Walking a Thin Line
It’s always a very thin line between “that doesn’t quite cut it” and overdoing it (even if only by a wee bit). In my experience this is exactly that very thin line you need to hit in order to give your guest the best possible drinking experience - the most relaxed, but not inelegant, the most down-to-earth, yet not unrefined experience. And it is exactly this line that is very hard to hit. It’s as though you’re a marksman about to hit a buck (the dollar bill) at about 1km (1000 yards +) in wind and weather.
Sadly it’s tough, but there are no tables, no rules to follow - “that and this, these and those, no one knows.” That being said, I can’t tell you exactly how to hit this very sweet spot, but I’m gonna attempt to give you a couple of examples that’ll hopefully make it clear where you can start looking for it and where it won’t be found at all.
Let’s start with an example just minutely sub par. When did you last order a Jynnan Tonnyx? I do so very, very frequently, and about 1 out of 4 times the order is met below (my) standards. See, if I’m not in the dirtiest beer and shots bar around, I expect to at least be asked whether it should be with lime or lemon, if I didn’t state preferences myself. Chances are this is already overdoing it, very much depending on the environment (e.g. a down in the boondocks watering hole). So you as the tender will have to be very much aware of where and whom you are serving.
On the other hand... I was cooking dinner with a friend the other day and we were having Hendrick’s Tonics. With cucumber, of course. I was asked to make the drinks and asked right back where I might find the cucumbers. “In the freezer, of course!” he replied. “Of course?” I asked him back. To which he explained, that a freshly cut cucumber would overpower the fine subtleties of the Gin, whilst a frozen cucumber would express just the right amount of flavor. The idea seemed intriguing, needless to say I was quite taken aback to find that the difference is indeed compelling. In a casual bar this would’ve been a perfect example for exaggerating it just ever so slightly - then again, seeing as it was his home bar, time was aplenty and the mood was swell, it was just about right*1.
As mentioned above, there aren’t any straight and simple guidelines (or are there?), but if you mind the following points, you might just find the right balance between too much and too little:
• First and foremost the most important factor in this “equation” is, as stated above, the venue. And you’ll have to figure out yourself how to best treat your guests, for sadly the kind of hospitality (or for that matter hostility) is bound to your surroundings.
• Secondly numbers - is the guest alone and receptive to further inquiry or is it a group totally caught up in conversation themselves.
• Then you have to gauge the guest’s current mood, which translates very much like the numbers situation. Also - complicating matters even more - personality, meaning each guest is to be treated individually.
• Last but not least one might want to factor in the manner in which the order is placed. Is it a guest who quite obviously knows what they want or should you better make sure they didn’t just order that Piña Colada as a means to have something to sip on.
That being said, there are also the extremes. Say I hit a down and out dirty dive, or even a Student’s Club, so I’m not expecting my Whiskey Sour to be double strained or even to be asked for my preference in booze. Hell, in some places I might not even expect freshly squeezed lemon and just be content to be served something to sip on at all. But at a high end bar, I expect to be asked whether I’d like it with egg-white or simple - except, of course, when this very drink is on the menu (just most “fancy wizardry” bars nowadays don't place a “simple” Whiskey Sour on the menu).
I’m not saying you shouldn’t dish out B52’s or Aperol Spritz’s, if that’s all that is asked for, though sometimes you’re doing your guest a favor by suggesting (in a very modest manner) that the flavor profile asked for could be much improved by choosing a different drink. After all, every guest deserves to be served the best possible taste/flavor to satisfy their very needs, at any given time - because that’s what it’s all about.
*1: This very incident was actually the kindling for me to write this piece - true story.