Five Bar Habits That Hold Us Back along the Grand Strand

“Myrtle Beach will never be Charleston when it comes to food and drink.” It baffles me to think that anyone in our city would want to “be” Charleston. We have our own thing going on. For the most part.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what this little phrase meant and, after some crying, I realized they were talking about the habits of our drinking establishments. At least that is how it played out in my mind.

There is nothing wrong with Charleston. There is nothing wrong with Myrtle Beach. However, one of us is gaining more and more recognition in the food and drink scene every year and the other is just trying to shake off a perpetual hangover. That does not make one better than the other.

I started to take notice and found five habits that keep us running at a distance to our sister South Carolina city on the national level.

  • Drunker is NOT better.

There is a scientifically proven effect of drinking alcohol called the Biphasic Effect. Basically, it means that we are feeling our best with a only a slight buzz as opposed to a full fledged drunk. The more we drink, the worse we, actually, feel.

On a recent visit to a local beer joint, the owner started passing out shots of a certain cinnamon whiskey to the patrons. I was not there to get wasted. I was there to get a beer with my brother. While free booze is okay, getting paying guests to the point of drunk is not a way to enhance your bar business.

Bartenders, bar owners and most customers believe that the stronger the drink and the more you consume, the better time you will have. Science says that idea is incorrect.

  • Service is more than a smile and some cleavage.

We have some great restaurant bars that give stellar service. When it comes to the traditional watering hole, service is so far down the list of things to focus on that it drags a decent bar down to the depths of a “dive bar”.

If training consists of “do not drink too much” and “wear that v-neck t-shirt”, then we are locking the bar business into the $1 beer, shot gulping crowd that never changes. Which means, it never improves or spends more money or wants “the good stuff”.

I have walked into bars where the bartender knows the difference between a good Oregon pinot noir and an Australian pinot. I go there a lot. I do not always drink the pinot, but they know their stuff. On the flip side, I have been places where the bartender can not name three brands of vodka.

Service means knowing your product, being prompt and friendly and being attentive. A blank stare into your phone and the all-too-common “what will you have?” does not cut it.

  • Bar food is a thing.

The biggest after-thought in our bar scene is the food. Newsflash. Instead of getting people piss drunk at your bar, feed them something delicious and see how much they drink. Just an idea.

Again, some of our restaurant bars do food very well. I am talking about the drink joints that throw frozen everything into a frier and serve it with ranch. What about some fresh mussels with white wine, garlic and crusty bread?

For the most part, bar food is an after thought because that is not the big money maker. However, upping your food game will keep people there longer. It might even bring people to the bar earlier to actually eat. When your food menu is a safety precaution against someone leaving too drunk, you are doing it wrong.

  • Glasses. Use glasses.

If I am not sitting by a pool, in the sand or around people who may/may not be barefoot, I am going to need a real glass.

The plastic cup trend, aside from being terrible for the environment, looks cheap. In reality, it costs more money than washing glasses, yet, bars that are on dry land use them all the time. For me, it is just pure laziness. If you want people to order top shelf, you have to make them think that it is worth it. A Grey Goose dirty martini served in a plastic drinking cup is as much poor service as it is disrespect.

Proper service does not have to be snobbish or fancy or elegant. It just has to be proper. Meaning that you know how to do the job the drinking public is there for you to do. Using glasses is one of those things.

  • Clean the bathroom.

The condition of the bathrooms determine how many drinks my wife and I might have in a bar. You get one chance to keep us there for a couple or send us out into the world to find a bar that cares about sales.

Cleanliness and odor are important. If you want your guests to stay for more than one drink, you better send someone in to do the dirty work. I get that customers are filthy animals, but they also pay your bills. Clean bathrooms are the way to better sales.

I would not say that these five little things will get a write up in Food and Wine Magazine, but it will not hurt either. When we start upping our bar game, the economic impact for bartenders, servers, bussers, dishwashers and owners will be noticeable. Give people a nice place to sit (two if you read this article thoroughly) and serve them properly. Just some tips from the other side of the stick. Cheers!