One of the joys of checking your Twitter/Facebook feed in the middle of the night is finding some of the messages people post and delete by the time everyone wakes up in the morning. Diatribes, rants, topless pics, it’s all kinds of good, wholesome fun.
The other night I saw a former bar employee ranting about about a professional food critic’s review of the person’s previous place of employment. It made me think of something about the atmosphere of certain bars that I wanted to touch on.
But first, let me state this: as a rule, you’ll probably notice that we rarely, if ever, post bad reviews of a bar by name. When we first started, there was one that we mentioned some issues with, but worked that out with the bartender later, and I wish we’d reached out to him before posting. If I am going to post something negative, it’s either because I’m very passionate about what I perceive as an injustice (see most of my Tales posts recently) or I give them a chance to respond before I post (see my post on the William Grant & Sons party at Tales – they just declined to respond after saying they would).
That’s because there’s almost always another side of the story. This industry can be rough enough as it is, there is no reason for me to jeopardize somebody’s job because my Old Fashioned had fruit in it or I wasn’t happy with my bar snacks or I just feel like being a little bitch online. There’s a reason why people look down on Yelp-ers.
On the other hand, I feel like there’s very little reward for industry folks to lash out publicly at people speaking poorly of them online, unless it is to correct a factual error. Yelling online via Twitter, or Yelp comments, or whatever, will usually not garner you goodwill among people who haven’t visited your establishment and may engender some reconsideration among people who’ve visited your place before.
What got me about the rant was the claim that the reviewer (disclosure: I am friends with the reviewer but don’t know anyone else involved) just didn’t get it. She’d visited the bar, but she just didn’t understand their patrons, and friends and family understood the vibe there. It’s her fault!
Here’s the problem with that: what you’re saying is that if you’re not a member of the friends and family of the bar, you’re not going to have as good of an experience. A bar should be open to all, it should not be a clique, or a fraternity, or a closed socialite circle.
Let me use some examples from around this area. I am not going to use the real bars’ names, as not all things will be complimentary. If you know me and know the area, you might recognize some of them.
BAR A: This bar wasn’t far from my old apartment. Every time I went in there was a group of regulars there, chatting with the bar staff. Service was perfunctory and sometimes slow. The staff and the regulars got along quite well, but newcomers to the bar were not included. When the bar closed, many folks complained and complained online about how “the atmosphere was so wonderful”. Why, yes, it was. For you. For the rest of us, it was a shitty bar and we were happy to see it go.
BAR B: This bar has a good crowd of regulars, both in and out of the industry. The staff is friendly to everyone, however, and does their best to include people in on conversations, introduce them to other patrons, etc. Meanwhile the patrons are often quite talkative to people visiting the bar for the first time, or just to people they’ve seen before. Obviously, this breaks down some when it gets really busy, but for the most part holds up well. The only folks I’ve heard complain about it are people who keep themselves distant from everyone else in the bar other than their own friends.
BAR C: An Irish bar down near where I used to live. The bartenders are amazing – go more than once, and they’ll remember your name and your order. The regulars tend to be a bit gruff and insular, but they’re also almost always willing to have a conversation or share some camaraderie. If the patrons at BAR A had been more like the patrons here, outsiders wouldn’t have felt so unwelcome, and perhaps their bar wouldn’t have closed.
BAR D: Everyone hates everyone else. When I’m depressed, that’s the kind of bar I like. It’s shitty and everyone knows it.
BAR E: Good service if you know the bartenders – but if they get distracted by other patrons, it can be slow as hell. Ever get used to being doted on by the staff, then find yourself unable to get a refill because the bartender is flirting with hot girls? It can give you a sad.
So how do you build a good bar experience for your patrons?
It’s all about the people. You need bartenders that can be social and friendly without getting clogged down with one small group of patrons. They need to be able to keep the bar running while making each patron feel special.
And it’s about the customers. You need the kind of customers who will be friendly to newcomers to your bar. This is helped by your bartenders – if the regulars see that the bar staff adds new people to the conversation (“Hey, come meet so and so” or “What do you think about XYZ?”) then they’ll be more willing to do the same.
Obviously, not every bar is going to want to go that way. But the next time you feel the need to defend a bar by saying “you just don’t get it” stop and think that perhaps you’re not the one who gets it.