By Day Bracey
Pittsburgh Current Craft Beer Writer
May 8, 8;30 p.m.: I’m at Cinderlands with Hitchhiker Taproom Manager and Bierport Outreach Coordinator Michael Orellano, or as everyone in the industry knows him, “Mikey!” I’ve asked him here to get insight on what it’s like to be a taptender. More importantly, I want to know how we can be better guests. After working in the food service industry for more than a decade, I’m highly sensitive to the treatment of staff, and proper etiquette in various establishments. Believe it or not, good service is a two-way street. The better you treat people, the better they treat you. Crazy concept, I know. I’m sure someone is going to accuse me of spreading socialism. They wouldn’t be too far from the truth.
Me: Where are you from originally?
Mikey: Queens, NY. I came here for school about 13 years ago.
Me: How’d you get into the industry?
Mikey: I wanted to make some money on the side while I pursued my art and graphic design; Jeff Holt over at Hambones put on some pretty great craft beers. I’ve been at Hitchhiker for a year and a half, and Bierport for four. Craft beer customers are some of the most interested customers you’ll have. And for the most part, they’re pretty thoughtful.
Me: How does etiquette differ from a restaurant to a brewery?
Mikey: I don’t get super mad at people who leave food and dishes on the table at our brewery, because taprooms often blur the lines between dive bars and restaurants. Typically, you should bus your own table. I make it a point to thank people whenever they bring their glasses to the bar, to help encourage that behavior.
I also want customers to take their time and read the menu. Be aware of how busy it is. If there are eight or nine people in line, and you order a flight, know what you want by the time you get to the front. If not, you’re delaying service for everyone else.
Me: Just like Chipotle.
Mikey: There’s one thing everyone does that they think helps you but it doesn’t, wiping your mouth and nose and stuffing the tissue in the glass. I drink off of friends. I’m not afraid of a little backwash. But you’re a stranger, and now I’ve got to reach in the glass and touch your spit. This is awkward.
Also, don’t say “I got this,” and cover the whole tab, then leave me like $2 on five beers. If you got this, you got all of this.
Me: What is proper tip etiquette on beers?
Mikey: Fifteen to 20 percent or $1 per drink. Also, make sure you order drinks at a table together, so we don’t have to take multiple trips. Again, delaying service for everyone.
May 19, 3 p.m.: I’m at Grist House with Carson St. Deli’s Bar Manager, and Taptender for Roundabout, Alison Zavacky. Space Dust IPA is the soundtrack.
Me: How’d you get into the industry?
AZ: I knew the manager who was hiring at CSD. He wanted someone who knew something about the industry, and I’ve learned so much more since being there. It’s been four years now.
Me: How does a brewery differ from a bar or restaurant?
AZ: The hours are different. People often get upset when they have to leave at nine or 10 p.m. because they’re used to bars being open until 2 a.m.
Me: That always pisses me off. What are some ways employers have helped to make you feel appreciated, and make your job easier?
AZ: At the Deli, what I appreciate the most is the level of trust and freedom I have. I’m allowed to try out new ideas, mess with the model and see what works.
Me: What are some ways folks with kids or dogs can help you provide them the best service?
AZ: There should be boundaries. I’ve had kids run behind the bar. Obviously, that can’t be allowed. Some adults need to hear that too. It’s a pretty regular occurrence to have people cross that boundary. Situational awareness is something that I appreciate a lot in customers. Be considerate of others and the people who are working.
Me: What are some things you want your customers to know?
AZ: Keep an open mind and try new things. I want there to be variety in beer. I don’t want just the people who drink IPAs to come in and that be all that craft beer is.
Me: What are some tips for new taptenders?
AZ: Keep looking for ways to improve. Have patience. It takes time to learn the nuances. You don’t need to know every beer style. Guidelines are for competitions, but don’t necessarily make the beer better.
Me: I love lactose. Fuck what the industry says. I love a milky beer. Thank you brewers and cows.