Behind the Bar | A look into the lives of bartenders
As bar-goers, our primary focus tends to be more on the drinks we’re served, and less on the people serving them. The role of a bartender is to ensure we have a fun (but safe) night out by making and serving beer, cocktails and shots, but their job often extends beyond that task. Whether it be making idle conversation with chatty customers, cleaning up spills and messes or having to ward off or even kick out the overly-intoxicated, bartending is by no means a simple job.
It becomes harder, of course, when bartenders have to deal with harassment from the other side of the bar. This sort of behavior can range from general rudeness to outright assault; not only this, but it often has a correlation with gender. Though Data USA states that as of 2016, 55.4 percent of bartenders are female, it seems more common for female bartenders to receive certain treatment, harassment or otherwise, relating to their gender. Of course, this doesn’t mean male bartenders don’t also receive similar treatment.
PULSE spoke to bar employees around Ellensburg for a deeper look at the experiences of male and female bartenders and how not to treat them.
“If I look cuter, people
will tip me more.”
Many bartenders will tell you that while they may not always have a uniform, dressing to impress is still beneficial. “One of my [male] friends told me … to start dressing up on nights, because when he works Fridays and Saturdays, he’s like, ‘I dress up like I go out, because I get more tips,’” says Lexi Veatch, a bartender at The Palace. “Girls will flirt with him all of the time and tip him more.”
Of course, this isn’t just applicable to men. Veatch adds that she takes her friend’s advice. “On nights that I do get to work—busier nights—I do try to look prettier than on a Wednesday,” she says. “If I look cuter, people will tip me more.”
With this being a common occurrence among bartenders, it may come as no surprise that employers will sometimes use this to their advantage as a way to garner more business.
“I’ve had comments made about my gender, as in, ‘Hopefully having you tend bar will bring in more tips’ or ‘Maybe you can dress a certain way in order to emphasize your female-ness,’” explains Julie*, a bartender and senior lecturer in the College of Arts & Humanities. “I tend to decline those invitations to exploit my gender or to feel as though I’m being exploited in order to do something that is largely just something that I do because I enjoy it and I’m good at it.”
“I think it’s a good idea
not to be heavy on one [gender] or the other.”
With both male and female bartenders receiving gender-related treatment, bar dynamics are affected when both a man and a woman are working the bar. “We have a few good guys and a few good girls, and I think it’s a good idea not to be heavy on one side or the other in a place,” says Mike Wooldridge, a manager at Blue Rock Saloon. “There are people who—for whatever reason, like it or not—they’re going to want to go to a girl and get a drink from a girl, or they’re going to want to go to this guy who makes this kind of drink for them.”
For Veatch, this is a common occurrence. “Most of my customers are males. I don’t know if that’s just an [every] bar thing, or if that’s just The Palace, but that kind of helps tip-wise,” she says, adding that many older male customers have a habit of using the terms “sweetheart” or “sweetie” when speaking with her. “It’s starting to piss me off because now I feel like I’m not a bartender; now I feel like I’m a kid getting you something really quick.”
It’s not just about extra tips or microaggressions, though. Julie says that while she does tend to get more tips from her male customers, she also receives harassment. “Most of the time I’ve tended bar with men,” she says, noting that the customers who “come up and make inappropriate or sexual comments is [almost] exclusively towards the women.”
Julie explains that the reason behind this is directly correlated “to a sense of entitlement or distinction that’s made based on gender and how that’s represented.”
It’s not necessarily all bad, though. According to Wooldridge, “One of the girls who works at Blue Rock has a group of, like, 12 dudes that comes in religiously every Tuesday and will only sit in her section and will only be served by her. They’re great guys and they’re great tippers and they’ll always take care of her and the staff … but they’re there for her.”
“The first thing he said
to me was, ‘Put this
on daddy’s card.’”
