An Open Letter to Bartenders

by Jason Bran on March 30, 2012

in Droppin' Knowledge

Dear friends,

I recently teamed up with some friends to produce a video that you may have seen called “Sh*t That People Say to Bartenders”. I apologize if it has congested your facebook newsfeed but it was more popular than I thought it would be. It’s success taught me a lot. Most importantly I realize that we have a community larger than I imagined. If you enjoyed the video, please take a moment to read this.

Like many of you, I am intrinsically driven to change the way people think about spirits, cocktails, and even bartenders. For the past few years I have enjoyed many opportunities through the “cocktail boom” but I still believe as knowledgeable skilled individuals, we are largely undervalued and misunderstood by the masses.

Here in LA, most bar owners prefer to keep costs down by favoring low skilled employees and simple two ingredient cocktails. Rather than focus on a quality beverage program they pour money into design and marketing. This happens because our guests don’t demand much more than that. I don’t believe in telling others what to drink but I fear that this landscape presents significant challenges to our collective value.

I understand that growth takes time yet I believe that growth lies in changing the way people think. I am compelled to believe that we can do more to change the way our work is valued. I have developed a strategy to achieve this but I need your help!

I ask you to consider taking these actions:

-Recognize!
We are all in the same gang!. Being competitive is human nature but if we spend our time and effort working against each other we will never realize change. The environment of our industry makes it easy to think success is determined by benchmarking the accolades of others but that is untrue. If we change the way people think about what we do we can all be happy doing what we love.

-Slow down!
To the youngsters enthusiastic about bartending that think it’s all about getting into a magazine. Trust me, no bartender pictured in The Tasting Panel is killing it. Recognition is nice, but this job is about loving what you do and doing it well. That’s much deeper than winning a cocktail competition or creating a dozen new cocktails. If you are a youngster, get a mentor and learn your basics before you think you’re a consultant or the mayor of mixology.

-Don’t check out!
Because the highly skilled can be so under valued it seems that more and more bartenders are longing for that brand ambassador job, expecting that to be more rewarding. It might be the easy answer to make more money, but are you a bartender or a salesman? If we dig in, work together, and fight the good fight we can achieve change and increase average bartender wages. Stick around and make it better rather than cutting loose, we could use the help.

-Extend the olive branch.
I don’t know when this happened but there is a massive disconnect between guests and bartenders. Ordinary guests think that bartenders are assholes while bartenders think guests are annoying. In order for people to really value our work we need to work to eliminate this misconception. We get people drunk, of course they can be irritating. But we have thick skin no? We can deal with it professionally. Just like being subjected to being personally attacked on websites like yelp. Which brings me to this…

-Write!
For several years I have watched yelpers, bloggers, and journalists opine as if they are experts. Some have merit but others are simply uneducated enthusiasts looking for a paycheck via advertising revenue. While there is room for enthusiasts, they should not be regarded as the “experts” in your town. They should not dominate the media, determine the worth of anyone’s work, and they should be checked when they step out of line. Let’s decide to not worry about the erratic opinions of the self empowered and instead empower ourselves as industry professionals.

We can change the way that our work is valued, and further change the way we are rewarded.

I will be doing my part here in LA and happy to speak with anyone about my strategy, vision, and opportunities to work together. But I need your help! I seek strength in numbers! Please help me by liking my company on Facebook and following me and my company on twitter. I promise not to bombard you with propaganda or do dumb shit like tag you in things that you don’t want to be a part of.

I will make a difference! I look forward to fighting the good fight with you.
Super Vest Friends unite!

Your brother in arms,

Jason Bran

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

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Shannon Mickelwait July 25, 2012 at 8:09 pm

As a “youngster” to the industry I am excited about the changes that have come with the “cocktail boom”.

Doing my part by reading the classics, writing the explorative, learning from great tender’s, and imparting whatever knowledge I have to the curious.

Cheers from Wish SF!

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Josh T June 28, 2012 at 10:14 am

Jason! Well said brother. I hope you are well and maybe see ya at tales. Cheers from SF!

