Advice from behind the bar
We ask four South Florida bartenders how to be a savvy drinker during these tough economic times.
Sacrifice is necessary in the midst of economic tumult but for some, giving up booze is crossing the line. Drowning one’s sorrow sounds more appealing the more one drowns in debt, but that appeal can sour once a work-weary patron gets the check.
What does it take to get a discount on a martini, despite an increasingly thin wallet? It could take as much as an easy smile and a quick conversation with the bartender as long as you don’t give away your desperation. Treat bartenders with respect and you’re more likely to hear about the special deals or be pleasantly surprised when you get the bill. Some of these local bartenders helped us shine a light on the secret to drinking right despite a tight budget, and how to tell if you’ve walked into the wrong watering hole – one that could leave a hole in your pocket.
Monica Fortich, 33, has been tending bar for 11 years. You can find her behind downtown Hollywood’s Coyotes Bar.
Kelley Marchette, 23, works at the Fontainebleau’s Bleau Bar in the hotel lobby. She’s been a bartender for six years.
Cary Castille, 27, has worked at the Purdy Lounge on Miami Beach for more than seven years.
Andrew Castelli, 29, has worked in hospitality for 15 years and has tended bar at the Oceanaire in Mary Brickell Village since it opened in January 2007.
Define a bartender’s dream patron?
Andrew: Six-foot-one, blonde hair [laughs]. You know, I like when people come in and they’re happy to be there. When you’re at the bar, you’re somewhat trapped with these people. Your job is to entertain and be charismatic. When people are happy to be there and be out of work, it makes everything easier. Honestly, your dream customer isn’t based on how much they spend; it’s really about how often they come. Having the repeat business is what’s going to pay your rent month in and month out.
Cary: Well, let’s start with the girls. Girls… usually…. ummmmm… I just woke up…
Kyle: It’s no problem.
Cary: Girls who come in and they’re fun, and they want to talk. For the guys: big tippers. There are always big tippers in [Purdy Lounge]. The local crowd is phenomenal. We get a lot of people from Hialeah and Kendall. They travel to come see us, because we’re on Miami Beach and we never have a cover. We always have good music – DJs playing as well.
Kelley: I just really like people with a lot of personality and quick wit. But it is pretty rewarding when someone comes in with a bad attitude and you totally turn it around. I guarantee, by the time they leave, they’ll be smiling. A smile is contagious.
How about a bartender’s worst nightmare.
Monica: The jealous girls. For some reason, they think that you want their boyfriends. I treat people the way I would like to be treated when I go out. Some of these girls get the wrong impression and they get jealous. The perverts are also bad – the ones who sit at the bar and stare at you all night. And even worse: the people who are already too drunk.
Kyle: Be honest. Do you really want the jealous ladies’ boyfriends?
Monica: No, not all. I have a rule where I try not to get involved with anybody who comes to my bar because in the long run it messes up your tips and that’s something you don’t want.
Kelley: People who feel entitled. Or are just really rude to everyone around them. I can spot ‘em. And – I don’t know if I should say this…
Kyle: You should.
Kelley: Guys who have a conversation with just my lower half. It’s just not good.
Cary: People who order drinks and they have no cash on them. If they don’t have any money and it’s expensive then I say, ‘Dude, sorry but I can’t give you this.’ If it’s just a beer, I say, ‘Dude, don’t worry about it; go for it.’ I buy people beers all of the time.
Andrew: I’ve had to make 20 mojitos and you can get a pretty sore arm with that. People love it. We’re in Miami, but sometimes when you get so many piled on at once you can get real behind. When people walk in already drunker than they should be and you’re already uncomfortable giving them a drink, that’s a nightmare. Because you’re liable – we’re liable if they get in a car, were liable 100 ways from Tuesday.
What does it take to charm a bartender into giving a free drink?
Monica: Some places you’re not allowed to, but at most places you can give a customer what we call a buyback. If you’re a good customer who’s nice, tips well, gives a good conversation and vibe, you might get a buyback.
Cary: I’m asked that constantly. I’ll have people come up to me and just full on try to get a free drink out of me every single night. It’s awesome. If you talk to people and you’re nice, you’ll get a free drink.
Kelley: They’re pretty strict on giving stuff away [at the Bleau Bar]. But, somebody who might have been having a bad day might get a free drink. A couple who just got engaged – that’s always fun. A woman who just had a baby and this is her first time out of the house; she deserves a cocktail. That’s for sure.
What’s the wrong way to try to get a free drink?
Kelley: Don’t ask for one. I don’t like when somebody throws $20 on the bar and says, ‘I’ll take good care of you if you take good care of me,’ or ‘can I have three drinks?’ implying that the $20 will take care of three drinks. And I don’t know who you are.
