DIRTY TRICKS behind the bar









This blog generally has a positive outlook.  I try to stay focused on what I find interesting, and funny . . . let someone else write about the negative stuff in our industry.

Today’s post will be change of pace.

Today I’m going recall three examples of bad behavior that make me wonder what some bartenders are thinking.  First, I’ll talk about a guy working his way up the food chain by back-stabbing his boss, then about a old-timer’s dirty trick using drops of Visine.  And finally, the lowest of low-lives . . . we’ll look at a bartender stealing from other bartenders.

I won’t say where or when these incidents took place, except to say that they happened a long time ago, and not at Johnny D’s.

1.)  Fucking Up the Manager . . .

I knew a guy I’ll call “Rob” as a drinking buddy.  He worked at a popular restaurant in Boston’s Quincy Market, not far from where I was the GM at a place called Friends & Company.

Rob was the bar manager where he worked and he hated his new boss, a night manager who had been hired from an application.  They both worked under a very strict GM.

Rob thought that he should have been promoted, instead of this unknown guy off the street.

The salt-in-the-wounds was that now the new night manager would be doing the liquor inventories.  He didn’t trust the staff, and felt he could be more accurate.  Until then, Rob had always done the inventories himself, with one of the other bartenders.

Rob didn’t like the change, . . . not one bit.

One night we were out having drinks and Rob seemed in a particularly good mood, after weeks of being down.

He told me that he’d found a way to screw the new manager.

Photo by Swanksalot (Flickr.com)

Knowing that the inventory would be taken on the first of the month, Rob had removed some liquor and hidden it.  He’d gone crazy with this scheme.  He had taken half a dozen cases of liquor from the liquor room, hiding them on the dusty shelves in the basement.

When the night manager took the inventory the next day, of course the liquor that was secreted away wasn’t counted.  Rob waited all day, then he waited all night until after hours before he put the liquor back.

The next day he went to the GM and told him he had doubts about the new manager’s accuracy.  He said that he just happened to be in the liquor room while the manager was counting.

“He was trying to do everything too quickly and he looked disorganized,” Rob said.  “I don’t see how he wouldn’t miss something.”

The GM checked, and found the “inaccuracies.”

I suppose it never crossed the GM’s mind that someone like Rob might be fucking with the new guy.  He probably couldn’t imagine a scheme that involved extra cases of liquor.

I’ll say this about Rob, he did have balls, . . . and he got away with it.

From that point on, the new manager’s days were numbered.  I remember Rob laughing as he told me what he’d done.

The following month Rob was back to doing the inventories with his bartenders — and eventually he replaced the night manger he hated.

Rob didn’t last long on his new job.  It’s a lot easier to screw things up, than it is to keep them running right.

As for the other guy . . . I don’t really know what happened to him after he was let go.  This might not have been the right business for him anyway.

2.)  The Visine trick . . .

An old-time bartender from New York City told me this trick many, many years ago.  It’s meant to take revenge on pain-in-the-ass customers.

The way the old-timer explained it — just adding a drop or two of Visine to someone’s drink will give them an immediate and devastating case of diarrhea.  They’ll be running back and forth to the rest room until they have to leave . . . a faint, foul odor perhaps trailing behind them.

Sounds pretty funny, doesn’t it?

But as I was writing this post — having some doubts about whether I should disclose this trick — I did some research on the web.  I discovered that the information I thought was an old-timer’s dark secret was actually now public knowledge on the Internet.  It was even included in a movie titled, “Wedding Crashers.”

While this made me more at ease mentioning it here — a lot of people apparently already know the trick — I was shocked to learn what actually happens to the victims.

Adding Visine to someone’s drink may cause:

— a sharp elevation of blood pressure followed by a sudden drop to dangerous levels
— difficulty in breathing, or even cessation of breathing
— overwhelming nausea and vomiting
— coma, and even death.

Yea, some people have died from it.

If you put something into a drink to cause a person harm,  . . . you are technically, legally, poisoning them.  There are people in prison right now for pulling this prank.  If caught, you can expect to spend the next few years working on license plates, rather than making drinks.

Anyway, I never used anything like this myself (although there were times I was tempted.)  After what I found out about it recently, thank God I didn’t.

3.)  The Lowest Form of Life . . .

Our business is full of giveaways, and even bartenders “knocking down.”  (That’s when a bartender rings in only PART of a round of drinks while putting ALL the money in the register — taking out the accumulated difference for themselves later.)

Despite management’s best efforts, this business does has a reputation for workers trying to put a little extra cash in their pockets.

But I think it’s generally agreed that the lowest form of bartender is the one who rips off other bartenders . . . someone who steals from co-workers.

I was a bartender at The Sunflower Café in Cambridge MA, and out having a few drinks with a girl who used to work with me.  She had moved on to one of Boston’s hottest nightspots.

I really liked the job I had, but as we talked I was feeling a little left behind.  My friend said that now she could make anywhere from $300 -$500 a night.

