Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Manners: Rule #74

Rule #74: Don't Nickel & Dime People

If a customer enjoys a steak dinner, or a lobster dinner, or a plate of pasta for that matter, has a few drinks, closes his tab and tips you, THEN decides he wants a cup of coffee or tea, don't charge for it. Seriously. Because to bring another check for a buck or two is simply insulting. If you're really hung up on accounting for that tea bag or cappuccino, pay for it out of your own pocket and tell the customer, "This one's on me."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Non-Fiction Friday: Saturday Night Shenanigans

Written by Guest Blogger Phil Green

There was a Saturday night a few weeks ago that I came into work with a big grin on my face. This isn’t unusual for me as I enjoy my job tremendously, working on the bar in Green 19 – named Dublin’s best restaurant last year. This Saturday was going to be amazing though, I had a great team working for me on this night and we had  all agreed that we’d head next door to the pub after we’d finished our shift and cleaned down and have a few social drinks together and a bit of a laugh.

Everyone was looking forward to this and we were discussing how to make the night more fun with ‘word of the night’ which involved each of us having to work a nominated word into each of our sentences when talking to customers, tonight’s word was going to be 'meow,' everyone was in great form.

Then it hit. The bookings came along, followed by ‘walk-in’ customers wanting tables which we soon ran out of and had to start our waiting list, asking people to go next door to the pub for a drink and letting them know we’d give them a call as soon as we could get them a table. The first order of cocktails came in, 9 cocktails and all different. Now, seasoned cocktail bartenders may be thinking “that doesn’t sound too bad” but I am not a seasoned cocktail bartender. I’ve made cocktails before, but only from the instructions in a book or under the instruction of my current manager at the restaurant. To add to this we have just changed our cocktail menu and I haven’t been shown how to make half the cocktails properly and just to add to all this the back bar where I create all this is smaller than my kitchen counter – not good.

This order would be the beginning of a 5 1/2 hour stream of orders where I would run out of crushed ice for the Mojitos repeatedly, have to make coffees, have the owner pop in with his girlfriend and two of her friends asking for cocktails as well (and of course they have to be bumped to the front of the queue), run out of aged rum, mint leaves, raspberries, vodka, straws, glassware, you named it and it ran out. With the restaurant being so busy the guys working on the floor didn’t have time to help me either, but there was a 3 minute reprieve in the middle where I thought maybe I had gone deaf as I couldn’t hear the printer shooting out orders at me. What did I do with these precious 3 minutes you ask? A drink of water? A quick smoke? No, I ran outside to our store room to try and replace as much of the missing stock as I could before the barrage continued.

Busy nights are not uncommon in Green 19, but this one took us all by surprise with the intensity of people, the amount of cocktails ordered and speed with which it all happened. It was a night where I would find myself doing tasks without really knowing what I was doing because my hands were working faster than my brain could keep up. When working this fast even the slightest thing can throw you off and this nearly happened when one of the girls that had an early finish that night asked me for a Sonic Fruit cocktail. I told her she would have to wait as I was about 5 cocktails behind in my orders, but 5 minutes later she appeared on the bar asking “Phil, where’s my cocktail?!” It took all my inner strength not to turn around and release all my frustration on her with a torrent of profanities, but instead I asked her as nicely as I could manage to go and sit down and wait and I’d make the drink for her as soon as I’d finished the paying customer’s orders. Really she should have known better.

But I live for these nights, the panic, the adrenaline and all the while still putting out beautiful drinks that are praised and enjoyed by people. This is what working on a cocktail bar in Dublin or anywhere is all about, it may be at the other end of the restaurant from the kitchen but I’m doing the same job, creating and balancing flavours and making sure they arrive at the table looking as good as possible. After this night I’ve even started to get the arrogance of a chef and am looking forward to the weekends on the bar and will be putting my own creations on the menu soon.

Needless to say we all headed over to the pub after this night had ended and relaxed and chatted over a few pints, but it certainly wasn’t the energetic after work drink we thought it would be. I think each of us lasted no more than 15 minutes and we all looked at each other with the same expression, time to go home and sleep. Funny thing is though as soon as I got home I was so wired from the night I couldn’t sleep, but after an hour of watching TV I finally dropped off to dream about cocktails and coffees just to wake up go back into work and do it all over again!

