Boothby’s Ten Commandments: III. Always appear pleasant and obliging


As I mentioned before, Anchor Distilling recently reprinted the 1891 edition of “Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender“.

As someone who is somewhat involved in the bartender trade, I always enjoy going through old books and reading the advice that appears. Usually, I am amazed at how little has changed. How valid pieces of advice contained in a book from 1891 can be 118 years later.

So I thought I would go through Boothby’s “Ten Commandments” for bartenders one by one and see which ones still make sense for the 21st Century.


III. Always appear pleasant and obliging under all circumstances.

As you probably know, there are a bunch of relatively unrelated skills which bunch up under the title, “Bartender”. Making drinks, keeping track of money, serving food, taking orders, etc.

Probably the most important talent is the knack appear a “pleasant and obliging” host to your guests.

Some times it’s easy, some times it hard. Depends on your mood and the guest you are serving. But ideally, the guest shouldn’t know either way.

I guess that is Boothby’s point of using the phrase, “Always appear pleasant and obliging,” rather than, “always be pleasant and obliging”.

I’ve had a sucky day, I’m broke, my car broke down, my wife just yelled at me for staying out late the night before, the bar back called in sick, and a party of 20 just walked in the door.  I’m about to go down in flames.

As a bartender, those are my problems.  It’s part of the job to leave my problems at the door and do my best to facilitate my guests’ pleasant evenings, no matter the circumstances.  That can be hard.

It can also be challenging to figure out exactly how best to serve your guests.

Some want to be left alone.  Some come in to talk.  Some come in to flirt.  Some come in to make out with their date.  Some come in to get hammered.

It is not my job to judge.

But it is my job to serve them all.

Personally, I have the hardest time with figuring out exactly how and when it is appropriate to break the ice when I can see a guest has some interest in communication beyond ordering their drinks and food.  Most of my coworkers have a quiver full of handy jokes, anecdotes, and trivia to deploy in exactly these sorts of situations.  I’m still working on it.

And the fact of the matter is, there are some people I get along with and some people I don’t.  In normal life, I usually get to avoid hanging out with the people I don’t get along with.  In the service professions, I gotta get past that and “appear pleasant and obliging” to folks I wouldn’t normally be caught dead chatting with.

But, like I said, I’m working on it, because, really I never know.  Sometimes the people I think I’m going to hate serving turn out to be the highlight of the evening.  And, on the other hand, the ones I thought were going to be a pleasure, sometimes turn out to be the biggest pain in the ass of the night.

Not that any of you are really a pain.  You’re all wonderful and fascinating specimens of this human race.  I love you all equally.

Hm.  Getting around to that, one thing that I do think is really important to the job, is the ability to find the glorious, diverse splendor of the human race interesting.  I would think it would be pretty tough to even appear pleasant and obliging, if you didn’t at least have an active interest and curiosity about your fellow man.