It was my wife’s birthday and we hadn’t made plans or reservations. Not smart, but she has come to expect that kind of conscientious behavior from me. By the time we arrived at the busy restaurant there was only a rickety bar table wedged between the backdoor and the server’s drink window available. There seemed to be some discussion as to which server was going to take the couple with a child that hadn’t bothered to make reservations. Soon resolved, our server cautiously approached. He seemed to sense our uneasiness and his laughing, joking, irreverent manner quickly eased our tensions and virtually made our evening.

Having tended bar for 20 years I am keenly aware of how a server can make or break an evening. It is equally true that it can work the other way as well. One obnoxious, overbearing jerk can certainly impact all those around him; especially those unlucky enough to be designated to wait upon them. Service is a participatory event, unfortunately many people don’t know this. That’s where I come in.

Think of this blog as the entertainment director of your experience, a look from the other side, insider trading for the bar and restaurant business without the Bernie Madoff consequences. Together we will cover faux pas, proper etiquette, delicious cocktails, appropriate wines, up-and-coming drinks and of course bizarre true to life experiences. This is no fictional bartender in a contrived and artificial setting, this is the real deal. Trust me, truth is stranger than fiction.

For example, it never ceases to amaze me how people will repeat the same behavior over and over and be shocked that the results are always the same. Here is a contrast in styles and a contrast in experiences.

Gentleman #1 comes into my bar almost every week, he is pushy, obnoxious, and cheap. He’s never happy with the service and he always complains. Every week. But he keeps coming back, over and over the same thing.

“Your wines by the glass are terrible,” he says every week.

“Your food isn’t very good,” he says, every week.

“This salad is smaller than it was last week,” he says.

If indeed it really does shrink every week it is amazing that there is anything left at all. Week after week, month after month the complaints never stop nor do the return trips.

“I don’t know why I keep coming back here,” he says.

Frankly, neither do we. Like “the boy who cried wolf” no ones believes a thing he says. Although it doesn’t surprise anyone that he is always alone, I’ll bet it is a mystery to him.

Gentleman #2, who also frequents our establishment, has a completely different weekly experience. About the same age as our grouchy friend, he always comes in smiling. Friends frequently surround him. He shakes hands, he remembers names, and he says hello.

“How’s it going?” he says smiling with a big pat on the back.

Gentleman #2 asks questions, he listens to the answers, he takes advice, and makes choices based on the experience of the people in the best place to know, the people that work here.

The funny thing is, he always seems to get the best tables, places at the bar open up for him. For some reason he seems to enjoy our food and our company. He never criticizes and never complains. Occasionally free appetizers appear, a wine by the glass goes uncharged for. All in all a completely different experience not ten feet away from cranky Gentleman #1.

It is my goal to make sure your experiences are more like the latter and not the former. Using this space we will cover all those things that you need to know in order to assure it.

Oh, and if you ever happen to sit next to a guy that sounds and looks a lot like Gentleman #1, don’t mention this blog to him, I can do with out the critique. On the other hand, if you run into someone who sounds like Gentleman #2, tell him Jeff the bartender says hello.

Jeff Burkhart is an author, columnist, and regular contributor to National Geographic Assignment. He is also an award winning bartender at a local restaurant. Follow him on YouTube and contact him at