I received the following e-mail today:
“Hey Edwin, I have a question about bartending. After 3 years at the same place, I find myself getting hit up constantly by my ‘friends' for a free drink. How do I make these mofo's realize that comping a drink is cool from time to time, but we as bartenders do not get freebies like everyone thinks?”
-Kirstin Morrison, San Diego
Ah yes, Kirstin, the tribulations of the Mooch Friend. Aren't they truly a rash on the ass of bartenders everywhere? It's very annoying to be hustled for free drinks all the time. Especially by so-called friends. In order to answer your question, though, I must determine what kind of “friend” you are referring to. Most bartenders, like everybody else in the world, have several types of friends, and the answer depends on which type you are talking about.
Let's review them here:
1) Friend with an Asterisk: Your friends* are those people who frequent the bar often. Over time, you get to know each other well, genuinely like each other and eventually become friends*. The bartender has many friends* and the only difference between them and friends without an asterisk is that you rarely hang out with friends* outside the bar. Not for any reason in particular. You just don't. But you like them just the same.
The way to handle your panhandling friends* is by giving them the, This-Is-How-It-Is Lecture.
The This-Is-How-It-Is Lecture is a short, stern, yet non-condescending soliloquy in which you communicate to the mooch friend in question exactly how it is in the bar business. I do this for the simple reason that not everyone knows how it is. It's not their fault; they just haven't learned yet. They are under the mistaken impression that bars can afford to give away drinks all day, not realizing that booze is money. Not realizing that for me to make that free drink they're requesting, I have to take the bottle, turn it upside down and pour liquid money into their glass. And, yes, many a bar has gone belly up because of bartenders who hold the bottle upside down for too long.
Then, after you tell them how it is, maybe you set a drink in front of them. Inform them that your boss does allow his bartenders a small comp, which you tend to use on people who don't request or expect it.
After that, most friends* will understand where you're coming from and never mooch again. Indeed, 95 percent of all Friend Mooching Incidents (FMIs) will terminate once you tell them how it is. As for the remaining 5 percent who cadge you for freebies even after receiving the lecture, well, fukem. You'll comp their drink the day Rosie O'Donnell drunk dials Donald Trump for a bootie call.
2) Friend in Quotes: This “friend” is no friend at all. He might pretend to be your friend, or your friend*-chummying up with you to get free and strong drinks and stiffing you when you don't deliver. Oh yes, your “friend” is a douche as sure as Barbara Walters never spooned Star Jones. But even “friends” are entitled to the This-Is-How-It-Is Lecture, if for no other reason than nobody ever told him how it is.
However, if, after the lecture is given, he's still dinging you for drinks, well then fukim. Serve him last and mind the pour cost.
3) Friend-Friend: The friend-friend is an actual friend. A real friend. These are your friends in and outside of the bar. Ninety-nine percent of all friend-friends will not needle you for freebies. Probably because most bartenders' friends are other bartenders, and they know how it is. But if your friend-friend happens to be in the biz, and she keeps chiseling you for charity even after you've given the lecture, which you should've never had to give in the first place because bartenders are supposed to know how it is, well, rest assured, Kirstin, there is a special place in Hell for her. It's called Bartender Hell, and in it she will be doomed to tend bar throughout eternity, every day and every night of the week, 24/7-no sleep, no cigarette breaks-just infinite bartending barefoot on a bed of hellcoals in Satan's cheesiest nightclub, which features Ashlee Simpson as the house entertainment and customers who only order papaya daiquiris and pumpkin martinis. That, dear Kirstin, is the Hell that awaits bartender friend-friends who scrounge for freebies, so fuker. She gets a free drink when Tom Metzger adopts an African baby.
4) Friend$: These are people who have been coming to your bar for months, if not years. They are extraordinarily gratuitous. They've been tipping so much for so long they've single-handedly paid off half your car loan. A bartender can't help but feel friendly toward his or her friend$.
If one of my friend$ asks me for a free drink, I don't even give him the This-Is-How-It-Is Lecture. Because for them, mooching is not about the money; it's about feeling important. And if they feel important in your bar, they will keep coming back. And if they come back, both you and the bar will benefit. So go ahead, comp your friend$ a drink when they ask. If your comp tab is full, then pay for it out of your tip jar. Don't worry-it'll all come back to you. In a few minutes, he'll be buying multiple shots for multiple customers and tipping you fat. That's what these guys do, bless their souls. Of course, there will always be that small percentage of friend$ who are raging assholes and cause more problems than their big spending is worth, in which case, well, you know what to do.
E-mail ed@SDcitybeat.com and editor@SDcitybeat.com.