What I learned about Customer Relationship Management from Bartenders…

In my travels over the last several years, I have dined alone on a regular basis. Eating dinner alone is a weird thing but something I’ve come to find an unexpected amount of peace in doing. My top favorite way to eat alone is to find a nice grocery store (like Wegman’s or Whole Foods) and make a large plate, grab a cold bottle of beer, then return to my hotel room to enjoy, usually while watching the Travel Channel or the Food Network.

My second choice when a fine grocery store isn’t available is to sit at the bar of a local, ideally non-chain restaurant. I love watching how bartenders work, and when the place isn’t busy, I love talking with them.

While I eat my buffalo chicken sandwich (wishing it was grilled instead of fried and covered with 31% more buffalo sauce and had cucumbers instead of lettuce), they serve dozens and dozens of drinks (all but one or two to other people) without any obvious system for knowing who is next but almost always getting it right.

It’s amazing.

All the while, they listen to stories from those of us sitting at the bar, bringing them back up and remembering many details when our turn comes to have our drink status checked. This has been my experience as the norm. Crappy bartenders have (thankfully) been the exception.

It makes you feel special.

When I’m doing my job, I’ve discovered I’m pretty good at making clients, customers, partners, and colleagues feel important and special while prioritizing them, reprioritizing them, and checking in on the ones that seem to be good just to try to anticipate coming needs. I’m not perfect at this. I miss people “at the bar” occasionally, but mostly I’m good. When I do miss someone, I go out of my way to make it up to them.

Unfortunately, in my workplace experiences, the bartender mindset and craft has not been the norm. The people made to feel special are often the squeakiest wheels or the biggest wallets. I get the tension in that, but I believe the best “bartenders” deal with those customers in a special, deft way that doesn’t take away from the experience of the rest of their “customers.”

How often do you ask yourself, “I wonder what the people I’m in relationship with at or through work are feeling?” If it’s not often or the only faces that come to mind are squeaky wheels and big wallets, may I humbly suggest that you are not doing it right.

Be a good bartender not a typical cube dweller.


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