Q. Will this lesson help me get a bartending job?

A. Maybe. Controversy and arguments surrounding this topic is endless. We’re dealing with alcohol here, and conventional wisdom regarding customer service and the behavior of some people in a bar is thrown sideways.

Q. Will the interviewer ask me about “The customer is always right” questions?

A. Quite possibly. You might get something like, “Tell me, Mark, a customer of yours sitting at the bar is complaining that he only received 6 cheese sticks in his appetizer order. He wants you to tell the kitchen he wants 4 more. What do you do?” I’ll answer this question later in the lesson.

The main idea of this entire lesson is just to let you know that when it comes to alcohol – conventional thinking about customers and their behavior is thrown out the door. Yes, for most practical reasons, the customer IS always right. But when it comes to serving alcohol, you really need to balance your responses and “solutions” to customer service issues with the importance of following the law and protecting the owner’s liquor license.

Below is a very subjective, unscientific breakdown on who in the Food & Beverage Industry believes that the customer is always right. In other words – my opinion:

  • Customers: 100%
  • Corporate Theme Restaurant Human Resources Departments: 100%
  • Bar Owners: 90%
  • Bar Managers: 75%
  • Food Servers: 50%
  • Bartenders: 10%

As you can see, I am not at all a big fan of the “Customer is Always Right” thing. Not when it comes to serving alcohol. I stand with the bartenders!

Before we move on, I want to give you a very good example of how to answer the question, “So, Mark, is the customer always right?” You must be very well aware that this is a trick question. Most people will simply answer, “Yes.” How do I know this? Because I have interviewed 100’s of people throughout the years and well over 50% of them answer with a simple word.

Interviewers are looking for a more “robust” answer. Yes, it’s a trick question, and you have no idea of what side of the issue the interviewer is on, so you really have to be ready with a good answer. Let’s answer this question in a way that will satisfy the interviewer – and make them remember you:

A Very Good Answer:
“Yes, customers are always right unless they’re breaking the law, endangering other customers or employees, or interfering with any of our other customer’s great experience here at Mark’s bar.”

Notice that I answered the question – but a bit vaguely. This should satisfy the interviewer. And your answer is going to be completely different from the answer your fellow applicants will use! You might get some sort of ridiculous follow up question like, “What if they’re tearing up the bathroom fixtures?” Ugh.

Bar Customer With Blank ID

And, by the way, the answer to this question is not one of my “originals.” Years ago, I was interviewing for some food server positions and an applicant answered this question in just this way. I was very impressed – and stole it from her!

The Issue When it Comes to Serving Alcohol

We are bartenders. We get paid to dispense alcohol. We’re under a lot of pressure to follow the law – and house policy. We’re not talking about a steak that was cooked medium-well and the customer ordered it medium-rare. (I’m going to use this as one of my examples later in the lesson). No, we’re talking about alcohol here. So…

  • Obviously intoxicated customers are not always right
  • Minors trying to order drinks are not always right
  • Jerks demanding 2 shots for the price of one are not always right
  • The guy hassling your cocktail server is not always right
  • The gal selling blow in the women’s restroom is not always right
  • The guy taking bets at the bar is not always right
  • The loudmouth disrupting everyone’s good time is not always right
  • The guy demanding 10 hot wings instead of 8 is not always right
  • The guy insisting that the draft Coors Light is flat is not always right
  • The guy who said you poured well gin instead of beefeater is not always right
  • The guy who gave you a $20 – and said he gave you a $100 is not always right
  • The guy who says you’re having an affair with his wife is not always right (I hope)
  • The guy who says you padded his bar tab is not always right
  • The couple celebrating their anniversary and demanding free drinks are not always right

I could go on and on here, but you get the picture.

So, let’s look at some examples here:

Examples of the “Customer Not Being Right”

Example 1. Firstly, let me answer that question about cheese sticks. Let’s assume that the proper amount of cheese sticks in an appetizer order is 6. So, the customer received exactly what he was supposed to. And he wants 8 cheese sticks. So, what is the solution?

Is the “number” of cheese sticks stated on the menu? It’s very common for many bars and restaurants to NOT state the number of items in a food order. Cheese sticks, hot wings, jalapeño poppers, shrimp – you name it. The menu may state something like, “Large gulf shrimp served with lemon and house cocktail sauce – $11.95.” Or, “Tangy hot wings served with celery and ranch dressing – $9.95.”

If the menu DID state that the number of cheese sticks is six – then you’re good to go. However, you still have to provide a solution. There is a very simple way to solve this conflict no matter what the menu says:

The correct response: “I understand where you’re coming from here, sir, but our cheese sticks are very large and a good value at that price – we sell a ton of those. If you prefer, I can take these back to the kitchen and offer you some other appetizer – how about some hot wings? They come 8 to an order and are very popular.”