But she also said that she didn’t like the atmosphere.  She said it was too cut-throat for her.

“I work my ass off,” she complained that night, “But I think the other bartenders are stealing out of the tips.”

I decided to go to her new place on a night she wasn’t working to see for myself.

I don’t know what I expected to see — maybe one of the bartenders scooping up a $5 or $10 tip and put it into their pocket instead of the tip jar?

I had four or five drinks, and hadn’t seen a thing, so I asked for the check.  Being in the business, I left a good tip.

I was about to leave, but for some reason I happened to glance over at the bartender as he was cashing out my check.

I just sort of looking in his direction when he did something that caught my eye.

I’d left a $20 tip, but when the guy cashed it out, he didn’t take any money out of the register.  He rang out the slip, put it under the cash drawer . . . but he didn’t take the $20 gratuity.

What was the story?  They had all been taking their tips out with each check cashed, this guy included.

I ordered another drink and stayed a little longer.  This guy and the other bartenders continued to take the tips immediately . . . but a while later the same bartender did it again.  He cashed out a charge, but didn’t take anything for the tip jar.  Did that particular charge just happen not to have any tip included?  What about my check?

I asked for my second bill, and left another big tip . . . this time just to see what happened.

Same thing.  He cashed out the charge, but didn’t take out the gratuity.

I went back the following week to make sure before I said anything to my friend.  Besides, I was curious how he pocketed the money, how he got the stolen tips from the register without drawing attention to himself.

Towards the end of the night this bartender was talking with someone he seemed to know well, and he offered to buy the customer a drink . . . out of his own pocket.

By now I was watching everything he did.

He was laughing as he served the drink, then reached into his pocket as he turned back to the register.

He rang in the drink, the drawer popped up, and he put his bill into the register.  But he put it into the far right of the register.

That’s where the one’s are kept.

He put the bill into the far right, then proceeded to move his hands left as he took his change.

He must have put in a one dollar bill, and now he was taking out a five, a couple of tens, and then three twenties.  I couldn’t see the denomination of the bills, but I could clearly see where his hands were on the drawer.

The position of his hands was unmistakable.  He’d put in a one-dollar bill and now he was taking out twenties . . . the only thing further to the left would have been the fifties or hundreds.  He was taking out the money he’d stolen from his co-workers.

“I knew it!” my friend said when I told her a few days later, “I knew he was a piece of crap!”

She left that job not long afterwards.  She said the money wasn’t worth it.  I don’t know if she ever said anything to her manager about the stolen tips.

Anyway, I realize life can be a bitch and there’s no sense crying about it.  There are more assholes in the world than you can shake a stick at.  But bartenders stealing from the people who work beside them . . . that has to be the lowest form of life.

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22 Responses to DIRTY TRICKS behind the bar

  1. DAbertini says:

    Good detective work on the bartender stealing from his buddies. Life’s a bitch isn’t it? Welcome to the real world no matter what business you’re in.

  2. Case says:

    The Visine trick is nasty. Makes me glad I’m on good terms with my neighborhood barkeep. Good look at behind the scenes in this post.

  3. scribbler50 says:

    Enjoyed this post a lot, Mike. Not so much #1 as I’m not a fan of sabotaging someone’s job, especially here where the new guy seemed to do nothing wrong but get hired. But #2 and 3# were priceless. I too have heard of the Visine trick but never dreamed it could actually cause death. Jesus! Good thing you did your research, posting without that disclaimer could’ve made you an accessory had someone acted on it. And I really loved #3, terrific job of sleuthing. I just wish you had said on the way out the door, “Between you and me, pal, I saw what you just did!” just to make him stew and wonder who else would find out. What a prick!

    Great stuff, man, as always.

  4. Starbucks8294 says:

    I think every business has tricks like this, I could tell you a few in the construction business. Mostly its the new guys being initiated but good.

  5. MikeQ says:

    DAbertini: Yea, DA, it’s a tough life no matter which way you turn. Makes you appreciate the good guys/gals when they come along.

    Case: There’s nothing like sitting at a bar with your usual bartender, or being a bartender with the good ole regulars.

    Scribbler50: Thanks a lot stopping by and commenting, Scrib. Any word on when your new place will open? Will it be called “Bill’s Something” again? Hope you’ve had a chance to work on that book. It’s quite a cast of characters, some real nitty gritty and wonderful moments you regaled us with on your blog.

    Starbucks8294: It’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly in every trade, isn’t it Starbucks? I worked construction one summer before college … I got off easy as the new guy.

  6. Llylak says:

    Dirty tricks indeed! Thank you for sharing the story of what lies behind friendly smiles and courteous greetings. If my customers only knew what I was thinking as I served their cocktails. I have mixed feelings about those days, being glad they’re over but sometimes missing them.

  7. Colleen says:

    No legacy is so rich as honesty-Shakespeare. It’s a shame that in today’s world people rarely have a sense of decency and integrity.

