Having worked in the hospitality industry for more than 10 years now there are some things that I appreciate and understand more as I get older. One of those is that tonic gives me horrible hangovers (I never believed for a second that gin is to blame here, it’s the tonic – there must be something in the quinine) and another is that absolutely everything happens for a reason.
When I was around 16 years old I had my first experience in the industry collecting glasses in my uncle’s taverna in the summer (a Greek teenager working in the family restaurant – I know, I couldn’t be more of a cliché if I tried). And my first experience of the industry wasn’t a good one: I really, truly hated that job and was miserable that summer. Why? Because I was the youngest and the least experienced and therefore I had to do all the dirty jobs. Scrapping people’s leftovers off the plates? That was me. Lugging the rubbish bags down to the bins at the end of the shift? Me again. The summer dragged on, the bins got smellier and I vowed to never to work in the industry again.
Fast forward a few years and I remember having exactly the same feeling when I first worked behind the bar as a barback. I felt like the bitch for the bartenders who were always demanding something; lime juice, more ice, refill the fridges – at the time their demands seemed endless. But now, looking back on those days I actually couldn’t be more grateful for the people that I worked with who taught me all the basic things I needed to know in order to progress. And just like the days of scraping leftovers, I now understand that the only way to truly learn any job is by getting stuck in and messy right there at the bottom.
So this month’s blog is an ode to the glorious barbacks. They are the unsung heroes that have one of the most essential positions in every single bar. They are the glue that holds everything together, the ones responsible for what you see and most importantly the things you don’t. They arrive to start their shift earlier than the bartenders, they painstakingly do all the prep and they single-handedly ensure that all the stations are ready, set and good to go. And once the show is over our unsung heroes are there again; like busy little elves they’ll be there to clean down the stations, restock the fridges and replenish the spirit cupboards ready to start it all over again the next day.
They are normally young, eager to learn and absolutely terrified: for many it is their first job in the industry and they don’t want to put a foot wrong. And these hard workers are our bartenders of the future, the ones that are thirsty for knowledge and are passionate to test out the newest recipes that they read about in the latest cocktail books. They learn next to us and it is our job to treat this next generation with respect they deserve and teach them as much as we can. It’s an ongoing cycle; by taking the time to educate our barbacks rather than just barking orders at them they will go on to do the same to theirs, continuing to share wisdom and knowledge and starting to bring about a positive change in the industry.
So the next time you’re in a bar and you see a barback running up and down like a maniac, please raise your glass for them, because soon they’ll be the ones shaking the shaker for you.