Hey bartenders! You know many of you number among my favorite professionals in the world. Ofttimes, I will value some of your opinions above my own. (Well, sometimes….) But there is a current complaint about customers going the rounds among a lot of even the elite among you that you all need to realize is a bad conceit.
I was triggered to write this little rant by an otherwise excellent post at Spirits & Motors by Robby Nelson named I’m a Bartender. He has seven enumerated points that are each funny, true, and ought to be required reading for any number of idiot customers out there. Read the post. It’s good.
But in the final wrap-up, he throws out this:
For your part, trust that I know what I’m doing. When you tell me that you want a drink that’s “not too sweet,” all I hear is that you don’t want me mess up your drink, which makes me think that you think that I’m a hack, which makes me sad. Do you ask the chef to make your food “not too undercooked?” I recommend abolishing that “not too sweet” phrase from your vocabulary.
Um, no. Robby, here’s the thing: I am a very experienced bar customer. I know what I like, and more importantly, how my tastes differ from other people. I probably have one of two very good reasons for asking you to, yes, not mess up my drink.
One, I may have drunk at your establishment in the past. I therefor know how your house recipes are balanced. I may have even ordered this particular selection before. And I judge that your house profile is too sweet for my taste.
Two, I my know that my own taste in drinks runs to the very dry. You may well have had your Cosmopolitan recipe handed down to you by Dale DeGroff himself, inscribed on a stone tablet. But I know I want mine less sweet than that.
I am, in fact, trusting you to either punch up the lime, or use a drier orange liqueur, or whatever you, in your professional opinion, believe will produce a less-sweet drink with the same underlying flavor profile. If you know that you make that drink a lot less sweet already than most, feel free to do your regular thing. Sophisticated palates can and do disagree about the amount of sweet they need to make any given drink perfect. It is frankly insulting to the customer to grump about how you know better than them about their desires. It’s a bit like a server who says the chef recommends the duck be medium rare, then gets all huffy when the customer says he’ll have it medium anyway.
Here’s the point. I am giving you valuable information about me (and my desires) when I say I want my drink “not too sweet”. I am going to be, without doubt, one of two guys. I could be, well, me: a customer who has long experience with cocktails, who understands the market, who is making an educated judgement that your drinks may well run sweeter than he really wants, and who knows that you (like him) could fix a drink with too little sugar, but you’d have to dump one that is too sweet and start over. I could also be the cocktail version of the wine poseur who asks for “any Loire red from the north bank, nice and tannic, maybe with a hint of plums or elderberries.” All I know is that I’ve read on the blogs that most cocktails are designed overly sweet to appeal to inexperienced drinkers, and since I fancy myself to be sophisticated, I signal my elite status by asking for my Lemon Drop to be “not so sweet”.
If I am the Idiot pole of this Boolean gate, you could make that Lemon Drop with 50-50 vodka and lemon juice, or 50-50 sugar and Citron, or just back off the sugar in your regular recipe a bit. As long as you slide it over the bar to me with a conspiratorial smile that will say to them, “Lots of my better customers agree with you about Lemon Drops being too sweet. I think you’ll find this to your liking,” they will guzzle it down and run off to Yelp to bugle about how they’ve finally found a bartender who “gets it”. But if I am the other possibility, and you choose anything other than the last option, I’m going to think you are a hack, or a douchebag, or possibly both.
I singled out Nelson here only because he was unfortunate enough to have me read his post right when I had time to rant about it. I’ve been hearing this increasingly lately and it has got to stop. Let’s not put another row of bricks in the Craft Bartenders Are Rude, Douchey Snobs wall, shall we? Save your (well-hidden) scorn for Tanqueray Martinis with no vermouth, or Piña Coladas, or guys who order friggin’ Grey Goose on a first date while she’s knocking back Knob Creek neat. It’ll be a helluva lot more profitable for everybody. Trust me.