I’ve spent a large majority of my 20’s behind a bar. I get to make people drinks, eavesdrop on dates, and walk out of my job with cash and leave everything else behind (most nights). I’ve been told it’s not a “real job” more times than I can count, and sometimes it bothers me until I really consider WHY I’ve been drawn back in.
CONNECTION. I know, I know, it can almost sound ridiculous, but the amount of times I can say I’ve genuinely connected with another person at a bar and have heard a life story far surpasses any other situation in my life. From behind a bar, I’ve helped people through break ups, listened to them gush about friends and family, seen them celebrate life’s milestones like new jobs, birthdays, and marriages, and I’ve been blown away at the level of vulnerability people are able to display to complete strangers in such a short amount of time. Watching people from behind a bar share their stories and be willing to be vulnerable with strangers has legitimately renewed my faith in humanity time and time again.
Because I wanted to make money in tips, I quickly realized this: when people go out to a bar or restaurant, they’re there for a feeling, and it’s important to read them quickly and understand what that is so you can cater to it and they’ll feel understood and break out the cash. Sure, the food and drinks are great, but the vast majority of the time people decide to go spend money on things they could easily get at home, it can be organized into 3 major categories: they’re happy and want to celebrate, they’re sad and want to commiserate, they’re bored with something and want to alleviate that boredom. Of course within these, there are finer details, but from being behind the bar for so many years, I can say with confidence that every single time you’ve gone out, it could be categorized as one of these. Going through a break up? Margaritas and tacos, girl. Got a promotion? Steak and wine. Not feeling like cooking anything in the house? Just head out to eat, it’ll be so much easier and it won’t be the same old things.
So while I originally started reading people to better my tip average, I fell in love with observing people and started realizing that something weird happens to a vast majority of people when they’re at a bartop; they open up, they meet strangers, they laugh, they ask questions. I’ve seen people do this drinking and people do this drinking club soda. (I know, I know, alcohol lowers inhibitions, blah blah — that’s not what I’m talking about here).
If I owned a bar, I would simply want it to be a place where people were made to be aware of the seemingly mundane connections they make with people. You just talked to that bartender about your marital problems? They’re going to subtly point out how awesome it is that you felt comfortable sharing something so intimate and asking for advice. You just made friends with the couple next to you and bonded over your shared love of DMB? Your server is going to subtly point out that before you came into this bar you were on your own and feeling lonely, and look how lucky you are to have met these people. You just got into a political debate with the person next to you but didn’t want to cause a scene because you’re in public so you just voiced your opinions and took a shot to your differences? The owner is going to compliment you on your ability to talk about your disagreements face to face instead of hiding behind a keyboard. These aren’t made up situations, these are real things I’ve seen happen.
I totally understand how this can sound hokey. But I’ve been doing this for years, and I stand by it. Do me a favor, take yourself out for a drink (or a club soda and an appetizer), sit at a bar and be OPEN to meeting people, and genuinely be aware of how much you or others are able to connect and share stories in such a natural way. You don’t need to manufacture anything, simply be open to connection and when you’re aware of it, I promise you will see it happening.
(Pro tip: don’t do this at a club. Do it at a restaurant bar or a brewery, unless you want to connect with some guy named Chad over jaegar shots at 2am).