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Kimberly Hemby June 26, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Sheesh!…is it really so disconnected in the big cities? I guess I am fortunate to bartend in a smaller city…I have enjoyed 26 years behind the bar and cant say I have ever felt such a discord…I am friends with many local bartenders in my area and we all share a common bond and respect…sad to hear that is not the case elsewhere. Here’s a thought from a veteran…..Be memorable..and be neutral—Develop regulars through conversation and manners, and truly love what you do from every aspect. It is just that easy…. Best of Luck to all of you from Pensacola :))

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Miyanda June 15, 2012 at 7:36 pm

My thoughts exactly! Very well put and another refreshing look at the perspective I hope will carry on to all others in our field!

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Chase May 20, 2012 at 6:56 pm

U guys are the voice it’s up to u to shape the future the customers are only repeating the cheep marketing story’s they have heard from the massive brands , you guys can change the future easy it’s up to u not Bacardi , Campari , etc

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Danielle aka Pooky May 2, 2012 at 7:11 am

Well said Jason. I’ve been behind bars for 12years, have had every kind of experience possible, including winning competitions and what not but you nailed it on a lot of levels. Reaching out to bartenders from all over the world, participating in competitions that earn you apprenticeships has been invaluable. I have learned so much even in the last three years about myself, my potential and what exactly a future being in this profession means. Thank you for your humor, I live for wit. I think, at least in San Francisco where I work, a slow shift to barpeople taking themselves less seriously and still earning respect for great cocktails, while treating costumers, even the irritating ones with some respect is abound. Keep up the good work and visit me at Monarch Sf if you are ever up north.
Cheers!
Pooky

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Alexandru Ciomartan April 22, 2012 at 10:41 am

Folks you are missing the main point. We are selling alcohol!!!

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Richard Headley April 22, 2012 at 9:56 am

This article is nothing more than one long self congratulatory pat on the back. The videos aren’t even funny and anyone retarded enough to post and repost on Facebook or Twatter swiftly got canned. I guess I owe you a big thanks for exposing how many one dimensional worthless cunts were lurking as friends and followers.

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Alex April 23, 2012 at 5:29 am

I think I just fell in love with you

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Spyros Patsialos April 21, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Thank you very much dear friend for the nice thoughts that you shared with us. You reminded me of some nice stories that Gaz Regan has written in Annual Manual 2011.
Keep in touch

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Katie Loeb April 21, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Jason:

Look me up if you’re ever in Philly. You are my brother from another mother. Right there with you on all you’ve said. We all bask in the sunshine when the bright light is shone on cocktail culture in every city. As John Henry pointed out, a rising tide floats all boats…

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Lew Bryson April 21, 2012 at 8:31 pm

“But if you had the balls to look me in the eye, and say, “Dude, these fries suck.””
Sorry, but…I’ve stopped trying this. I’ve stopped saying it in any way: blunt, funny, politely, plaintively. Because almost every damned time, I either get a whole raft of shit, or I get an argument, or I get a manager who clearly thinks I’m a douche who either doesn’t know shit from shine, or is scamming some free fries…when all I’m trying to do is 1)get some fries that DON’T suck; and 2)help YOU do your job a little better. I mean, if something’s wrong with my work, I want to know, because I want to make it better. But I’m about done trying to help bars and restaurants do theirs better, because mostly? I get nothing but the flipped rod. So…bitching on Yelp is a natural reaction for some folks. I don’t, unless I go back a second time and the same thing happens, and then I Tweet, or blog, or call an owner and TRY to have a conversation. None of which is really a good spend of time.
Would this happen in your place? Probably not, since you seem to give a damn. But please, please do not get in the customer’s face for not saying anything to your face. There’s a real good chance that they’ve been worn down by some other prick who doesn’t give the least bit of a damn. We’re all getting through this the best we can. At least…those of us who give a damn.

