I’ve been helping to train up some people at the bar lately, and in the course of my discursions on the subject have gotten to thinking about why I do some of the things I do behind the bar. One of those things is I ID any- and everyone I have even the slightest question or hesitation about, usually right at the very beginning of our interaction, as I’m saying hello and dropping off water and/or menus. I do this for a couple of reasons.
First, though I work in a nice place now, I haven’t always, and sometimes even nice places get customers who are or are going to be trouble for whatever reason. It’s certainly much rarer, but it happens. People who are trouble have to be dealt with carefully, and are much more easily handled before you’ve served them any (or, as is often the case, more) alcohol. They also have a higher incidence of not having valid ID, which is a great (and impersonal) reason to tell them to leave, which like as not you’ll have to do anyway. It’s also, for what it’s worth, illegal to serve them, at least in the state where I work. Sometimes you’ll get a regular person with expired or no ID, and then you make a judgement call. In Seattle it’s not unheard of for the Liquor Board to do sting operations, so I tend to skew conservative on those calls, but it’s up to each individual bartender to decide whether letting a particular individual stay will have a positive or negative impact on everyone else’s good time.
But even if I’m sure you’re over twenty-one, and legit, I still want you to show me your ID, and here’s why. I want to establish a precedent, right here at the beginning of our relationship. I want to tell you to do something for me, and for you to do it. After that, I will be at your disposal, and will do everything I can to make sure you get what you want and have a good time enjoying it. For most of our relationship, you’re going to ask me for things (indeed, you pretty much have to) and I’m going to get and/or make them for you, and it will seem as if the balance of power is pretty one-sided. And that’s okay, because that’s the game we’re playing and we’ve all agreed to the rules. But I’m also responsible to the house, and the other guests, and, in the end, to my own personal integrity, which means I may need to upset that balance and take a certain degree of control over the situation. So I like to have that moment at the very beginning in my pocket, when I told you to do something and you did it, because that way if I have to tell you to do something again later (like leave, or tone your shit down, or accept that I’m not going to serve you anymore) I’m not breaking new ground.
Most of the time my pocket is where that little nugget of empowerment stays. My job is to show people a good time, and that’s what I do. The vast majority of the people I deal with at the place I work now are perfectly congenial and well-behaved (or at least tolerable in their bad behavior). During dinner service I very rarely have any problems with anybody. But people still get drunk, and drunk people do dumb shit and can and will be unbelievable assholes sometimes if you let them. Even perfectly decent people will turn that corner sometimes, and you’ll find out what kind of monsters are hiding under the bed. And you have to manage them. That’s part of the gig. You have to make sure the rules get followed and the house’s interests are looked after, and you have to deal with people who turn (or just are) nasty, who disrespect you or the house or another customer, or who try to get over just because they think it’s funny or they can. They’re not a majority, most places (if they are, it’s time to look for a better gig), but they’re always out there, especially on weekends and holidays. And you’re probably even going to serve them. But when they get out of line, you need to be able to lay down the law and have them respect that, or things can turn shitshow before you know it, and then you have to deal with that.