What Makes a Fantastic Bar Staff?

January 23, 2011 at 9:15 PM (Food) (, , , )

There is a fair number of establishments in Boston with good, even great bar staff, but there’s a reason why I keep defaulting to Boylston St.’s Atlantic Fish Co. – aside from the great atmosphere, wine and craft beer options and delicious seafood (perhaps I shouldn’t be blogging about this before I’ve eaten lunch…): it has a fantastic bar staff.

“Brittany, what are you talking about? What makes a ‘fantastic’ bar staff?”

I am so glad you asked, dear reader, mostly because it gives me a reason to bother writing the rest of this post.  I didn’t write the book on bar staff quality experiences, but as far as I’m concerned, good and great bartenders will be attentive, recognise regulars, look up recipes for the cocktails they don’t know off-hand, and so on.  They create an experience that will leave patrons thinking, “That was a nice drink/ meal.”  They meet expectations.  A fantastic bar staff will exceed those expectations to the point of surprise.  I’ve made a few observations at the Fish that I think are certainly worth sharing with folks who haven’t stopped by, yet.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen patrons sit at the bar and sit for more than two minutes, even on busy nights, before someone has greeted them, asked them how they are, and what they would like to drink.  Oftentimes the bartender will immediately introduce him or herself as well, and if not immediately, then definitely within the next interaction or so.  I have been to other, pricier bars and have seen patrons sit at the bar unattended for what seems like forever (although it’s probably only a little over five minutes) before being asked what they would like to drink.

There is no alienation between bar staff and patrons.  While I try not to interrupt conversations between bartenders and a different party, I never feel uncomfortable asking a question (or in my case particularly, harassing someone behind the bar), nor do I ever feel like I’m taxing the bar staff with a request.  Having worked in food service and retail (and currently in public relations), I subscribe to the belief that customers should not ever feel like they have to struggle to communicate with whomever is supposed to be taking care of them. I’ve been to multiple restaurants where trying to get the attention of my server seemed impossible – and I’m not even a difficult customer (at least, I don’t think so . . .).

This next one is example-worthy: Red wine, bread and cheese at the bar at Atlantic Fish. Thanks, Jeff!if you have a craving, the nice folks at Atlantic will go above and beyond to sate that craving.  About a week ago, Adam and I went to Atlantic for a glass (or more) of wine.  I was a little hungry, but wasn’t really in the mood for seafood.  To be honest, all I really wanted was some cheese to go with my wine, but I wasn’t going to make any noises about it, given that my girlish figure didn’t need that much deliciousness anyway.  Our bartender, Jeff came over to check in on us and Adam shared my hankering of the moment with him. While I tried to protest, Jeff picked up the phone, called the kitchen and asked for a side of Parmesan cheese.  A minute or so later, I had a lovely scene (look right, please) in front of me.

Atlantic Fish's bar staff spoils me rotten. Who else goes ahead and whips together a dish of balsamic, oil, seasoning and cheese in 45 seconds? Thanks, Joe! Photo courtesy of Nicholas Adam Owens.I would have been happy with the cheese.  Truly.  Atlantic had to go a step further, though.  Joe, the bar manager was also working that evening.  He took one look at the cheese and said something to the effect of “This simply will not do.”  The next thing I knew, I had a dish of oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and of course cheese to go with my bowl of carbs. Did Jeff or Joe have to go out of their way to help rid me of my cheese craving?  Good heavens, no.  They did, though.  I have also seen the staff order cake from their sister restaurant, Abe & Louie’s, next-door because a customer was pining for it (they may or may not have done it for me as well one one occasion – honestly, it’s amazing that I’m not obese by now).

Maybe I’m an easy critic because it doesn’t take much to impress me when it comes to customer service, but on the same side of that coin, it blows my mind when I have a poor experience, knowing how simple it is to even provide the bare minimum of care for a patron: being polite and attentive, and taking whatever measures necessary to ensure an enjoyable dining experience. If you stick to that, I’d say that at least 90% of customers would be content.  If you really want to blow them away, though, take a page out of Atlantic Fish Co.’s book.

Today’s Tunes
“Wonderwall,” Oasis
“Layla,” Eric Clapton
“Waiting for My Real Life to Begin,” Colin Hay


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St. Patrick’s Day In Beantown

March 18, 2009 at 3:27 PM (Happenings) (, , , )

This is my fourth year in Boston, yet I’ve never really celebrated St. Patrick’s Day here.  Okay, I’ve eaten my corned beef religiously, but aside from that, I don’t even know if I’ve so much as made a conscious effort to wear green.  Despite being Irish and all that, I guess I was never a fan of rambunctious celebrations, so I’ve opted out.  Realising that I may not enjoy the luxury of residing in Boston next year made me want to give it a go this year, though (that, and maybe the fact that I knew I didn’t have to wake up early this morning).  When the Substitute Roommate told me that she’d be celebrating at Faneuil Hall last night, I decided that I was determined to celebrate in Beantown Fashion this year.

The Substitute had early plans at Government Center, so she was on her way out when I was arriving from my last class of the day.  We chatted long enough for her to discover, courtesy of another reveler in the lobby, that the bar she was planning on visiting had a $20.00 cover charge.

Forget that.

She wasn’t going to change her dinner plans, but we were going to have to find another bar with no cover.  I went upstairs to our apartment to be greeted with the same news of the Black Rose’s cover charge, courtesy of My Damn Roommate.  Since she had just taken the last midterm of her undergraduate career, and she was determined to get out and see the light of bars and hear the sound of Top 40.  We had a mission.

Actually, My Damn Roommate had a mission.  I had to finish making my corned beef dinner (which was delicious.  Thanks for wondering).

About 45 minutes later, My Damn Roommate informed me that we’d be going to Joshua Tree.  I’d never been there, but it was free to enter, so I went along with it.  Unfortunately the Little Wanderer had to stay in to do some serious homework, but My Damn Roommate, the Substitute, another friend and I headed out to J-Tree.

Shortly after making our way into the bar, I quickly realised that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.  My Damn Roommate went home early because she wasn’t feeling well, and suddenly I found myself surrounded with a bunch of the Substitute’s friends, none of whom I knew or could hear over the music and crowd noise.  Had we been around a dance floor, I would have been fine.  Had there been more people I knew, I would have been fine.  Had I at least been able to hear the Substitute, I would have been fine.  Unfortunately I wasn’t graced with any of those.  So what did I do?

I went home.  I wasn’t going to drop another $6.00 on a beer I could enjoy at home under cheaper and more enjoyable conditions.  Leaving Joshua Tree, I saw the T mock me as it passed by, so I decided to walk home, because I didn’t feel like standing in the cold for a half an hour.

When I got back, the Little Wanderer was still attacking her schoolwork.  I shared my J-Tree disappointment with her and treated myself to a Mexican chocolate bar (thank God for vacations).  We flirted with the idea of swimming the next morning, then laughed before I went to bed.

And that was my St. Patrick’s Day.

Today’s Tunes
“I Get a Kick Out Of You,” Frank Sinatra
“Tango Del Amor,” Tangos Eternos
“Slow New York,” Richard Julian
“Love Will Come Through,” Travis
“24,” Jem
“Despertar,” Aisha Duo
“Teach U a Lesson,” Robin Thicke
“The Dirty Jobs,” The Who
“Strawberry Fields Forever,” Across the Universe

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