What’s an appropriate tip when there isn’t much to give?
Monica: It depends. Some people don’t have the money to tip big bucks. To me, a decent tip – if you don’t have much – is three to five dollars. Give me that and I won’t be mad. But it depends on if you’ve been here drinking for more than an hour.
Andrew: We’re in the service industry and for a long time the standards have been 15, 18 percent – something like that. I don’t really feel like it’s any different at the bar. Things change when you start tipping on very expensive wine. If you’re buying a $600 bottle of wine, some people will tip 10 percent on that. Some people don’t tip on wine, but that’s their choice. I wear a tie to work and take my job seriously. If you want to talk about oysters, I can talk about 300 different oysters. We provide pretty strong service.
Kelley: We have 18 percent gratuity already included on everything. We can’t complain about the money we make here. But I think everybody should live within their means. If you can only spend so much, then only spend so much. Just the fact that you come out, you have a good attitude and I can see that you’re having a good time – personally, that’s rewarding enough for me.
What’s the best way to ask for the drink specials without looking like a cheapskate?
Andrew: I put it right out there. And especially now, bartenders should be proud of their specials, because the dream guest is the repeat guest. I really want to let them know what my specials are, and that you don’t have to break the bank sitting here. In our restaurant, people can spend as much as they want, but you also want to let people know that they don’t have to. If a bartender winces at you, you’re probably at the wrong bar. Some people will show that extra appreciation on the tip if you help them not spend a ton of money.
Cary: Just ask. Either that, or I’ll tell you before you ask. It’s easier for me to give you the specials than to think about what you want. I’m just there to make people happy. Serve ‘em, get ‘em drunk and have a good time, you know.
What's the best way to develop a rapport with a bartender so they always know your name and are always glad you came?
Andrew: Use names. Getting the person’s name, and tell them your name. I try to be on the proactive end of that. It really shouldn’t be tough to establish a rapport with your bartender. If your bartender doesn’t want to establish a rapport then, again, you got the wrong bar.
Monica: Don’t give a bartender attitude. Be friendly like these guys sitting here. They’re so patient. I should be taking care of them, but instead I’m talking to you! They’re smiling, so they’re getting a little extra in their drinks. Maybe they’re getting a buyback.
What’s the best way to get a bartender’s attention without irritating them?
Kelley: Definitely don’t ‘pssssst’ me. I actually wanted to be called ‘toots’ once. If people say ‘toots,’ I can at least laugh about it. But if they’re like [makes voice nasally and annoying] ‘mami, mami’…. ughhhhh… I hate ‘mami.’ Wave at me a little bit. We’re really busy here. There are nights when we’re three or four deep at the bar and our specialty cocktails are pretty elaborate. We like to give everyone a certain amount of attention.
Monica: Smile. To me, a smile speaks for itself. I don’t like hearing someone yell, ‘Excuse me,’ or someone banging on the bar.
Andrew: The onus should really be on the bartender. It’s a bar, you’re there and you’re facing one direction, you should be able to see and recognize people really early… A patron should never have to feel awkward, especially in these times. You’ve really got to step up service now. Introduce yourself just like if you were meeting anyone else. I like to start a conversation, not just ask them what they’d like to drink. You don’t want to whistle, because bartenders aren’t dogs, they’re human beings.
Cary: Come up to the bar with cash in your hands. If you’ve got cash ready to go, I’m ready to serve you. It’s kind of hard when you walk up to the bar, order a lot of drinks and have to go searching for the money. Every second counts.
What’s your signature cocktail or favorite one to mix?
Kelley: Blueberry dragonfly: we fill the bottom with blueberry compote imported from France. Fill the glass with ice, put it in a shaker with Stoli Blueberry vodka and our exclusively made lemon zest sour mix. We use a rock-candy simple syrup and blueberries and then garnish with fresh lemon zest. It’s just so light and refreshing. It’s sweet but it’s not overpowering. The aromatics of the lemon zest really get all of your senses. That and the fact that it’s beautiful – aesthetically pleasing.
Monica: I like making cosmos with Absolut or citrus vodka. Mix that with triple sec or Cointreau – I’d rather put Cointreau than triple sec. (It’s more expensive but it taste totally different). A lot of people put sour mix, but I like lime juice, sour mix and a little splash of cranberry.
Cary: Jägermeister and Jack Daniels shots [not together]. I guess most people who come up to the bar don’t drink everyday like me, because girls ask for something fruity. That’s when I mix Malibu, pineapple and cranberry and it works every time. No complaints.
Andrew: [The Oceanaire is] really wine-intensive. We have a huge list by the glass and by the bottle – about 300 or 400 wines.
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