Read more of Phil Green at

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thirsty Thursday: New Yogurt Cocktail

This tart drink with a good balance of sweetness is easy to make. With only two ingredients, you can save on the mixers and spend a little more on a premium vodka. The texture is creamy but can be adjusted by adding more or less yogurt.

1.5 ounces vodka
2 ounces yogurt (I've used cherry, but pick your favorite)

Step 1: Measure 2 ounces of yogurt
Step 2: Fill a shaker half-way with ice
Step 3: Pour 1.5 ounces of vodka and the yogurt into the shaker. Shake hard!
Step 4: Strain into a martini glass (strong rattling may be needed)
Step 5: Garnish with cake confetti (optional)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tell It Tuesdays: Pearl Dragon | Pacific Palisades

Restaurant: Pearl Dragon
Location: 15229 W. Sunset Blvd.
                    Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
                    (310) 459-9790

Drink Damage:  Cosmopolitan $10
Interior Swag: A giant Budda surrounded by bamboo shoots greets customers at the door. The lighting is low and the seating area is snug, making the environment intimate and warm. Unfortunately the bar only seats five people, and there isn't much standing room for bar overflow.
Service: Even though we sat at the sushi bar, a waitress took our order. The sushi chef delivered our food and was equally attentive and friendly.
Food & Drink: The cosmo I ordered was not a cosmo. Definitely had grapefruit juice in it. It was sent back to the bar after two sips and I switched to chardonnay. For dinner we ordered a variety of sushi rolls and a salmon plate. It was all delicious! A highlight of the meal was when a cricket jumped onto my plate. I was able to capture him and bring him outside. If it had been a cockroach I may have reacted differently. This bug didn't seem to bother us. 
Go-Back-Again-Ness: I like this spot despite the drink snafu and large insect. We will go again.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Manners: Rule #6

Rule #6: Give Change in Singles
If the bill is $14.95, and the customer hands you a twenty, do not bring back a nickel and a $5 bill. When you do this you convey one of the following:
A) your service is worth a mere 5 cents
B) you expect a 33% tip
C) the customer's time is not valuable and it's his or her responsibility to ask for additional change

Bring back a nickel and five singles, and trust that you'll get the gratuity that you deserve.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Non-Fiction Friday: Frightening Customer

Luckily I haven't come in contact with too many shady characters while working behind the bar. But there was this one guy. He was big and bulky and sat at the bar with a manuscript and ball point pen. He usually outstayed his welcome. Fortunately he sat at an unpopular corner bar stool, so although it was busy, he didn't hog any prime real estate.

From the beginning he sat down I knew there was definitely something odd about the guy. I just couldn't put my finger on it.

Those of you who have bartended know that it's hard to remember someone's name unless the person comes in regularly or does something bizarre. This customer, whom I shall refer to as 'Dave,' was extremely high-maintenance. He requested our most expensive chardonnay and needed it to be immersed in ice. The wine cooler or a regular ice bucket wasn't good enough so my wonderful barbacks brought me a huge kitchen bucket filled with ice for Dave's bottle of white. If I knew what I was dealing with, I may not have been so nice.

My first mistake was remembering Dave's name. He'd made enough fuss about the wine to make an impression, and then editing a stack of papers at 9:30 p.m. on a Thursday wasn't exactly normal. I'll add that he was super grumpy but left a generous tip. Memorable.

Then he came in the next night. And the night after that. And the next night too. Each time his needs got more and more demanding. Requesting a steak without a lot of fat and then sending it back half-eaten since it wasn't up to par. Asking for five different sauces to dip his fries in. And there was that specially chilled bottle of wine. But the worst part was when he decided to sit in the center of the bar, and start to ask waaaaaay too many questions.

"Where are you from? Where do you live? What does your husband do? Why are you a bartender? What else are you going to do with your life? This isn't a very respectable job. If you were smart you'd start thinking about a way out."

I've handled my share of drunken fools. But there was something sinister about this guy. His comments became more mean spirited and he started staring at me the entire time with an evil eye. It was making me really uncomfortable. If he hadn't been dressed in a suit and tie each time he may have been easier to throw out. But I'll admit that I was intimidated and scared.

I tried many different strategies to get him out: giving him the bill early, providing terrible service,  making him wait forever for a barstool by refilling the drinks of my other customers and being a bitch. None of it worked.

