the customer is sometimes right but never in charge

Note: 

This was a blog post I originally began writing almost a year ago, and after the first draft was revised and sent to folks for approval, I never made the necessary tweaks to make it publishable. It will probably sound different. I have more thoughts on some of this that will probably surface in the days to come.

Beverages consumed during the several days of writing this:

Day 1:

Vikre Aquavit: 1 oz

Coffee: 3 cups

 

Day 2:

Bent Paddle Bent Hop: 1 can, served in a coffee mug

Bombay Sapphire: 1oz, over time

Batavia Arrack: several contemplative sips

(There was a competition, I made something weird and needed to try the constituents)

G&T: Vikre Spruce, this time.

Coffee: 2 cups

A random birthday shot/board meeting (“a board meeting” is a liquid boost to morale we occasionally and responsibly enjoy behind the stick)

 

Day 3:

Coffee: 4 cups.

G&T: shaken and up, with Vikre Juniper

Some weird thing with mango and lime…

Another board meeting. Tonic and lingonberry something.

Another board meeting… Some coworkers and dear friends showed up. Have to be hospitable, right?

Our board meeting. The one you and I drink together. Yes, you. See below

 

Day4: (Today)

Coffee: lots. Like 6+ cups.

 

Our Board Meeting: G&T, served up

 

Here’s a little something you can try, perhaps while reading this (trust me, I am easier to tolerate after a drink or two…)

2oz Gin (Vikre Spruce is real fun)

3/4oz tonic syrup (Blue Henn is tasty and from Saint Paul)

1/2oz Lime Juice (more or less depending on how much you love those little green fruits)

Shake vigorously, strain and serve in a cocktail glass.

The shaking action invigorates the ingredients and aerates. Just a fun take on a classic.

Cheers, folks!

 

“The Customer is always right.” (Or are they? -cue dramatic music-)

We’ve been told this adage countless times in every form of service job. I feel like it’s sort of dated, though,

Behind this tenet lies the assumption that providing good service means acquiescing to all the whims of a customer. While superficially this seems true, there’s a next degree of service, not simply providing, but educating, challenging and engaging as well. Call it a bonus level.

First, every customer is unique. Everyone has their own palate and previous experiences, their own expectations of what their time with us should approximate. Meeting folks and accommodating these individual tastes makes our job fun.

At a conventional bar, a customer often has an idea in mind of something simple they want, or something classic. Manhattans. Margaritas. Jack Daniels and Cola. Bloody Mary. In the cocktail room, we craft every ingredient for our 8ish cocktails from scratch. This makes catering to a more general or classic drink preference difficult. There is still something for just about everyone on our menu, but it sometimes takes a conversation and some careful navigating to discover which cocktail would be the best fit.

When we get folks who come in and ask for a domestic light beer or a Jameson and soda, or anything we are otherwise unable to provide, it’s occasionally a pleasure to say a kind of “no” because we have such a story about who we are and how/why we craft drinks. Every “no” presents an opportunity for a “yes,” and the goal is to make an informed drink that will fit the customer. If someone comes in and looks at our menu and is intimidated, or doesn’t feel confident even formulating a question about the drinks or the space, they will often just order a gin and tonic (not a boring option, the house tonic syrup is pretty damn good) or ask what the most popular drink is. Usually the right response is to engage a bit more. I always turn that question around and ask, “what do you like to drink?”. A lot of times we get folks who think they don’t like gin, or who purport to like “everything”. Upon further investigation, I often discover they have some pretty clear distastes of certain flavors or kinds of drinks. Every bit of knowledge about the guest is valuable, and helps me perform my duties better. If they set the menu down, look a little confused or overwhelmed, and recognize and order a G&T as a familiar choice, it can be fun to check in with their palate and perhaps push them in a different direction after talking about some of the available choices. And worse case, they don’t like it, I make something else. Actually, worst case is some unmentioned allergy and subsequent reaction… But let’s skip that one.

It has been fun changing gears over the last few years. I used to work at bars with a formidable array of spirits, wine and beer. The decisions about how best to appease a particular guest were aided by a broader selection of ingredients. With a limited menu of specifically crafted ingredients, it becomes difficult to appease everyone. The conversations I have with customers now encompass broader flavor preferences or mood-specific questions. Do you want something refreshing or rich? Do you like sweet or tart? Oh, you like beer? What kind of beer? Hoppy beer? What about hoppy beer, like bitter or floral?

I can never convince a guest that they want something entirely different from their actual request. What I can do is determine if I can offer something similar, at least in some part, to make their experience with us an agreeable one.

My favorite customers tend to be guests who have been with us before, with whom I have developed some sense of trust, and whose palate I understand, at least nominally. Emily Vikre’s mom (love you, Lisa!) comes in quite regularly, and she rarely has to look at a menu. I know which drinks she should avoid, even if they sound fun, and which drinks she will gush over to the other customers at the bar. We have another couple who comes in, and he always orders our Really Old Fashioned and she gets whatever’s clever. She doesn’t like sweet things, but drinks just about everything else, with a tendency toward tart and bitter. I love serving regulars, because there are two conversations that happen. One, whatever you were talking about last, catching up on how work has been, how the marathon went. The other conversation is contained in their drinks. “What did you like last time? Remember that sip I gave you before you left? That will be on our next menu.” We pick up sort of where we left off.

When purchasing any sort of craft or service, like a tattoo or a haircut, it’s generally the case that the provider is adept and knowledgeable in their chosen profession. The same goes for food and drink. So be bold! Try something new. Read the menu and don’t shy away from flavor combinations or ingredients that puzzle you. Chances are they puzzled us too until we tried many iterations. Place at least a portion of your evening in the skilled hands of your bartender. You won’t often regret that decision.

 

Sometimes, though, they’re just wrong

There is a short list of things that irreversibly change the phrase from “the customer is always (or perhaps sometimes) right” to “the customer is definitely wrong”. The list includes:

  • Being obviously intoxicated and getting cut off and being dramatic about it
  • Making the space and atmosphere uncomfortable for any of our other guests
  • Breaking rules like no drinking on the sidewalk or no smoking indoors
  • Fiddling with valves and levers attached to large and important (and usually dangerous) pieces of equipment
  • Violence
  • Racist or sexist comments (see the whole atmosphere thing)
  • Unnecessary Man-Buns

Ok, so maybe not man-buns. But you catch the drift? It’s my job and joy to make your experience with us a positive one. That said, respect our relationship.

 

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