How to Tend Bar When You're Feeling Burned Out

A bartender talking to a couple in front of him.
Interacting with guests doesn't come naturally to everyone, but that doesn't mean you can't find ways to build relationships with guests. Photo via iStock/Andresr.

Regardless of where you fall on the Myers-Briggs personality spectrum, everyone has days when they’d rather do anything than talk to other human beings. In a lot of professions, you can hide, but bartending is not one of those. “In the hospitality industry, we can't hide behind a computer or in a cubicle or something. We have to be able to put on our game faces, because what we do is very public,” says Tad Carducci of Tippling Bros and owner of The Tippler in Manhattan. How do you overcome those feelings of exhaustion or burnout, and make sure your guests still have a great time? Carducci has tips.

1. If you know it’s not a good day for you, go into self-care mode before your shift.

Being aware of how you’re feeling is half the battle, because then you can take action and try to get yourself into the right frame of mind. “Grab cup of green tea. I like some fresh grapes or melon or something like that — a little thing to snack on that’s just comforting to make you feel good,” he says. “You know that's very important because those are just little things that you pre-shift help you out of whatever the mood might be. But while I'm having a day like that, I'll grab some really good cheese.”

2. Accept when you’re not feeling up to socializing.

It’s important not to force yourself to get into an extroverted mode; it’s never helpful to beat yourself up, but rather see it as a positive. “That day, just realize that you're not going to be the loquacious, charming barman,” Carducci advises. “You have to just understand and settle in to that fact that that's not who you're going to be today.” On those days, he says it’s best to become a good listener. “Rather than telling stories and jokes, if I am engaged in conversation, it's going to be more about just asking questions about my guests,” he says, “whether they're regulars or first-timers, getting to know them, letting them talk, and focusing on the job.”

3. Keep moving.

“One of the most important things to do on days where you are just not in the zone is to stay as busy as possible,” he notes. “You know, I think we all just know that an idle mind is the devil's workshop. It's definitely true.” Stay focused on guests’ needs, but also look around for other tasks. “When you're not actually serving somebody or making drinks, you're either rearranging or in the back bar polishing bottles — doing anything you can do to take your mind off the mood that you're in.”

4. Take a breather when you need one.

When too much interaction gets draining, it’ll be best for you and your guests if you simply take a quick break. Carducci likes to go outside during a daytime shift. “Just step outside, look up at the sun, breathe fresh air,” he says. “Getting quiet is beneficial, so you've got to take five.”

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