Luckily we had a bartender who was a professional fisherman, who worked once a week just for the fun of it. Men his size who have stared death in the eye during many horrendous ocean storms can handle anything. And handle it he did.

I let Mike know what was going on with Mr. Creep-o, then we traded shifts. Dave came in for his ninth straight night and met Mike. Mike knew just how to get under Dave's skin fast. Dave was denied every single special request and basically hung out to dry. When Dave started getting loud and making demands, Mike got louder.

Then Dave pulled out a knife.

The bar got really quiet.  Mike, about a foot taller and 50 ounds heavier, calmly walked around the bar and got right in Dave's face. He told Dave he had a few seconds to put the knife away, to turn around, and to never, ever come back.

If took me several months for the tingling in my knees to stop when someone who looked similar to Dave would walk in. But I never saw him again after that. Now, I tell every new bartender I meet, "Trust. Your. Instincts." It might save your life.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thirsty Thursday: Tequila Sunrise

There is a reason for the name. This drink is enjoyable any time of day, perfect for a Sunday brunch or a brutal hangover. It's also simple to make. Fresh oranges or orange juice makes the best drink, or try tangerine juice for an even sweeter variation.

2 ounces tequila
2 ounces orange juice
1 tablespoon grenadine

Step 1: Pack the glass with ice
Step 2: Free-pour or measure two ounces of silver or gold tequila

Step 3: Hand squeeze six oranges or measure and pour 2-3 ounces of fresh orange juice

Step 4: Drizzle about a table spoon of grenadine or cheery juice into the glass

Step 5: Switch all the ingredients into a shaker and toss together
Step 6: Pour the drink and ice back into the glass

Optional: Garnish with orange slice or twist

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday Gadget Gab

Gadget: Vinturi Wine Aerator
Price: $40

This holiday season I purchased my first little Vinturi wine aerator. Attracted by its promises of 'opening' up my wine, I was eager to try it on our home collection. Decanters are the traditional wine aerators and gorgeous table accessories, but they are not always practical when the evening involves takeout and an episode of "Mad Men."

This contraption comes with a filter for sedament and a tiny stand, and makes a wonderfully productive whizzing noise as the wine passes through the aerator and into your glass. It's easy to wash and is made of a thick unbreakable plastic.

Although I was skeptical at first, my husband and I had fun with a few before and after taste tests. We opened both a lower end and higher end bottle of merlot for the experiment. I can honestly say that the better tasting wine had passed through the magic Vinturi.

Available at, Sur La Table, or your local culinary store.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tell It Tuesdays: Armando's | Palm Desert

Restaurant: Armando's (affectionately called 'Mando's' by the locals)
Location: 73260 El Paseo  Palm Desert, CA  92260-4270
Drink Damage: Well Margarita $8 | Call Margarita $15.50
Interior Swag: Festive, unpretentious, and warm. Lots of little lights and random trinkets make the decor a piece for conversation when you've tired of discussing the strength of the margarita.

Service: Not a fan of seven different people servicing the table. The gentleman who took our order was friendly, generally attentive, and very apologetic when we had to remind him of our second drink order. It was slower than usual for a Saturday night, which may have explained an over-staffing of busboys eager to fill one's water glass after every sip.
Spirits: The margarita will floor you. Pretty sure these bartenders are not using jiggers and are pouring a double for each order. Those who ordered beers needed multiple rounds. The margarita drinkers could hardly get to the bottom of one.
Food: I broke my rule about not ordering fish further than 20 miles from an ocean, and went for the fish tacos. Delicious! Really large portions, so come hungry or bring someone who likes to split a plate.
Go-Back-Again-Ness: A must the next time we are in Palm Desert.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Manners: Lemon & Lime Garnishes

Rule # 128: Don't Drop the Garnish

When a customer requests to have a lemon or lime added to their drink, it is because they would like to actually taste a hint of lemon or lime. It is not for decoration or to watch the wedge swim around with the ice cubes. So either place the garnish on the rim of the drink so she can crush it herself, or squeeze the slice into the drink for her (using one hand as a squirt shield), and then drop it into the cocktail. Otherwise the customer will be forced to fish it out with her fingers or straw to get the drink the way she wants it, providing unintentional entertainment for her companions.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Non-Fiction Friday: Another Embarrassing Bar Story

I walked into the mountain base bar dressed in puffy snow-boarding clothes and wearing one of those giant astronaut looking snow helmets before they became main stream and fashionably smaller. The bar was extremely crowded, filled with rosy cheeked revelers.

