Tending bar is serious business
When I moved back to Rochester in early 2015, I cofounded (and currently preside over) the Greater Rochester Chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild in an effort to bring more community, awareness, and education to the bars and restaurants of Rochester. The motivation for doing this and the goals for the future have been in constant flux since we’ve become a real live chapter as a 501-c6 not-for-profit corporation and completed, one by one, the tasks we set out to accomplish. The list is constantly growing and shrinking at the same time, and it’s been as beneficial as we could possibly make it. I think it’s been wonderful, but I’m biased, I suppose.
As we released our first batch of USBG-branded clothing items, we realized that having our chapter logo on all of those items limited sales to members and very direct supporters—an unintended effect, for sure. No one else would take even a mild interest in clothing/accessories like that, so it forced us to think outside the box to create a new slogan/logo. After a few cocktails and a lot of scribbling around a table at Orbs Restaurant & Bar, several of us came up with “Forward Drinking” as our new slogan and fabricated a new logo that wasn’t as sterile and unapproachable as our official logo. After letting the dust settle on our new and brilliantly conceived accomplishment, I began to wonder what (aside from a larger market of supporters) this slogan was actually getting at. This lead me to realize that it was one of the best discoveries we’d ever made.
“Forward Drinking” is clearly a play on the phrase “forward thinking.” As I age, I realize that many (if not most) decisions we make on a daily basis are based on information that we’re not even aware that we have at the conscious level—background thoughts, but really important ones. Let’s start at the beginning.
Hospitality is a strange industry in which to work. We keep opposite hours to most others we regularly interact with: family, friends, lovers, etc. Your lunch is my breakfast, in other words. Your dinner is my lunch. Your bedtime is my happy hour. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but certainly only a select bunch of people are drawn to this lifestyle. One could argue that some people simply end up doing this type of work, but the person sitting adjacent could counter that there’s a type of brain that truly needs to hide behind three feet of bar and live in the night to feel comfortable. That being said, no matter which side of the coin a bar worker falls on, the fact is that they/we all live in the night. One can get away with just about anything during these hours, and no matter what type of person you are, it’s too easy to misbehave to a degree you otherwise wouldn’t.
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, right? Leeway leads to indulgence. It’s easy to see how events can spiral out of control pretty easily in this setting, and they frequently do. It can take a day, a week, a year, or ten years. Bar work has long been dismissed as not a lifetime career choice, as many who get into it decide to migrate fields within five years, jovially referring to their bar life as their “younger, crazier years.” They’ve escaped, and they did it just in time. But isn’t this a bit of a toxic way to view a true and necessary field of work? Many bartenders fall into the category of the addicted, the self- medicated, and the soon-to-be-burnouts—but it doesn’t have to be that way.
If anything in the world is to be true of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, it’s that the number-one goal is to aid hospitality workers in living a productive and healthy lifestyle by replacing idle minds and hands with educational opportunities and career goals. The majority of our full-time industry workers would prefer to progress in their work, as no one in his right mind truly and deeply desires to repeat the same motion every day for the remainder of human history. We now know there are options. There are career paths and people to meet; there is knowledge to be gained and moves to be made! With this constant progress comes almost inherently the desire to keep one’s body and mind healthy and happy in order to be able to fully absorb the constant opportunities and education.
We’re finding ways to drink less than we have the opportunity to as we spend more time in this industry. Cutting out unnecessary drinking, sleeping properly, and going to the gym are all very important parts of life, but boy is it easy to forget that when you live behind a bar. That’s where we come in. USBG to the rescue. Providing as much education, community, and opportunity as we possibly can is the long-term goal, and we’re constantly working toward that. So, to revisit the “Forward Drinking” slogan that plasters much if not most of our items for sale: what does it mean to you, now?
For us, it means turning what has the tendency to be a party job during the college years of future professionals into something that can be groundbreaking and sustainable. Forward drinking. In order to transform an industry into what we’d prefer it be, we need to think about the future of everyone currently working within. We need to analyze the tools they have now and the tools they’ll need in order to succeed long term. We need to find a way to fill that gap the best we can. This is not to say that every bartender needs or wants to end up climbing the industry ladders, but our goal is to make that an option if anyone should so choose to take it.
We’ve been accomplishing this on a national and local level by making available more-than-quarterly cocktail competitions, monthly educational seminars, and free visits to distilleries in foreign countries, and by sponsoring select members to take free trips to regional and national USBG conferences in cities all over the United States. On top of that, we’ve spearheaded multiple charity endeavors on a local and national level, which we think has a variety of benefits. Donating to charity is clearly one of them, but allowing our members to give to our community is important, as is showing our community that bartenders are human beings who care deeply about their surroundings in a real, tangible manner.
“Forward Drinking” isn’t just a catchy slogan written in a pleasant font on a piece of clothing. It’s an ideology. It’s the thought that our industry that so many people love simply must grow and change. The more we can think of hospitality as an important part of modern society and a sustainable career path, the better off everyone who interacts with it (guest or employee) will benefit.
In summary, forward thinking is what we read about in every level of schooling, and “Forward Drinking” is what we’re doing right this moment in bars all around Rochester. Maybe someday you’ll read about us? Maybe you are right now.
Here’s to you, and here’s to hospitality.
Donny Clutterbuck is the bar manager at Cure.