  8. Jake says:

    I spent a couple years as a bartender in college and never saw anything like this. Your friend was at a nightclub so maybe it’s more cutthroat as you move up. The Visine prank is sick, good post though. Your blog is on the top on my list.

  9. Teri says:

    I know what it’s like to work hard and then pool tips. It must have been very discouraging for your friend to think she’d moved up to a better job only to find out she was working with a bunch of assholes. I’m glad I’ve never worked at a place that bad!

  10. Ben W says:

    Enjoyed the look at the dark side of the bar life. Keep ’em coming, Utica, NY here.

  11. MikeQ says:

    Llylak: Admit it, Lly, you DO miss it, don’t you? 🙂

    Colleen: Tried to get hold of you twice yesterday. Were you visiting your Uncle Eddie? (You’re such a good niece!) Running late now, but I’ll try to call after the Blues Jam.

    Jake: Thanks for reading, Jake! We’ll try to keep your interest.

    Ben W: Ah, Utica NY, I think we have a few readers there. Is the Club Inferno still open?

  12. Lindsey says:

    I think I may have the lowest of lows. I use to work at a decent size irish bar. On Saturday nights I was behind the bar with my manager/bartender/friend. I never felt like the money was right at the end of the night so I started watching him. He would pull stunts just like that but because he was the manager he was the last one out at night and would make sure he was so he could fix his tilt when everyone was gone. I purposely forgot something onetime so he had to let me back in. I pretty much caught him red handed. But he was my manager so what was I to do other than make it really hard for him to do it next time. I eventually left because I couldn’t take it anymore and needless to say we are no longer friends!

  13. MikeQ says:

    Lindsey: Thanks so much for sharing your story, Lindsey. I suppose it’s too much to expect that with so many people in the business there’s not a few f’in jerks, just like any other business. Maybe more than a few. You’re right, and my friend was right, to leave . . . no matter how good the money, if that’s what the place is like, it’s not worth the aggravation.

  14. Anyone who skims tips from his/her fellow bartenders should be forced to do a shot of cheap tequila with half a bottle of Visine in it. That’s like dirty cop shit in the bartending world.

    Good post, Mike.

    The RB

  15. Mark says:

    I only disagree with you if that guy was the only one serving you. Sometimes you have to do that because other bartenders suck

  16. Leah says:

    FYI, leaving 20 on 211 is not a good tip. That is less than 10% and is in fact an insulting tip. 20% is the minimum for any service.

  17. MikeQ says:

    Leah … the $20 I left wasn’t for a $211 tab. I can’t remember now, but it was just drinks for me so maybe the bill was $30-$40. You sound like you’re in the business so you know we always tip more.

    The $211 credit card slip on the left was just meant as an illustration … damn, I should have been more careful. I just pulled that off the web. Can’t see the date on the slip, but the tip is $35, about $15%, so maybe it was from back when 10-15% was standard.

    But now I noticed that the slip is from Fayetteville, NY! Strange coincidence–I grew up and went to high school in that area.

    Anyway, thanks for pointing that out … it is confusing and I may go back and find another illustration (not this week though, I’m only days away from finishing the book and I should put up a new post, too.) But thanks for reading!! … and commenting.

  18. Steve Tallas says:

    I heard a rumor that the ingredient in Visine that makes people sick when digested was removed.

  19. Mike Q says:

    Steve … a guy I worked with in the early 1990’s told me about the Visine. He’d been a bartender in NYC. I imagine you’re right that they’ve changed the ingredients by now … which is a good thing. Thanks for the link to your Atlanta club.

  20. Anne says:

    Ok so what do you do when you work with another bartender that blatantly steals tabs from you? I will be literally standing in front of someone that has just come in, getting their drink order. Meanwhile, behind my back, this other bartender and already raced over and started making their drinks and has had the audacity to walk up behind me and set them down in front of the customers, acting like I’m not even there, then scuttles off to ring in their tab. I have let her know she needs to stop doing this to me, but yet she doggedly continues to do it?

  21. jASON kING says:


    • Katherine O'Connor says:

      Now a days the eye drops trick can really hurt someone but late 80’s early 90’s wrong. Also back then it was a drop of 2 at most. People I have seen do this action after 2015 they put an extreme large amount like a full on full stream of the liquid. The ingredients are different now and even before they changed it was 1 to 2 drops. This is absolutely not right. The fact that a lot of you are calling disgusting or sick kinda makes me laugh and wonder how long and what type of restaurant you work for. The 80’s and 90’s things were so much different haha. Like have you seen the movie ‘waiting’ the first movie is actually based on a true story. It was based on a restaurant in Bradenton Florida the chef called ‘radamus’ in the movie is actually based off of my old Sous chef at a fl ritz Carlton. You can say I am making this up but my chef actually brought in the original screen play also had photos at the Hollywood first showing

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