In the drinks industry we talk a lot about the importance of education but what if the customer or bartender isn’t listening properly? Or just being badly taught? This week, Nate Brown has an issue with those who think they know best.
“Excuse me, but I ordered a Daiquiri. This is not Daiquiri”
“Uh yeah, I believe it is.”
“But… it is. I made it. Rum, lime, sugar. Bish bash bosh.”
“No. It isn’t. Trust me, I know.”
“I can assure you…”
“Have you ever been to Dylan’s. Do you know Sergio there? He’s the best, and he makes me the best daiquiris.”
“I have not. I do not. He does not.”
“Well, you obviously don’t know what a Daiquiri is, then. Some bartender you are.”
“It was red, and frozen, and the best.”
“See, what you had there was a frozen strawberry Daiquiri. It’s not quite the same.”
“A frozen strawberry what….?”
“I can make that for you if that’s…”
“A frozen strawberry what…?”
“Fuck you, Sergio.”
Miseducation. Fake news. Arrogance, mismanaged expectations. Call it what you will, but that’s a toxic cocktail of ingredients right there. Stirred together and they help form the Dunning-Kruger effect, a sociological phenomenon whereby a person’s perceived competence is hugely over-inflated with the smallest amount of knowledge. Bad education, between peers or across the bar, is breeding a generation of rabid, jacked up on the power of knowledge fools. Dangerous, dangerous fools.
A lot has been said about what we sell in our bars. Is it drinks? Is it atmosphere? Is it escapism? Is it experience? Maybe. But no matter your thoughts on the matter, one universal truth is that guests pay for value. Anything you can get in a bar or restaurant can be achieved in the home, albeit at such an extraordinary cost that the value evaporates. It is the value that keeps bums on seats. And this value is becoming eroded. The second a guest knows better than the host, the system is in trouble. And those guests with a little bit of knowledge are being created by us.
That guest that knows cucumber is the best garnish, or that Schweppes is the only tonic for that gin, or that gin should really be drunk from balloon shaped coppas for flavour, they know their gin. This is the guest that knows that a Manhattan should be stirred 30 times in 15 seconds in a clockwise motion, that water belongs nowhere near a Scotch, or that the cork of the vermouth should be waved over the Martini; the guest also knows that rum is sweet because it’s made from sugar and that Daiquiris come in passion fruit or raspberry. Well, that guest is Frankenstein’s monster.
Behind the stick is no better. The archetypical bartender who holds dearly the phrase “that’s not how we did it in my last bar”. That bartender that stirs a Negroni in a mixing glass because that’s what they did in the hotel he came from. You know the one, he’s the one describing every spirit as smooth and fruity, and uses polishing cloths to clean his bar top and discards his used tools in the sink for the long-suffering bar back to clean because that’s how he earned his stripes. This is the chap who knows, and I mean really knows, what whisky goes in a Rob Roy, because the brand ambassador himself bestowed the burden of knowledge upon poor Barry’s special shoulders. Well, I don’t give a fuck, Barry. Where I come from we used to meet disobedience with kneecapping, shall we return to the good old days you miss so much? Thought not.
We should be preaching understanding, not knowing. We should be placing learning above knowledge, even if a few egos have to suffer. Is it too clichéd to quote some old wise character here? Like that lunatic Gandhi: “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom,” or Socrates and his paradoxical “I know that I know nothing.” Humility is in short supply in our industry. To be seen to change one’s mind is perceived as weakness, which is a dangerous spiral. One of the theories of bartending I was taught was the ‘failure of success’, which decried that if you think you’ve made it, you’ve failed. Some of you may know this as ‘sharks don’t sleep’. Only progression and learning are worth praise, and that’s worth remembering.
We should be preaching understanding, not knowing. We should be placing learning above knowledge, even if a few egos have to suffer. Look up the Dunning Kruger if you don’t know it already, for forewarned is forearmed. Just don’t go preaching it – a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.