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11 Expressions Only Bartenders Understand

by Melissa Allen Feb 27, 2018

Part of entering any new industry is learning to speak the language. Life behind the bar is no exception. It’s not just cocktail recipes and beverage knowledge that you have to brush up on. You’ve got to speak like a bartender.

1. 86

Okay, so we technically share this term with the servers and back of house, but 86 can mean two different things. In terms of food or beverage, 86 is the term we use when we run out of something. Chartreuse is on backorder? 86 The Last Word. The fryer is broken? 86 onion rings for the night. You can also 86 a customer, typically for bad behavior, which means that customer is no longer welcome in your establishment. We caught you doing drugs in the bathroom again? 86 Frank.

2. Clopen or cl-open

The dreaded close-open scenario. If you work at a bar or restaurant that is open during the day, at some point, you will get stuck working the closing shift (depending on the bar that could be working till 5 AM), then you have to drag yourself back first thing in the morning (potentially 7 or 8 AM) to set up for day service. So if your brunch bartender seems particularly cranky one morning, she might have just “clopened”. Typically, this is a last-resort resort scenario if coverage is needed, but if you are a newbie on staff, this could be your scheduled shift until you earn your stripes.

3. Staff meeting

Typically called just after the staff has handled a big rush, the staff meeting is when the front of house (bartenders, servers, runners, chill managers) assembles at the service bar for a quick shot. On a really busy night, multiple staff meetings might be needed, for the morale of course.

4. Service bar

At restaurants or bars with table service, you typically have a bartender (or bartenders, depending on the size of the place) who handles the bar customers, and another bartender who works service bar. The service bartender makes all the drinks for the guests at tables. This position is great for new bartenders perfecting their cocktail skills and for grumpy bartenders not known for their people skills.

5. The pass

The entrance to the bar. Often a wood panel that can be raised (or crawled under) for access behind the bar, though many bars have an open entrance. Usually where you find the service bar and the server station so that servers can quickly grab the drinks to deliver to tables. It is bad etiquette for bar guests to congregate around this station because it makes it very difficult for the servers to maneuver.

6. The point

The point refers to the end of the bar closest to the door. This is usually the highest trafficked area and the main focus for the bartender serving the bar customers.

7. Cutting

This term when we send staff home for the night. Often, there is an opening bartender who arrives first and does the setup, and a closing bartender who is there until the bitter end of the shift. On busy nights, there might be swings, who work shorter shifts to help with the rush. As things start to slow down for the night, we cut the opening staff and swings because you don’t want extra staff in the tip pool unless you need them.

8. Pooling

When the bartenders (and potentially servers) assemble all the tips from the night and then use a point system, based on hours and position, to divvy up the tips. This system works best at smaller establishments where teamwork is essential.

9. Burning the ice

At the end of the night, bartenders must pour or run hot water over their ice bins in order melt all remaining ice. Then the whole bar can be properly wiped down.

10. Industry

At my first NYC restaurant job, my manager pointed to a table and said, “Send them dessert, they’re industry.” I sent them some tiramisu, but I was very confused. Perhaps other industries use the same expression, but, as bartenders, if we call someone “industry,” it’s because they work at a bar or restaurant as well. If we can, we always try to hook them up in some way. One, because we know what it’s like to serve others every day and we want them to feel taken care of. And two, industry types are the best tippers.

11. Boomerang

When a bartender sends a drink or shot to a bartender friend at a different bar. Typically packaged up in a jar with some masking tape and transported by a loyal regular. The farther the shot travels, the better the boomerang.

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