Gameday From The Bartenders View
Meaning I only hit the snooze button once.
I rise from my bed and immediately begin to focus. It's Game-Day.
Here in State College, a home football game can mean something for everyone. To a student, it may mean a chance to go out and support the team via tailgating and cheering in the student section. For a clothing store, it may be an opportunity to sell specific gear or promotional materials, be it a sweatshirt or rain gear or a simple pin. To the security personnel and police, it means they must be aware of safety hazards and crowd control. To a parent, an opportunity to teach and bond. To an alumni, an opportunity to return and celebrate the past while embracing the future.
Game-Day to me, is my best chance to make money.
I work as a bartender in downtown State College. My bills will be paid by the patrons who order food and drink from me and feel that on top of the listed price their consumables, decide that my effort is deserving of extra gratuity. In order to do this, to make this extra money, I have to be in the best possible mood.
Generally speaking, when someone comes into a bar, they are looking for an environment that will alter their mood to something better. Alcohol no doubt has long been viewed as a great way to do this, but it certainly takes more than alcohol for a bar to be successful. After working in the industry for the past 6 years, I believe I have found the best way to do this is to be the most likable person you can be, while staying true to yourself.
So let's start with my uniform. Something I learned from a young age in athletics is the idea of appearance relating to performance. 'Look good, play good' if you will. I insist on wearing long black pants, though my employer gives me the option to wear cargo shorts. (If the weather is to warm I would ditch the pants for shorts, but that is almost never the case in fall or spring) The pants give what I feel to be a sense of professionalism and class. While typically I wear either a standard white or black t-shirt for an undershirt for a shift on a weekday, on a game-day I will often go with a tank top leaving no visible clothing to possibly wrinkle or stick out around the uniform. It seems small, but I feel it does add a bit of sex appeal. The same goes with my work shirt which is usually a medium (or 'shmedium' as it's been referenced by my co-workers.) The tightness will accentuate my broad shoulders and arms while not going overboard and making me look like I got the shirt at baby gap.
As I get in the car to go, I will usually play music that is high energy and has a positive outlook. Any job is about performance, and any kind of performance is going to be helped with a sense of inner confidence. While I like my share of slower paced songs, sad songs, and heck even some folksy stuff, I want to exude a persona that is not romantic, sad or introspective, but rather of relaxed, yet excitable fun.
Now, sometimes I'm lucky enough to either have my roommate or girlfriend drive me to work. While normally I don't mind the parking situation in State College, the Game-Day situation is different. See, I'm out to make money, and the borough has decided to jack up the parking rates in the garages to help capitalize on the incredible crowd. This is a huge detriment to a day worker who must drive and park for their shift. If I'm parked in the garage, which is typically my only option, I know I'm starting in the hole 16 bucks.
When I arrive in the bar to set up, roughly 1 hour before we open for business I try to greet and talk to my co-workers, and if possible make some kind of contact. A high five, a fist bump, or a pat on the back. This is actually something I've picked up after watching basketball games. The best teams high-fived or touched each other in some kind of way. It helps create a type of bond that is almost subconscious. So in essence what I'm attempting is to let whatever positive energy I have literally flow to the rest of the staff so that everyone working is in a better mood. I will attempt to ask questions as to what they did the night before, if they have any music requests before we open the doors, anything to try to get them engaged and excited about the upcoming shift, without explicitly talking about money or expectations for the day.
Expectations about money can be defeating. It's great to have goals about the money we may make during a given home game, but if you don't start at a certain pace, or fall off the pace that you wanted, moods tend to go sour. Being the staff of the bar means you are essentially the hosts of a party. If the hosts of the party are miserable, there's a good chance the guests will be miserable. Understanding this is essential to our bottom line. Yes, the guests will by and large have limited exchanges with the door staff, and barbacks, but even they can influence the general mood of others and make them feel unwelcome in an environment. People in general want to be wanted at social functions, especially by the hosts. If they don't feel welcome they are both unlikely to order multiple things and unlikely to tip at a decent rate.
Our bar opens its doors at 11 AM. The first thing I expect is that we will multiple Bloody Mary orders. I am not a big fan of the Bloody Mary on these days, simply because of the expectations of them. To make one "good" Bloody Mary on an individual basis about one to two minutes. Horseradish, pepper, worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, tomato juice (or store bought premade mix) perhaps mustard, accompanied by typically olives or celery stalks. One person may want all of these ingredients, others less, others may want additions.