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H. Joseph Ehrmann April 21, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Jason,
I agree with what you say and will take it a step further. I am on an education kick. It’s all about education. I don’t want to sound like an old man, but I’ve been around the block. I know that everyone wants to make more money and the best way to do that is to constantly improve yourself via education and experience. You’re right that the new kids on the block want instant fame, which is normal in your twenties, no matter what career you pursue. So I put the onus on my elder peers to create infrastructure that fosters change. that’s why I created the Boothby Center. There needs to be more regular educational centers like Bridget Albert’s Academy of Service in Chicago, Francesco Lafranconi and Armando Rossario’s Academy and Drew Levin’s (both in Vegas), The Employee’s Only program, BAR, Bar Smarts, etc. More city’s need central points of real information (not bartender schools mixing colored water). I challenge each city that is emerging with a great bar culture to educate via their USBG chapter or another means. I proposed this as a Pro Series topic for Tales of the Cocktail but was denied (and a seminar on Media Training for bartenders was approved…because that’s what they need I guess). We need business education so bartenders understand the numbers behind their industry; how they work and why. You can’t just ask for more pay, you have to understand where it comes from, how profits are made, where money is lost and how to effect it all. We may have taught people to put down the artificial sour mix and squeeze a lemon, but there’s still a lot more work to be done. I’ll do my part.

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Chris Simmons April 21, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Mr Bran,

Very well written and due points taken. I also feel that there is a great deal of unnecessary competition in our profession. This competition divides us as professionals and poisons our efforts of collectively moving forward. I look forward to furthering this discourse. If you’re ever a few miles south down in the San Diego area, please look me up. I’d love to chat! Cheers!

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Chris Sinclair April 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Jason, thank you both for the “shit people say to bartenders” video and this. I take to heart everything you have said. I think a lot of, let’s call ’em “youngsters”, have yet to learn what this profession is really about. They see the Morganthalers and the Boudreaus of our industry making a name for themselves through blogging and developing killer beverage programs, but what they don’t see is the community those programs build around them. Sure it would be rad to get free sh*t all the time, and do interviews for Cointreau while building a pseudo rockstar persona, but that’s NOT what we do. Our job is be a facilitator of experience. To allow people to shrug off the stress of the day and be at ease; whether its through a story, a new cocktail, food, or simply just real unadulterated human interaction.

I think where some of this disconnect happens is two-fold.
1) Yelp: It is so easy to go home and anonymously slander some one, for giving you a supposed sideways glance, or to wax poetic on uninspired french fries. But if you had the balls to look me in the eye, and say, “Dude, these fries suck.” I may just agree with you and offer you something you might like too.
2) we are not reinventing the wheel: Since the beginning of time (what ever you define that to be) the human species has communed of food and drink. We are not reinventing the wheel, we’re just throwing some chromed out rims on it and attaching it to a hemi :)
3) complete lack of willingness to communicate: I can’t tell you how often people stare at my cocktail menu for 5 to 10 minutes, put it down and then ask for a vodka tonic. When I say simply “Talk to me.” “Tell me what you like.” Customers usually shrug and ask for a beer. This disconnect be bridged, even if with force.

Chris’ open challenge to bartender: Create interaction with your community, not just with “The Cool people who like your cocktails”, but with the “Vodka Soda Baby” crowd too. They deserve to drink what they like, AND to not receive an eye roll every time they order.

I really appreciate your care and concern for our chosen profession Jason, truly. Thanks for writing, I’ll keep reading and being entertained.
Chris Sinclair

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Matt bailey April 21, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I couldn’t agree more. In Seattle we do have a bit of a community, and I will do my part to make it stronger

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John Henry April 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Jason
You are a sage. A rising tide will raise us all. Chart a solid journey steadily earned to the stars. And make the revolution in good spirits last. Otherwise we all lose to the fates of “remember that pretentious mixology trend” as customers swill their cake and fruit loop flavored vodkas or skinny girl premixes. We need more leaders, writers and hilarious provocateurs like you. I am willing to keep leading the education and inspiration movement; and to serve up sense, shot across the bow or bar, from here in New York. Holler when you are in town.

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Rob April 21, 2012 at 5:14 am

Mr Bran,

if ever you’re in Paris drop in for a drink and a chat. We are on the same wave!

cheers

Rob

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Patrick Natola April 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm

This was a very refreshing outlook. Thank you!

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