I’ve read a lot of Buzzfeed articles on topics such as “47 Things a Bartender Will Recognise” or “The 987 Things that Bartenders will go Through in One Hour” and the common theme that reigns through them is that they are all written from an American perspective in the hope that everyone will relate.
Well I’m here to try and dispel a few things and let you know how it really is over here in the U of K as opposed to the US of A.
Tipping 20% (or $1 a drink) is seen as best practice
Here’s the stickler: British bartenders are lucky if they get any tips all night. British people suck at tipping. They really do.
Even if their bartender has just made 27 Sazeracs and 11 Old Fashioneds, they’d be lucky to keep the change. Rather than: “Holy Moly you’re really good and you’ve gone out of your way to facilitate us beyond your pay-packet. Here’s a bit extra as a thank you,” it’s seen as “why should I tip you for doing a job you’re being paid to do?”
I bloody love it when Americans come over to Blighty and drink in my bar, because you guys just throw tips at bartenders like you’ve got all the money in the world, and you get the BEST service in the world for it, like really, even service I never knew I was capable of like… shaking eight cocktail shakers at once just to impress you. It’s really quite something and only a little whorish.
Being able to tell people you’re a bartender
Americans can tell people they’re a cocktail bartender (or mixologist…the word “mixologist” is for another section) and people will be impressed by this knowledgeable and hardworking chosen profession. It’s actually a valid career in the States. Here in Britain, if I was to tell people I managed a cocktail bar the normal response I would always get would be “Is that all you do?” or “So, what else do you do then?” As if working 60-70 hours a week 5 days a week wasn’t seen as being a valid profession. It just doesn’t fly over here.
I once had a conversation with an American bartending friend of mine who informed me he was making close to around $100,000 a year from being a “mixologist” which is just bloody crazy. When I informed him that the equivalent of what is considered a decent wage for an English bartender works out at around $34,000, he scoffed at me and threw his glass of REALLY cold water at me.
Calling yourself a “Mixologist”
I guess this stems from Bartending actually being a plausible career in America. English bartenders never call themselves “Mixologists” and the ones that do are wholly chastised and kicked in the shins. It’s a purely American term and I’m kind of alright with that.
I mean no harm or disrespect in not wanting to call myself or others a mixologist, but the entirety of rational thinkers of England and I just don’t want that term to be used to describe our already faltering and sketchy career choice. It’s like football, or as you would call it “Soccer.” We invented football and call it so. You call it Soccer and that’s just fine. You invented the art of cocktail making and call it mixology. We call it making cocktails and that is also just fine. Let’s be friends.
Being the inspiration rather than the inspired
I think it’s safe to assume that almost every English “bar” has derived its inspiration from America. There’s an abundance of “speakeasies” and “dive-bars” all across the UK and they all aspire to do the same thing and that’s replicate America with an English charm. We even try and dress like “them there old style Americans” with our tuxedos and our trouser braces. I don’t like it, but then again I have no choice. We as English bartenders are stuck in a rut of trying to find the next best American thing we can claim for ourselves.
Actually having respect for your bartender
In Britain, you get called a barman no matter what your skillset. You could make the world’s greatest cocktail in the shortest time ever and people would still call you a barman.
You know what the difference between a barman and a bartender is? A barman pulls pints. A bartender pulls women. I guess it’s a pride thing, I’m more than a barman. I have over five years of training that makes me incredibly skilled at my job: I’m not a barman. I do not pull pints in a local pub. I run a cocktail bar and I’ll make you some bloody good drinks with one hand whilst making a vodka and coke with the other. I’m not a barman. *Cries*
American bartenders have the ground they walk on worshipped whilst having rose petals thrown over their heads. WHY WON’T PEOPLE DO THAT FOR ME?
Essentially, I wish I could be an American Bartender.
Actually, scratch that. I wish I could work in an American Bar. Having a little English kid like me (I’m 6ft4) working away in an American cocktail bar: I’d be rich and respected before you could say “I’ll have three corpse revivers please.” This isn’t a job application or anything of the sort.
I guess I’m just bowing down to you Americans and telling you that you got it pretty good. Imagine all of the terrible times you go through and then put them with all the great times you go through. Feel good? Now take the good times away and that’s what it’s like being a British Bartender.
At least you now have a vague outline of some of the differences between American and English bartenders. Obviously I’ve missed off the really REALLY obvious ones such as “the accent, duh” because sometimes I have been found guilty of shouting “DUUUUDEEEE” at the top of my voice at a customer that was throwing up on the couch.