By Emily Ellis
A Guide To Bartending in Xela
If you find yourself running through the quetzales a little too fast, never fear: there are plenty of ways to pick up a little extra cash in Xela. Fortunately for all of you extranjeros, a lot of popular drinking establishments like to keep at least one token gringo on staff. While working in the service industry anywhere presents its own set of challenges, waiting on the populace of Quetzaltenango is a little different. Having now worked at several fine establishments in our fair city, allow me to present you with a few tips to keep in mind should you ever find yourself on the other side of the bar:
1. If at first you don´t understand ask again. Not everyone requests the simple oferta de litros. A tale of caution: once, a nice fellow with a strong lisp requested a drink in which the only word I could identify was naranja. Since the only orange-related cocktail I could think of was a screwdriver, I confidently whipped one up. A few minutes later, the same man timidly approached the bar and informed me that, as a former alcoholic, he did not want vodka in his orange smoothie. Moral of the story: don’t assume.
2. Don´t expect tips. When I hear of bartending friends in the States making over a hundred dollars a night in tips, I laugh until tears roll down my cheeks and try to remember what possessed me to leave for Guatemala in the first place. Every once in a while an individual might offer up a saintly smile and drop a couple coins into the propina jar, but for the most part, tipping bartenders is a foreign concept in Xela. It doesn’t matter how good the drinks are, how attentive the wait staff, or how much cleavage is shown; locals and extranjeros alike hold on to their change.
3. Make friends with other bartenders. Employees of the more popular bars in Xela form a tight-knit community. They have worked at various establishments together over the years and know all the gossip that is to be had about anyone. Getting on their bad side is the last thing you want to do. Additionally, simple gestures of camaraderie – letting them have drinks on credit, offering them a free beer every once in a while – will be repaid when you find yourself off duty and out on the town.
4. Familiarize yourself with the weirder drinks. Michelada, rosa de jamaica, calimocho: at first, I couldn’t figure out what the hell people were asking for. I won’t describe the contents of these cocktails for you, but rather encourage you to scribble down the names, waltz out to the nearest bar, and find out for yourself. After all, any good bartender needs to taste what he or she is serving.
5. No matter what, smile. Sometimes it is hard to be relentlessly cheerful after 7 hours of taking orders over the combined din of Pitbull and tipsy, multi-lingual shouting. A phrase I used to hear a lot from Guatemalan customers was “Por que estas tan enojada? (why are you so angry?”). While I could usually think of several ways to answer this question, none of them were conducive to a peaceful work environment or on-going employment. No matter how tired or harassed you might feel, be nice.
Keep this guide handy, and you will be ready to start slinging octavos de quetzalteca like a pro in no time. You can thank me by giving me one on the house. Salud!