannot understand restaurant positions. I stopped trying to explain this principle to several restaurant owners. You cannot teach some people any tricks. The level of skill in a dining room has a great deal with the level of skill of the Maitre’d or whomever runs that room or restaurant. If that person is mediocre in bar, wine, food, and service knowledge and skill, that is the best the place can do. The ratings will show it. The alternative is if the person in charge is better than most bartenders, wine people, and food servers in knowledge and skill, the who place pulls itself up to that level of performance.

The technical business term is pygmalion principle. That is what parents, teachers, and managers do when they expect their subjects to perform. If one expect those under to be on-time everyday, they will be. If one tolerates no mistakes, they will hardly ever make mistakes (that is my legacy for many restaurant staff). A great performing restaurant or dining room requires a high level of expectation by the person in charge. Everyone will perform at that level or disappear. The key thing is what if the person in charge is not competent enough to UNDERSTAND high standards of service and performance. That is where many restaurateur go wrong. An average knowledge of bar, food, wine and service automatically means mediocre UNDERSTANDING.

The problem with restaurant work is everything is in the details (as is said for retail work). Those details have to be done perfectly. One cannot run a great restaurant unless all details are handled great. How can one do it great, if that person in charge is incapable of getting them right? Will doing a half-ass job of putting together a dish, serving a bottle of wine, mixing a drink be enough to qualify a person who is technically in charge and won’t be doing them day after day? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Unless one can truly perform in those functions as the best staff, one is incapable of understanding what it means to take care of all the little details and how they relate together to make a great experience for the guests. That is why a basic qualified Maitre’d is extremely overqualified by American standards. It will take too long to train and too few people will qualify to run a restaurant or dining room by these standards. It is much easier to shortcut and do it the American way. I doubt if that will change for a long time in many establishments.

I myself am going back to bartending part-time and probably on the busiest nights. Now, I need to practice behind a few bars to bring myself up-to-speed and also catch up on the newest bar fads and drinks. The problem with skilled labor such as bartending is one has to constantly practice it in action to maintain a good momentum. Speed is increased by each day of action behind the bar and drops after a couple of days of no action. It is interesting how restaurant waiters can never understand this principle. One reason is they are considered semi-skilled labor and another is they are waiters.

*This post belongs to this week’s edition of Wine by Cush Magazine blog and published early in World of Cush also.


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