Opinion: The View From Outside

Luke Haines

Luke Haines

12 May 2016

It's been a while since I wrote anything for the Imbibe site.

It's a wonder they haven't come and beaten my door down, what with the relentless deluge of public pressure that my absence must have caused... 

Still, there's a good reason I haven't had much to say recently on drinks and drinking. The truth, it's sad to say, is that I'm out of the game.

Almost a year ago now, I stopped working in bars, and it's a strange sensation for someone who had never been out of the industry for more than a few months at a time over the preceding thirteen years.

Many bar workers become institutionalised, but since I joined SOBI (the Search for Outside Bar Intelligence) I'm yet to hang myself like the baffled old geezer in The Shawshank Redemption and have, in fact, adjusted fairly well. My favourite thing since I've been out, I'm somewhat surprised to note, is going to bars.

Work in bars long enough and you stop seeing the wood for the trees - you forget why people actually come to bars and restaurants except, you're forced to assume, to annoy you personally.

Sure, everyone wants to give great customer service, but the honest truth is that most customers don't need it. They just want a beer in a timely manner. Even worse, no matter how hard you try, there will always be the occasional customer for whom nothing is ever good enough, and nothing can ruin a shift faster than one of the people you're trying to serve treating you badly.

With most customers seeing you as a vending machine with legs, and a select, cretinous few seeing you as a way to vent their frustrations with their unhappy lives, sometimes it's easy to become dispirited, especially when you so rarely have time to step back and take stock - especially if you're busy with stock taking.

These past few months I have had time to step back. I have looked into the heart of this industry, and what I saw was... beautiful.

Hissssss Clank clank clank "Would you like ice with that...?"
Hissssss Clank clank clank "Would you like ice with that...?"

Up and down the country, night after night, the bars and pubs and restaurants fill with people in need of somewhere to go and something to do to make themselves happier - be it a drink with friends, something to eat that doesn't require washing up or effort, or maybe some sort of cocktail to make them feel classy and sophisticated and, above all, relaxed, when they need it most.

The people of the hospitality industry in this and every other country facilitate that, and whilst it may be a less noble calling than 'teacher' or 'doctor', being a chef or a bartender or a waiter(ess) is no less vital to the fabric of society. You don't always appreciate that when you're in the middle of things, but if you want to know why you should feel proud of your job, take my advice: Get out of your bar, or pub, or restaurant, and go to someone else's.

As for me, I'll keep writing about drinks and drinking (if they'll let me) because I'm smarter than the av-er-age drunk when it comes to the ins and outs of the industry, and it's an interesting position to observe from. And maybe I'll be out there on that road somewhere, some bus or a train, travelling along, or in a motel room, there'll be a radio playing... and I'll turn it off and go for a drink.

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