What I Learnt Working at a Bar

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Like lots of other students, this summer I moved back in with my parents in my hometown. Whilst there, I worked full-time to help pay my summer rent and (if I’m being honest) to stop myself from becoming bored. I had applied for multiple customer service and retail jobs before I saw an advertisement looking for bar staff at the local pub.

I thought it was the perfect job, as the pub was close by, the pay was good and my dad already met his friends for drinks there on a Friday so at least there would be one friendly face. Frankly, I was only expecting to earn some cash and possibly make a few work acquaintances. However due to the heat wave, World Cup fever and all the different customers, I actually grew to love my summer job and had an eye-opening experience into the world of bars.

Extended Community:

Despite being in busy South London, the pub I worked at had a large crowd of regulars who came in at least a few times a week. Over the summer I got to know them all – their jobs, their interests and in the case of a few, their families. They all knew every staff member as well, not just our names but what we had studied at university, what we did on our days off and normally what days we were working. For many people their local pub is not just somewhere to go to have a drink or two to relax, but an extended community of people that care about them and support them.

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Some of the regulars were widowers, who enjoyed coming to the pub every evening because it meant that, instead of sitting inside on their own, they were surrounded by people who knew them and they could immerse themselves in the music and chatter. For other regulars who lived in a block of flats, the pub garden offered them and their families a safe place to socialise and enjoy the unexpected season of sunshine. Not only was I serving the customers drinks, I (along with the rest of the team) provided them with an opportunity to talk through their work day, air their frustrations and celebrate their achievements. We were there for regulars on their good days and their bad days, on their birthdays and the anniversaries of loved ones who had passed away. Essentially, we became a support network. 

Knowing Your Limits:

Luckily, most of the customers I served were lovely. However, given the setting of this job I interacted with drunk people on a daily basis. Whilst most people came to meet their friends for a fun social occasion, for others the influence of booze meant they became confrontational and rude. Customers who had previously been polite suddenly became physically and verbally aggressive towards both the bar staff and other customers. Being a 20-year-old female in a pub environment can be daunting enough at times, without having another person (who was normally bigger and older) shouting in your face and leaning across the bar. It reinforced to me that we all need to be aware of our tolerance for alcohol and stay within our limits. Whilst I’m sure those people woke up the next morning and blamed the drinks for their behaviour, that doesn’t take away the uncomfortable and scary situation they put others in. 

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Company and Support:

Working behind a bar means you inevitably end up overhearing some of the customer’s conversations. I realised the familiar setting of a pub is an area that men feel comfortable to converse. It is widely proven that females will lean on other females more when they need emotional support; however, boys/men largely find it difficult to open up to one another. The pub offers them the opportunity to meet each other for a drink and a catch up, creating an environment where they can reveal their struggles.

World Cup Fever:

I am not a football fan. I know nothing about football. Before working in a pub I didn’t really understand why you would be dedicated to one team. However, that all changed this summer when football fever contaminated the whole country. Whilst England were bringing football home, I worked every England World Cup match. Although hesitant at first, I got swept up with the rest of the country, pouring more pints than I thought possible, painting England flags on my face and experiencing the highs and lows that all other football fans feel. I saw it bring together people of all different ages and genders and I finally understood how the World Cup made people forget about their mundane problems.

So bar work isn’t as bad as you’d expect. In fact, I’d say it taught me some valuable lessons about the necessity of community, the importance of the local pub in a lot of people’s lives and the pure joy that can come from a friendly, united atmosphere. You could spend your summer sprawled on a sun-lounger watching the days go by, but if my experience is anything to go by, working can be so much more rewarding.

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