On a slower morning, an individualized Bloody Morning is not an unreasonable request, but on a Game-Day, I may get as many as 20 within five minutes. To make a "good" one for each individual customer would take nearly half an hour and slow service to such a degree that other customers looking for a simple beer may leave. I will generally serve a Bloody Mary with our premade store mix, pepper and olives that I have prepped previously and tell them if they would like to doctor them up with other ingredients they are welcome to do so, but due to the expected volume of orders during the day, it's in my best interest to keep it simple. This philosophy also applies to many frozen drinks. If the customer insists, I will attempt to be accommodating but usually there is a common understanding between the two of us and I have never encountered a serious problem.
Now if the game kicks off at noon, we as a bar are typically less busy right out of the gate. Reason being most of our crowd is up at the stadium tailgating, and if they happen to not have a ticket are only now in the process of walking back downtown. If the game is being played at 3:30, then we are typically going to get rushed as it's far easier to have a bit of a pre-party at a bar where there is easy access to bathrooms, food, many drink options, as well as televisions to catch other football games before the main event (Penn State) begins. In the 3:30 scenario we will typically see a wave mentality again, when those who have tickets will close their tabs and leave for the game around 2:30. As they trickle out, those who don't have tickets will come in and look for available seating.
Regardless of either scenario, my job remains the same. Serve as many people, as efficiently as possible, while maintaining an air of fun and excitement.
Now I'll be blunt about this. On the other days of the week, I may not be the best at this. I think I can be fun at times. I certainly think I'm always efficient. But when it comes to the other nights I may work, or the days, I have trouble connecting with our patrons. Often times they're either college students looking for a simple good time, full of off color jokes or talk about maybe baseball or hockey. Maybe about about career fairs or politics. Maybe they want to know about the live music scene in State College. Maybe they want nothing else but to drink their faces off for as cheap as possible.
On Game-Day, I absolutely believe I'm the best bartender here. I believe that because 99% of our customers are interested in Penn State and football. And those are two things that I'm both knowledgeable and passionate about.
I grew up in State College. I was a walk-on for Paterno in 2002. I have a degree from Penn State. I have never stopped loving the sport of football. And most of all, I want to share everything great about Happy Valley to every person that cares to listen.
Every time I see a fan, whether they are wearing blue and white, or the visitors colors, I want them to know they are in a special place, with some of the most gifted, most caring people in the country. And that will not change.
That is in reality, the most rewarding part of my job. To present as much as possible a positive example of what it means to be a part of the Penn State family. To show that we are STILL a community of educated, fun, loving and moral people. We work hard, we play hard, and do it with pride.
Sadly, I never get to really focus on the game while it's on. I'll get to catch a few plays here and there, but I'd estimate I miss about 90% of the snaps. Most of the time I have to read the crowd to get an understanding of what's going on. If people are constantly ordering drinks, then it's most likely a blowout. If people order big round every ten minutes or so, then the game is tight and they're waiting until a commercial break to take their attention away from the game and back to whether or not they have enough food and drink.
While the game is on, we typically play the broadcast audio However at half-time I get to put on a little music as I doubt anyone really wants to listen to the half-time talking heads. This allows me to play DJ a little bit. Again I like to put on energy songs to keep the crowd going and into the moment. If they can sing along and dance even better. Unlike the current updated playlist at the stadium, I am not restricted from any specific songs, so with that in mind, I gave 'Sweet Caroline' a shot. The song, long a tradition at Beaver Stadium, got a very warm and favorable response from the crowd with nearly everyone joining along in the chorus. I think it'll probably stay at the very least a bar tradition then, and I wouldn't be shocked that as time passes it becomes played at Beaver Stadium once again.
At the end of my shift, we begin to transition to the night crew. I will attempt to close any of the larger tabs to capitalize on my hard work. This can be a bit awkward, as I am essentially asking to get paid right away, but I feel that I did the work and it would be unfair to the day door staff as well as day barbacks to transfer the tab to the night shifts.
As I finally clock out, I typically will have 1 or 2 drinks at the bar, perhaps joining some of the patrons I had been serving myself, but usually with any of the other day staff that worked alongside with me. Those drinks are the best drinks I will consume all week both in terms of effectiveness (somehow drinking right after work seems to double the alcohol percentage, or at least fees like it.) and in terms of taste.
I can't wait to do it all again the next week.