Bartenders work hard day's night
It is 11 p.m. Tuesday night, and while most Miami University students would have been off work for hours, senior Kristen Sfaelos's night is just beginning.
It is '90s night at Brick Street Bar & Grille located at 36 E. High St. and although her shift began two hours ago, it is not until 11:30 p.m. the hard work really begins for Sfaelos. With the Backstreet Boys and Celine Dion blasting in the background, Sfaelos mans her post behind the crowded bar. It will not be until around 2:15 a.m. that Sfaelos is legally required to stop pouring drinks. Even then, her shift could last until 3 a.m. or 3:30 a.m. depending how long cleanup lasts.
After applying last summer, Sfaelos began working the week before school started and has continued to work around three to five days per week. Employed as a bartender at Brick Street and working five to six hour shifts multiple times a week, Sfaelos plays a vital role in Oxford's nightlife.
Because Sfaelos was already 21, she was able to begin tending bar right away, although she said some younger employees start as bar-backs and work their way up to the bartending position. A few hours before her inaugural shift, Sfaelos was given a manual containing all of the drink recipes, on which she would ultimately be tested after the completion of her training.
"They just kind of throw you in there, but it's really easy," Sfaelos said.
After a two-week training period, new Brick Street bartenders are required to take an exam that tests them on all types of liquor, drink and shot recipes, prices and the pour count for different drinks. Senior Gretchen McCall also began tending bar at Brick Street last semester. McCall explained that after taking the seven-page written exam, she also had to pour different shot recipes to demonstrate what she had learned.
According to the two, between memorizing recipes, enduring late nights and dealing with demanding customers, acclimating to the job was difficult for Sfaelos and McCall.
"I've definitely gotten the hang of it now," Sfaelos said. "But when I first started working, I was really stressed out."
After a few weeks on the job, both said the only con to bartending is the hours. As second semester seniors, the two said they prefer to work during the week so they can go out on the weekend. With just half a semester until graduation, McCall put in her two-week notice before spring break and will not be bartending for the remainder of the school year.
Despite the hours, Sfaelos loves the exciting energy of the job.
"It's more of a fun job, especially if you're not going out at night but you're still in the environment and you see people that you know," Sfaelos said. "And the people that work there are also really fun too so it makes the time go by."
According to the two, bartending pays around $3.50 an hour, although they said most of their income comes from tips. Sfaelos and McCall said customers generally tend to tip well-especially for female bartenders. McCall said many times female bartenders earn twice the amount of tips that male bartenders receive in a night.
"It's good money," Sfaelos said. "You'll work one night and come home with over $100. There were nights when I used to get mad if I got $70 on a Tuesday night, but, if I thought about it, I really just made over $10 an hour."
Sfaelos said her favorite days to work are Tuesday nights or Saturdays during Beat the Clock because they are usually busy shifts. Certain nights, such as concerts or moms and dads weekends, also tend to mean better tips.
"Monday night is the worst night to work because people do not know how to sing," Sfaelos said, referring to Brick Street's weekly karaoke night.
While Sfaelos and McCall said a good bartender must be fun and outgoing in order to connect with customers and earn tips, both also said it is important to have a backbone when dealing with persistent customers.
"You kind of have to have a little bit of an attitude to not be pushed around because people will beg you for drinks," Sfaelos said. "Or when people have fake ID's you just have to be able to tell them 'no' and not feel bad about it."
Sfaelos and McCall said that fake ID's are generally easily identified, although underage customers will sometimes fight them on it. Even after failing to recite their zip code correctly, Sfaelos said she has still had customers insist the ID is legitimate.
"Sometimes it's hard because you don't get specific training on fake ID's and stuff like that, but you can pretty much tell when one's fake," McCall said. "The crowd guys are supposed to take care of that initially."
If an overly-intoxicated customer tries to order from her, Sfaelos said she usually just gives them a cup of water instead and will call crowd control if the situation escalates.
"It is basically babysitting when people are too drunk," Sfaelos said.
Both Sfaelos and McCall said they would rather be busy than working a slow night because they are having fun while they are doing it. If being a bartender at Brick Street means spending your Tuesday night listening to '90s music and serving your friends and peers, both McCall and Sfaelos agree that working until 3:30 a.m. isn't all that bad.
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