When it comes to inappropriate conversations with customers, it’s not all just casual flirting. Sometimes, it’s an interaction that can leave someone feeling icky or even vulnerable. Veatch recalls an interaction with a customer who came in with his friend and girlfriend. “The first thing he said to me was, ‘Put this on daddy’s card.’ He was disgusting,” she says. “He was just really rude and kind of demanding but [would] also [say], ‘Come on, laugh a little.’” To her surprise, neither of the man’s companions commented on the interaction.
Julie adds that while she does get hit on by male customers, things get especially awkward when students come to the bar and try to flirt with her or buy her drinks. Otherwise, she says, encountering students while bartending is only awkward for them. “I’ve had a number of occasions in which students have come in to the bar or come to the event and don’t immediately recognize me,” she explains. “Once they do, you can tell there’s sort of this shift of, like, ‘What did I say? How am I behaving, and is that going to be an issue?”
Inappropriate or sexist remarks don’t always come from customers, though. According to Michaela Meeker, a bartender at Starlight Lounge, “I did have one old coworker that would belittle me or didn’t take me seriously because I was a female and [he] acted superior to me, even though I trained him, and we had the same job title.”
“This older gentleman… jumped over the table
and pinned her
against the wall.”
Harassment doesn’t stop at words, though. Ashley Perkins, a cocktail waitress at Blue Rock Saloon, recalls a time when some male customers waited outside for her to get off work, which occurred in the late hours of the night, making her feel vulnerable. Since then, security has started escorting her to her car after late shifts.
“That happens on both sides, too,” comments Wooldridge. “I would say that maybe just the overall societal mentality is that it’s a little more acceptable for that kind of action towards guys, so girls hitting on guys behind the bar is going to be received differently than if a guy’s being blatantly gross to a chick.”
Max Wicklander, a bartender at Bruce’s Place, says he doesn’t really ever feel unsafe while working, even during his time at Blue Rock Saloon. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where I didn’t feel like I had at least a majority of control over what was going on,” he says. “It’s kind of weird, but that bar-top is almost like a barrier.”
The bar-top isn’t protective to all, though. Veatch tells of an incident in which a female coworker was physically assaulted by a male customer. “This older gentleman … jumped over the table and pinned her against the wall. She said [she didn’t] have his card … and that’s how he freaked out,” she says. “I don’t ever want that to happen to me.”
According to Julie, the limitation placed on her because of her gender is frustrating. “I have been incredibly frustrated to have to rely on not being able to stay on my own until the end of the night because of concerns of customers who have been particularly aggressive based on my gender,” she says, adding that it has gotten to the point where higher-ups have to take that into account when scheduling shifts. “I’m not always super comfortable having to acknowledge those imposed limitations on my own comfort and safety.”
“If I lived in Seattle
and had to close the bar
by myself, maybe it
would be different.”
Gender isn’t the only thing to take into account with how bartenders are treated, though. The location of the bar at which they work and the types of customers they serve influence the sort of behavior they see. Many of the bartenders we spoke with said they liked the atmosphere of the bars they work at and the connections they get to make with customers.
However, not each bar is the same. Wicklander says his experiences at Blue Rock Saloon were much different from his experience at Bruce’s Place now—namely, his time at Blue Rock Saloon came with more flirting “by females and males,” he says. “Now that I work at Bruce’s Place, we don’t really have much of a college crowd; it’s kind of a different kind of bar, and it closes at ten at the latest, so you never get any of that late-night kind of craziness that you get downtown.”
Different bars always bring “a different energy,” says Julie. “So, that’s fun. And … the negative experiences are almost always to do with when that energy is disrupted in some way by difficult customers.”
Even being in a small college town affects experiences. While Meeker says she doesn’t really feel unsafe bartending in Ellensburg, “If I lived in Seattle and had to close the bar by myself, maybe it would be different.” A bigger city means a larger variety of customers and a more bustling—and dangerous—nightlife.
With all of this is mind, be sure to treat everyone you encounter with respect. Though bartenders may be the ones helping raise your blood-alcohol level, don’t let the intoxication turn you into a bad night for someone else.