Using this response, you have actually confirmed that the customer is right – in a round-about way. Nothing wrong with that, and the important thing to remember here is that you provided some great customer service by offering a solution. That’s where it’s at!

The following is a true story, and a bit lengthy, and I am paraphrasing a bit because I cannot remember EXACTLY how this went:

True Story:
I was interviewing for a bartending job with the banquet manager (I’ll call her Jane), at a well-known 4 star hotel. The interview was going quite well – until one of the banquet “Captains” entered the room and started grilling me with all of these off-the-wall questions. I’ll call him Sam, and he immediately rubbed me the wrong way. Very young, and extremely arrogant – and obviously (to me), was trying to impress his boss. One of the questions: “Tell me, Mark, is the customer always right?” I flat-out answered “No.”
I thought Sam was going to have a seizure. He then proceeded to berate me about how someone with my level of experience didn’t even know the basics of customer service. The look on Jane’s face was priceless, as before Sam had entered the room she had already pretty much offered me the job. I think she was more worried that I was going to walk out of the interview.
I said, “OK, let’s say that a customer wobbles up to my bar, and is very obviously intoxicated, and I inform him that I would not be able to serve him any more alcohol. I offer him a cup of coffee, but he says that he is not intoxicated and that I MUST serve him anyway because “the customer is always right.” What should I do here, Sam?”
Sam replied that I definitely should not serve this person any alcohol, but that it doesn’t mean that the customer isn’t right. I said, “OK, let me give you another scenario. A customer comes up to the bar and proceeds to verbally harass the woman sitting next to him. She’s obviously uncomfortable and upset – and could really use an intervention. I lean over the bar and ask the gentleman (using the word loosely), to please refrain from using that language and bothering the young lady. The man replies, ‘Hey, it’s none of your business, and, besides, I’m also a customer here and you should know that the customer is always right.’ What do I do, Sam?”
Sam proceeded to try and explain that this wasn’t really a customer service issue, and that the customer was always right – no exceptions.
OK, whatever. I stated, “Listen, I understand the concept of ‘the customer is always right.’ And they are, in most all cases. But to emphatically say that the customer is always right – no exceptions – is flat out wrong. And, as a bartender, I understand that we’re dealing with alcohol here. It’s a different ballgame, and protecting the liquor license of this hotel is a top priority.” I turned to Jane, the banquet manager, and asked her if I would be working with Sam on some of the hotel’s banquet functions (knowing full-well that bartenders at hotels always work closely with all of the banquet captains). Jane replied, “Yes, of course.” I then replied, “Thank you very much for the opportunity to interview with you Jane, but I’ll have to decline this position.” I shook her hand and, ignoring Sam, left the office. To this day, I would give anything to be a fly on that wall after I left.

Yep, here I am throughout this course instructing you, as a new bartender, to stay humble and go with the flow. You would say that it sure looks like I wasn’t following my own advice, above, does it? You would be right.

Well, maybe I was feeling a little bit argumentative that day. Or was just having a bad day. Or, my belief that being an extremely qualified and competent bartender gave me the right to stick it to an arrogant little p****. Oh well. You, too, will probably stretch the limits once you gain some experience and are in the driver’s seat. As a new bartender, please, do not do what I did above! Suck it up – and land that job!

Example 2: One of your customers seated out in the lounge area (the cocktail server is waiting on him), approaches your bar and says, “Hey man! Did you put any rum in this drink? I can’t taste the alcohol.”

A good response: “I’m very sorry you feel that way, sir, but I poured that drink myself and there is 1 and 1/2 ounces of liquor in that drink. I can certainly add another shot to it – but there will be an additional cost.”

In this case, the customer is not always right. I go into a lot of these types of situations in the section coming up – Bartender vs. Customer. Of course, your House Policy may dictate that you simply pour a little “floater” on top of his drink. Fine.

Four Colorful Cocktails On Ledge

Example 3. Your customer sitting at the bar orders the lunch special: A steak sandwich with fries. He ordered the steak to be cooked medium rare. It looks medium to him, and he wants it re-cooked. Is he right? YES! No matter what, when it comes to a situation about the “doneness” of meat – the customer is always right. Even when he’s not. Go with the flow, and have the kitchen cook another one.

A good response: “I’m very sorry about that, sir, let me take that from you and put in another order for your steak to be cooked medium rare.” Simple.

I don’t want to beat this subject to death. Just know that, when at all possible, agree with your customers and solve the issue. Yes, when you’re serving alcohol you will run into a lot of “unique” situations, but the bar’s House Policy will dictate how you handle them.

If you’re following along in the Basic Bartending Course:

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