As an ex-bartender, there have been too many times that I've suddenly broken into a cold sweat on Friday night when I suddenly remember I agreed to cover someone's brunch shift. For the general public, brunch, especially a bottomless one, is the ultimate treat-yourself meal: a group of your friends, unlimited mimosas and coffee, and nowhere else you need to be. So who in their right mind doesn’t like this time-honored, luxurious weekend morning tradition? The people serving you brunch.
Unlike the patrons eagerly lined up outside, the brunch staff has been up for hours prepping the kitchen, setting up the dining area, and executing the most painfully tedious tasks, affectionately known as side-work instead of what it really is, grunt work. When the doors open, the next 6 hours will be non-stop running, smiling, accommodating, and fulfilling some of the most irrelevant requests to a bartender's job description. For many bartenders, brunch is where dreams go to die.
Let's talk about the main source of pain for this resentment: brunch cocktails. There are exceptions, but most brunch menus are exactly the same thing even if the restaurants all have vastly different dinner menus. To keep up with the competition, cocktails are bottomless or half-priced, meaning the gratuity is less for the same amount of work. Batch cocktails like sangria and Bloody Mary's sell fast adding another layer of anxiety to your shift. The standards move fast and if you don't correctly anticipate how much you'll need, you may never have another moment to make another batch. This will prompt at least three people to tell you have you've ruined brunch for them. Yes, we know you were only kidding, and don't worry, we're only annoyed with you.
Many people would say we bartenders should just be happy to be making all that money for doing “such little work.” In fact, the cheaper menu prices mean we're taking home less gratuity or about the same for serving significantly more people. We are constantly moving to keep up with the dining room and bar guests. If we're not serving at the speed of light? Well, that's the other side of the cruel joke that brunch plays on bartenders.
However, just because it's the weekend, it doesn't mean we're making the fast cash bad tippers would like to think we make to justify a 10% tip. If I'm standing around, carefully crafting the perfect playlist with such seriousness that I start to believe I could one day compose a soundtrack to a high-grossing film, that means I haven't made a single cocktail. If you see servers dancing in the middle of the floor, it means we've all accepted the fact we're each bringing home $20.
Though sometimes, a late rush will cause us to quickly switch gears. Most of us have trouble as we genuinely didn't think we'd actually serve a customer. This is usually when I pour coffee in a mimosa instead of champagne, but I'm not mad, because I am genuinely stoked to have customers. Until I get all my tips from the day and see I was duped into thinking an hour of steady-flow would make up for five hours of tumbleweeds floating through a very dead bar.
During those quiet times in the dead of winter, parties waiting for tables could trigger some serious resentment for me. I'd look at them with pleading eyes, ready to take their drink order, only to have them inform me they would be ordering bottles of wine at the table. Oh, how nice for everyone but me, I'd think and dejectedly clear the empty water glasses and menus as they depart. Or, perhaps, if the brunch gods really wanted to prank me, they'd have their own coffee or smoothies with them and throw a cheerful "No, thanks" to my gesture of non-boozy beverages. The more often this plays out throughout your shift the more personally you take it.
The last hour of brunch should be the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you experienced a particularly brutal shift, you're most likely working some things out. The end of brunch usually means the popular items have been 86'd much to any late-comers dismay. Some of us indulge in a secret, shameful pleasure of telling our guests no — it's something we've been waiting to do all day and we finally have a reason.
When it finally becomes time to clock out, a weight is lifted off our shoulders. it feels like we have the entire day ahead of us. All the things we would have rather have been doing are now available to us, except, actually having brunch.