Pulling Pints

I’ve been working part-time as a barman in my local pub since early this year. This may seem a curious activity for somebody who’s not comfortable talking to strangers, but the reality is that the large majority of customers are regulars with whom I was already familiar.

It all started when I volunteered to help out because they were short-staffed. I’d helped out behind a bar before when I was at university so I had some idea what to expect. I did my first few hours in exchange for drinks and to my surprise I really enjoyed myself and did a good job. I helped out a couple more times and then decided to make it official: I joined the company on the understanding that my main software development job had priority and started working a couple of regular shifts over the weekend.

Things I enjoy about the job: it’s primarily manual work and about the only thinking required is adding up prices in my head (I don’t need to because the register handles all that but I want to because it saves time and I like doing it) and remembering the drinks in each order. This means I can largely “switch off” so I find the job mentally relaxing. It’s also good physical exercise – very handy when my main job involves sitting down most of the day – and I’m probably fitter now than I have been for some years. I enjoy the routine of the job – each particular shift has its own pattern with the same regulars mostly coming in at the same times. Beer, especially “real ale”, is a special interest of mine – I don’t drink much these days but I have long had an interest in brewing. I’ve visited several breweries over the years and remain fascinated by the subject.

I get a particular buzz from it when I’m busy – I get something similar when I’m in flow when programming. I get into a rhythm, the endorphins kick in and I’ve occasionally found myself just grinning like an idiot and getting strange looks.

I’m not saying that I enjoy everything about it. I dislike serving food – it breaks the flow – and after I’ve asked a customer if everything’s ok with their meal I get stuck for anything else to say and just wander off feeling vaguely uncomfortable. I don’t get many complaints but I find it stressful to handle them – it’s not that they get confrontational; rather that I’m just not comfortable in that situation.

Funnily enough I find that I can mostly handle the people side of the job. Because I’m there fulfilling a role it enables me to talk to customers within the context of serving them. There’s a routine to it: I greet them, ask for their order, pour their drinks and take the money. It generally keeps to the routine and I stay relaxed. I’ve even got to know people through the job. When I’m in front of the bar as a customer I won’t talk to people I don’t know – that’s just how I am and I’ve always been that way. I have trouble with small-talk and general conversation as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. However when I’m behind the bar people come up to me time after time as they order their drinks. They get used to me, I get used to them and as I get more familiar with them I feel less uncomfortable. And having two feet of solid wood between me and them is a great way to avoid having anybody intrude on my personal space – I feel uncomfortably crowded if anybody stands too close to me.

It’s the little things as well that I enjoy: I’m genuinely pleased whenever I get a tip because it makes me feel I did something well. I like that the manager always thanks me at the end of my shift (don’t tell him I’d happily do the job just to be appreciated – I’ve never been motivated by financial reward which is just as well given the pay scales for bar staff). I like it when my regular customers – yes, I do think of them as mine when I’m serving them – seem pleased to see me. And I like the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from doing something well.

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