I stopped by my friend’s house one day to pick him up so we could get a drink. We usually chat over drinks at least once a week but he recently bought a pub and it has been keeping him busy. I deserve an award for “greatest understatement” and “most patient friend” for that last sentence. My patience is running thin, though.
I stood in his doorway tapping my toe while he handled a situation at the bar over the phone. “It doesn’t matter who started the fight, everyone has to leave if there was a physical altercation. Alter… a fight.”
He had to listen to three different accounts of the fight in question and in the end he said, “I don’t care who started it, our policy is no fighting. They both leave.”
I wanted to call my mother and apologize for every summer vacation when my siblings and I would take turns calling her at work to complain about each other. I imagine she looked and felt very much like my friend. He kept running his hand through his hair and pacing around the front room so by the time he got off the phone he was red and sweaty with bad hair. I gave him a minute to pull himself together before we headed to, “anywhere but my bar, jesus…”
Over drinks he told me all about the new business. He loves it, it’s going well, he is making more money working for himself than he did managing bars for other people that he often disagreed with, but there are drawbacks. The more he drank, the more stories he told and the more stories he told the less glamorous the bar business sounded. A few weeks have passed and things are more under control as he figures out what procedures make the bar run smoothly and which ones need to go or be tweaked.
One thing I have learned from all of this is that running a bar is almost as glamorous as being a mother but without all the diapers. The shit he deals with won’t fit in Huggies. I used to think it would be fun if I were someone else, someone with more time and less children.
As an observer and friend here is what I have learned about owning and operating a small bar:
- You don’t get to drink for free. You can go in and order a drink without paying but eventually that bottle has to be replaced and guess who pays for it? You, sucker. My friend prefers to drink water and buy drinks for his regular customers. In the end this brings in more money and he doesn’t go through nearly as much Advil.
- Your friends that you haven’t seen since college suddenly want to reconnect… and drink your booze. They also want to boast loudly about what great friends you have always been even if you haven’t heard from them in a decade.
- There is just as much gossip on a cigarette break at the bar as there is around the water cooler at a typical office job, only a lot more of it involves who had sex with who. It’s like a soap opera only not everyone is wildly attractive but everyone does work for a living.
- Some of that gossip will inevitably be about you, the owner. Angry past employees, angry ex-lovers, angry ex-business partners, they just can’t seem to keep your name out of their mouths. It’s like they’re not over you or something.
- Those same people will pretend to be your best buddy the next time they are in your bar.
- Everyone thinks they know how to run your bar even if they have never even worked in a bar. Their advice is free and gratuitous. The amount of free advice given is directly proportionate to the amount of liquor consumed.
- People pull ridiculous antics even when they know they are on camera. Women flash their friends, married men make out with other women and bartenders serve free drinks without a fleeting thought that it is all on video.
- Then they will have the audacity to lie about what they have done. On camera. When my friend managed a bigger bar he had a female bartender claim she was groped by a customer so the customer was banned from the bar. After watching the video my friend realized her complaint was a lie. She seemed perplexed when she lost her job even though she knew there was a camera recording everything that did (and did not) happen.
- Managing your staff can be a lot like babysitting toddlers. You have to take charge and be the authority figure but once you have everything running smoothly they are really enjoyable. There will still be occasional tantrums.
Suffice it to say, I am over my dream of one day owning my own pub. I don’t wish to raise any more children than my own or try to keep the neighbors’ kids in line when they are over. My new dream is to someday be the uppity snob at the end of the bar laughing at the bad behavior and wild antics of all the other children, er, patrons. Oh wait, I already do that!