After a summer of slow happy hour shifts and working the floor at The C.I., Emily Griffin faced the return of thousands of Ohio University students.
Griffin, a junior studying business management, is one of the many Athens bartenders who attempt to quench the thirst of a college town. She began working at The C.I. in May, and was given shifts during slower times of the day over the summer in order to become familiar with the bar and her job.
“I still haven’t worked a bar shift at night since I’ve started,” Griffin said. “That’ll come with time.”
When she works happy hour shifts behind the bar, Griffin is the only employee serving drinks, but said she always feels comfortable reaching out to coworkers if she gets overwhelmed.
Many bartenders in Athens have no formal training requirements, or dedicated training shifts. They instead learn on the job how to quickly make drinks, give correct change and manage a constant stream of orders. The exact method of training bartenders differs from bar to bar, but most new bartenders learn either through shadowing a more-experienced bartender or by trial-and-error with guidance from supervisors.
With the majority of the student population gone for summer break, Griffin saw only the quiet side of uptown bars. However, she said that work had adequately prepared her for the increase in patrons.
“I definitely am nervous,” she said in early August. “I’ve kind of gotten a taste of it with the busy weekends that we’ve already had over the summer, like Boogie on the Bricks and Brew Week.”
Stacy Mullins, a bar manager at The Over Hang, said she is a “classically trained” bartender, tasked with training new hires. The specifics of her training, however, are off-limits, she said.
“What we do is kind of different from everybody else, and I kind of don’t want to let everybody know what we do,” she said.
Mullins said most new bartenders struggle with the sheer amount of drink recipes they may be required to know.
“There are thousands of drink recipes,” she said. “It’s very overwhelming for people at first not knowing ‘How many recipes should I learn?’ ”
However, Mullins estimated most bartenders she trained were ready to work on their own without supervision after three or four shifts. By the end of the summer, she said, most bartenders are well-prepared for experiencing an influx of students for the first time.
“In this town, it’s a lot of drinks at a very high volume at a fast pace,” Mullins said.
Emily Montgomery, a bartender at The Over Hang, said she was taught by “the best” when she trained with Mullins over the summer, though she still had to overcome a few obstacles.
“I think what I struggled with a little bit was the prices and how much each liquor was,” Montgomery, a senior studying creative writing, said. “And when people order a weird drink, like a 'Sex on the Beach,' that you don’t encounter every day, it’s a little bit difficult, but you learn to adapt.”
Mullins said the sudden change of the student population can be jarring at first for bar staffs.
“It’s kind of stressful at the beginning because all of us haven’t really been busy for four months,” she said.
Griffin had a taste of what it was like to serve a busy crowd on several shifts when she was originally scheduled to work the floor, which includes cleaning tables, retrieving glasses and maintaining the bar.
“Depending on how busy we are, sometimes the bartenders will pull me behind the bar and ask for extra help for a few minutes or an hour,” she said. “Doing that … kind of helped me get more used to being behind the bar and what it’s gonna be like when I go and work those night shifts.”
Griffin, who makes most of her income through tips, said most students give adequate tips, despite their reputation to do otherwise. She estimated that after working one happy hour and one shift working the floor, she would make about $150 in tips.
Most bartenders would expect a tip of at least $1 per drink, Griffin said, but some people choose to order many drinks at once and still only tip for one drink.
Aside from the occasional cheap tipper or busy shift, Griffin said she enjoyed the first few months of her work.
“So far it’s been great being around a fun crowd,” she said. “Even though I can be, like, stone cold sober, the fact that everyone around me is drunk and having a good time kind of keeps me entertained.”
Having been a customer on the “other side” of the bar, Griffin said she already knew what would annoy and be appreciated by the customers.
“I think what makes a good bartender is definitely being observant — knowing where you last left off with your orders, and not pissing anyone off by skipping over them — that can always be obnoxious,” she said.
Emily Cleaveland, a senior studying marketing, went to The C.I., The Crystal and Courtside Pizza during Welcome Weekend. She said later in the night, from about 12:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., the bars became more crowded and the wait for drinks was about 10 minutes.
Bartenders in Athens were generally friendly, she said, though they are occasionally preoccupied tending to other tasks.
“When it’s slower they’ll be more personable with you,” Cleaveland said. “But (during) the rush crowd and everything late at night, they’re just trying to get your drinks and get you out.”
But during Welcome Weekend, new bartenders were nowhere in sight at The Pub Bar. Everyone working the bar had been employed there for about a year, Pub bartender Hunter Hillebrand said.
Hillebrand started working at The Pub last September, and recently had the chance to serve during his first Welcome Weekend as a bartender.
“I think it’s a lot different because it starts out super slow at first because opening weekend — everyone’s at the house parties and whatnot,” the fifth-year senior studying entrepreneurship said. “Then once all the house parties get shut down, it’s a huge rush. We’re pretty much packed until we close.”
Bartenders have worries other than a packed bar during Welcome Weekend. Hillebrand said undercover officers are often present during such events.
“We just kinda stress the whole fake I.D. thing and make sure we’re checking really hard,” he said.
During his time at The Pub, Hillebrand said he learned how to keep a clear head in what can be a chaotic workspace.
“You can’t listen to all the people yelling at you,” he said. “You gotta completely ignore them and know you’re doing the best you can no matter what everyone else thinks.”