Things are going really well at BrewDog – so much so, that as you can probably see I’m struggling to keep up with the blogging. But I find the odd time, on trains, in hotel rooms, or after midnight (as now) to get something out, when I can. I’m not going to talk very much on the BeerCast about my BrewDog work, for obvious reasons, but one thing that has recently happened does bear blogging about, I think. After I started, one of the emails that pinged my inbox was a suggestion that all new starts work a couple of shifts in their local BrewDog bar, to better realise what customers are after, to learn more about the beers at point of sale, and so on. It was a great idea – but, also, a fairly daunting one.
The thing is, not only have I never worked in a bar before, I’ve never actually had a job that involved dealing with the public before, in any way. I’ve worked in warehouses, on wind-blasted estuary shorelines, and – of course – in large, stultifying open-plan offices. I even had one spectacular summer working in a Spar depot driving small trucks around (still to this day, the only time I have ever been fired). But none of these positions even once required speaking to a member of the public. It’s crazy. I mean, I speak to people all the time – I’m not a shuffling automaton, inept of social graces; I interview brewers, speak to people about beer on a daily basis. So what was different about doing it behind a bar?
I guess it’s down to familiarity; I’ve been the other side of that reclaimed brick divide so many times, but never behind. Before I went in to work at BrewDog Edinburgh, I thought of three possible scenarios that would trip me up (only three, I know!). Having to change a keg and it blowing all over me; having to refuse service to someone who was inebriated; and having to ID people. That last one – which, as it turned out, was the only one that didn’t occur* – worried me the most. My wife works at a University, so sees eighteen-year-olds on a daily basis. I haven’t seen one for ten years. How would I know?
* Well, I did change a keg, but it was under supervision and was a Punk for Punk swap, so no eruptions.
Obviously, being the guy that got BrewDog’s second-ever bar done for failing a test purchase wouldn’t have looked good on my two-week C.V., and thankfully everyone I had the pleasure of serving looked the right side of 25, so I needn’t have worried. I think the only snafu I made was mixing up someone’s pizza order, and going round to collect empty glasses and coming back with one that had a candle in it. From this, I learned to spot a tea-light at twenty paces, and also – and most importantly – repeating orders in my head (fingers in ears, if necessary), until I could find a pen.
I left, £5.30 in tips the richer, feeling like I’d really learned something. The staff in BrewDog Edinburgh are amazing, patient, friendly and passionate about what they do. But then, even BrewDog haters admit that the staff are right at the top of what’s good about BrewDog’s bars – the way they are trained, the interactions their bars foster. At the end of the second shift, I’d even learned which way to step when one of them was coming past me with a couple of poured beers, or a pizza from the oven, for instance, so I think I did pretty well. The fascinating thing for me, as you’ve probably guessed, was dealing with the customers, face to face.
For years, I’ve immersed myself in the beer world, but only as a commentator. When working in the bar, other people were doing the commenting – at me; about what beers they liked, why they preferred this one over that, why they wrinkled their faces up at one taster, or nodded their heads at others. None of that is new for me of course; it’s something I enjoy most about beer writing – speaking to people about why they like, or dislike, what they do. The difference this time is that I was in the position of responsibility, it was me they were addressing; the onus was on me to make recommendations, not simply ask for opinions. And that’s what made it so interesting.
Oh, one thing I realised is that everyone goes into bars and immediately stares over the heads of the staff, to read the board. I realised that was something I have been doing for many, many years. Sorry to keep you waiting, bartenders of Edinburgh…
Big thanks to Jordan, James, Erin and Fisher at BrewDog Edinburgh for looking after me for those two shifts. I hope I didn’t make too many mistakes; I swear those guys asked for an Iron Fist pizza. I even wrote it down, and everything…