Bartender: (noun) a person who serves alcoholic beverages behind the bar in a licensed establishment. This is who I am now. I am a bartender, I tend the bar. Seems simple enough doesn't it? I mean all I need to know is which drink goes in what glass and a few mixology musts right?
Well let's consider this for a moment. I took part in a training program to receive a certificate called Smart Serve that allows me into this job. But what else does this certificate afford me? For one thing, a much lower rate of pay. The minimum wage in Ontario is currently $10.25 while for servers and bartenders like myself it is $8.90. Okay ... we (hopefully) get tips .. I get it. But another thing it gets me a whole lot of responsibility. In fact, according to the Alcohol Liquor and Gaming Commission of Ontario, this certificate opens me up to a plethora of civil and potentially criminal actions! Wow ... for $8.90 an hour? I could sit on a stool in a gas station hut taking cash and processing payments all for $1.30 more an hour. What's wrong with this picture? I've even seen tip cups in those huts.
In effect, I could have an 'off-night', miss the signs, serve you one too many and get fired for it or even worse sued if you were to leave and drive impaired. Or even more upsetting, to have my place of employment outright lose its liquor license completely? Yikes. That's an awful lot to load on one person's shoulders. All for under $50 and four hours of your time. Will we soon see the day where individual bartenders like myself need to acquire personal liability insurance to be employed? I may soon regret putting that out into the universe! Yes the tips can be substantial, almost as substantial as is the pain in my feet at the end of a long shift. Maybe I should start banking some of my tips in case I have an 'off-night'? I shudder at the thought. Thank goodness that the Smart Serve team train you well and offer ongoing support via their website smartserve.ca. That site is full of tips, reminders, and important considerations like medication and alcohol contraindications.
That brings me to my next point. Let's discuss my smart serve knowledge and implied responsibilities, and how they pertain to you the customer. Let me ask you this: have you ever been asked by your bartender or server who in your group was the designated driver? How did that make you feel? I can give two perspectives on this question. I have been the one to ask it many times, and I can't speak for everyone but for me it's always inspired by concern for you, your well-being, and the good standing of my boss's AGCO Liquor License. And ... I'm being paid to be on the ball about this stuff. It's my job. While you're there to have fun. It's not your job to count your drinks; it's mine. It's not your job to make sure any one of your co-partyers is drinking responsibly so they can drive home; it's mine.
I've also been asked this question and y'know what it told me? That my sever not only cares about me, her job, her boss, but also that she respects the Smart Serve certificate in her wallet. I remember making eye contact with my hunny and nodding in appreciation to the fact that I am not alone in taking this stuff seriously.
Whenever I envision what it is to be a bartender, I see Woody from Cheers standing there patiently listening or pondering Norm's words, slowly polishing a beer stein. We are a rare breed. I mean, you don't become a bartender unless you like people. You don't purposely put yourself into that situation if you abhor intoxicated party-goers. I genuinely love people . I love our similarities and I celebrate our differences. The energy of fun and recreation livens me up like a shot of B12. I bar tend at the 2013 Canadian Venue of the Year and we have a different liquor license because it is an all-ages venue rather than a bar that checks I.D. at the door. Each license the AGCO gives has parameters that are logical in my opinion, and for the good of you the citizen.
Back to the Smart Serve certificate. I recommend that you as parents encourage your kids to get this certificate when they turn 18 or 19. It truly sets them apart from many other potential employees, and for under $50 and four hours of their time, they can have a certificate that never expires. I've had mine since 2001! Not only that, but they may really enjoy their job like I do and be enticed to work those busy nights rather than partying with their college and university pals. To be honest, depending on the function, concert, or game, I feel like I'm being paid to party sometimes. Except in the morning I wake up clear-headed with a few tips in my pocket and the memories of funny customers I was able to make a connection with.
We are all interconnected. Strangers really can care about the well-being of strangers. So the next time that you are out with your friends and your server inquires about your designated driver, know that they're not being a buzz-kill ... they're just making sure they see you again soon.