My husband left to find a ski locker and I waited patiently at one of the few tables in this 40-seat bar to order two Toasted Almonds. While I waited I couldn't help but notice the tush of one of the female patrons who sat at the bar only a few feet from me. Her healthy-sized derriere was fully exposed save for a very scanty piece of underwear. Perhaps because I had yet to become a bartender, or perhaps it was my youthful naivete- I clearly wasn't sensitive to the tone or vibe of the bar crowd. At all.

Although I had unbuckled my chin-strap, I was still in my Michelin get-up as I approached the girl to gently tap her on the shoulder. The face that whipped around to greet me was weathered, cross-eyed with intoxication, and absolutely furious at the interruption.

"What?!" She blurted with a grunt.
In a small voice I managed, "Um, I just wanted to tell you that, well, your pants are down in the back."

Knowing that I had just made a colossal error, I wished my orange tinted goggles were still over my eyes to protect them from a different kind of glare. And as much as I wanted to move, I remained involuntarily frozen in place. Sensing an opportunity to seize my shame and expose it to everyone, the girl stood up and shouted to the bartender at the far end, "Hey Jimmy! This BITCH here is staring at my ASS!" The place went very, very quiet. Of course the bartender shouted back, "She said what?"

As I collected my mittens and scarf in a hurry, the interaction between us was repeated to the larger audience, this time with the assistance of other customers who had witnessed the account first hand. The laughter, pointing and name calling seemed to explode all around me. So when my husband walked into the room, ready to relax and enjoy a well-deserved cocktail, I intercepted him faster than a high-speed chair lift and escorted him outside to the snow.

Later that night, as we sipped beers by our cabin fire, we laughed about my horribly executed and quite honestly, stupid decision. "Live and learn," I chuckled.

It's been many years since that day but the experience still brings a smile to my face. Here's to living and learning.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thirsty Thursday: Traditional Margarita

The margarita is up there with the martini: a classic. But just like a martini, it's a classic that can go horribly wrong if the right ingredients aren't used. A good margarita should be the perfect balance we sweet and sour and salt. Go easy on the cointreau and sweet & sour, and avoid blending if you can. Here is our favorite recipe:

2 1/2  ounces silver tequilla
1 ounce sweet & sour
1/2 ounce triple sec, Cointreau, or Grande Marnier
Squeeze of 2 lime wedges
Squeeze of 2 lemon wedges

Shake together and strain into a chilled, ice-packed salt-rimmed glass.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tell It Tuesdays: Santa Monica Restaurant Review

Restaurant: La Grande Orange
Location: 2000 Main Street
                Santa Monica, CA
Drink Damage: Margarita $11 / Bottle of Justin | Paso Robles, California $49
Interior Swag: Nice decor but the acoustics are rough and they really pack those tables in. Great when you want to hear another party's conversation, not so great if you want some privacy.
Service: Unfortunately we didn't get to sit at the bar but our table server was lovely. She was attentive but didn't helicopter, bubbly but genuine, and dressed in the same shirt as me. What's not to love?
Food: The nacho app was so good our party of six devoured it in seconds. Everyone enjoyed their meal though my ahi burger wasn't cooked to my requested temp and seemed unusually mushy. Didn't feel well the rest of the night though it could also have been because I ate every last herb-tossed French fry on my plate.
Go-Back-Again-Ness: Not at the top of my list

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Monday Manners

Tip # 13:
Avoid, "Are you still working on that?"

The majority of bars serve some sort of food, be it fries or cordon blue. If you happen to work at a bar that offers dinner or appetizers, avoid the expression, "Are you still working on that?" People work on cars, or building cabinets, or on doctorates. Food is enjoyed. Appreciated. Savored. Not worked on. If someone looks finished with their food, ask if he or she is still enjoying the meal, or if you can take their plate. You will be surprised by how many people verbally appreciate this approach.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday Manners

Rule # 43: Never set a drink down by its rim

However convenient or necessary it may seem, never set a drink down by holding the rim of a glass. The bar might be so crowded that transporting a glass this way seems safer. Maybe it is, but it's not sanitary and will offend your customer. Hold the glass from the neck or bottom, or once you have enough experience, slide that cocktail down the bar and right into your patron's hand.