“Did someone burn their hair at the bar last night?” my manager once asked me.

“Oh yeah,” I replied. “Yes she did.”

I was young, inexperienced, overconfident and certainly believed that my feces smelled like Hypnotiq. I was working a small bar with a service window. I had a candle on the ledge. A long-haired woman leaned in to order and singed a bit of her hair.

She wanted a free drink for her loss. Somehow the buzz-cut kid behind the bar didn’t take her seriously. The next day she called my manager to complain. 

This is not how my manager should have heard about this.

From You First

Managers and owners hate to be unprepared. If a guest is complaining about something, they don’t want to know nothing about it. If they didn’t see it themselves, they at least want the story from their staff.

If you have a problem, or even think you might, it’s best your boss hears it from you first.

That’s one reason you need to keep a bar log. Protect yourself and keep your manager from getting blindsided.

You might have an official book with a year on the front and a page for each day. You might just have a spiral notebook. Whatever.  It’s important for you to make a daily log of events, incidents and even the lack of important action.

For example:

Not long ago a young woman came into my bar drunk. She was with a couple friends and more were joining them. They’d been getting loose at home and she was already too loose. I told her I couldn’t serve her, but got a couple drinks for her friends.

They were sitting around the corner at a table I couldn’t see from the bar. The next time I looked over, one of the drinks was empty in front of the drunk girl. I told the table they couldn’t give her a drink. If anyone else wanted a drink, they could get one from me at the bar.

Their party grew to eight or ten, but I only wanted to serve them at the bar where I could see them. If they didn’t want to come to the bar, never mind. They’d broken my trust.

A half dozen of them left without ordering a thing.

I made absolutely sure to document this in the log. I clearly imagined one of them calling the next day to say I’d ignored a whole party of people and they left upset.

I empowered my manager to say: “Yes, the bartender told me about it. Did any of you give your drink to a woman who was cut off?”

Not Just for Your Manager

A bar log is also a very important tool for staff-to-staff communication. I absolutely read it to see what happened before my shift and on my days off.

Not long ago I read that a regular, who sometimes has too much, fell down in the parking lot, hit her head and had to be driven home by the manager. Suddenly I was even more concerned for this guest and more worried about our liability.

Yet, with this information I was better prepared next time I saw this guest. Plus, next time I saw that bartender in passing, I made sure to ask: “What should we do about her?”

Next time I did see that guest, she was with two friends I knew cared about her. They insisted the were only having one drink. When she asked for another, I reminded her what her friends had said. All was well, but I might not have served her alone.

And yes, I certainly logged the non-incident.

The Log and the Law

In addition to aiding communication with your comrades, a bar log can cover your heinie. If you ever have a situation that involves the police (or you think might), be sure to get your version of the facts in writing. You don’t want the only side of the story coming from a drunk who wrecked their car, hurt some people and insists you over-served them.

To get clarification on the issue, I reached out to my local authority: the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board. Keep in mind, the laws of your state may vary, but what’s a good idea here is a good idea everywhere.

I spoke to Lieutenant Matt Murphy on the phone. I was surprised to learn Washington has no official policy on keeping a log, but he absolutely supports it.

“I legitimizes your operation,” he said. When he is researching an over-service incident, he works backwards. He does his best to recreate the chain of events inevitably involving one or more bars. When bars have an accurate log it makes his job much easier.

He suggests being like a reporter and sticking to the facts. Include physical description, name (if you know it), receipts, approximate time and as much other detail you can. Be specific, especially with signs of intoxication: Don’t say: “He looked drunk.” Rather: “He was wobbly. His speech was slurred. He smelled of alcohol.”

If someone comes in drunk and you serve them nothing, don’t consider this a non-incident. What if they were at a couple other bars, got cut off, came to your place then drove away and crashed? You’ll be very glad to have documented the fact that you poured them not one drop.

Best Practices

To sum things up, I make the following suggestions:

1- Get a book (like this, or even just one of these) and write in it every shift. If nothing exciting happened, note that. I love to be able to say: “Steady night with no problems.” Your managers and teammates will know everyone is diligently using the book.

2- Reach out to your Liquor Board. Ask them what they suggest and require. Don’t dread them. Have a relationship with them. Then if anything does happen, they know you and trust you.

3- Document anything that might come back to bite you. Make sure your version of the facts is in the book while it’s fresh in your mind. Defuse any potential accusations against you.

4- Realize this book is permanent. Don’t joke or gossip. Don’t criticize the work of your teammates here. But it is a good place to leave a post-it note where the next shift will read it.

5- Be very careful with your language. You should never be making sexist, racist or otherwise discriminatory statements. Certainly never log them.

The bar log is your friend. It’s not a chore. It’s a tool to keep you out of trouble. Use it to be sure that your version of the truth is documented and never forgotten.

Eighty Six

Eighty Six, also known as David Klenda, has worked the front of the house since George Bush's dad was president and OJ was famous for being a football player. He's been writing poetry and fiction longer than that. He'll write freelance about anything for a buck, but is so glad to be writing about something he knows and loves. Currently he is making a Spokane neighborhood dive a little more crafty.