For the first entry of VinePair’s new Shift Diaries series, we asked real bartenders around Miami what an average shift looks like, and, most importantly, what they made out with in tips. Since this is Miami (where more is more) there’s usually nothing average about a shift — especially in high season. VinePair spoke with bartenders everywhere from speakeasies in Wynwood to some of the swankiest spots on South Beach to hear what a night behind the bar entails.
Location: Speakeasy cocktail bar on South Beach
Total Tips: $400
Shift: It’s Art Basel, one of the busiest times in Miami. Around this week, our hours are the same — we come in around 4 p.m. to prep, and the bar opens at 7 p.m. Tonight, the average wait time to get in is around an hour, and this can vary since we’re a no-standing-room bar. What’s different during Art Basel is that the intensity changes — we start strong, and everything picks up even more when the shows and parties end around 10 or 11 p.m. It’s a high-volume-paced bar. Around 90 percent of our sales comes from cocktails, so we’re making a lot of them tonight, especially for people who are waiting. I’m one of three behind the bar, and we’re making maybe 10 or 12 drinks a minute. What’s nice though, is that people tend to trust us and try what’s on the menu — we’re not getting a lot of “edits” on cocktails. Guests are saying what they like, or are requesting a specific flavor profile (less sweet, something sour). A few people ask for an Espresso Martini, but with a twist. After that post-party rush, the bar quiets down a bit as we get closer to closing time around 3 a.m.
Location: Upscale Japanese restaurant in a Downtown Miami hotel
Total Tips: $140
Shift: Tuesday is one of our slowest days, and we only make around $60 to $80 per shift in cash during the week. My shift starts at 5 p.m., and I’m thinking it’s going to be a long night until we shut at 1 a.m. Three guys are sitting together at the bar, and they’re really into bourbon — we have a really great bourbon collection. Each of the small metal horse stoppers on a Blanton’s bottle has a letter circled that spells out “B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S,” and fans want to collect the entire set. These guys say there are two letters that are hard to get. “What letters do you need?” I ask. Since we’re slow, I’m able to run to the back and start opening all of the cases to look for these two letters. I was able to find the caps they wanted and sold the “rare” ones off for $50 apiece, and two others for $25 each. They sit there for a good three hours and drink a mix of bourbon on the rocks and Old Fashioned cocktails before opening a Blanton’s bottle. The three of them must have about six drinks each. Thanks to these guys, we double our tips that night and come out with about $140 each.
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Location: Champagne bar at a high-end Miami Beach hotel
Total Tips: $500
Shift: It doesn’t matter if you’re working the morning or evening shift, because we use a pool system (which 90 percent of hotel bars in Miami use). Even still, the bar is closed in the morning and bartenders don’t usually want to work then, since they’re usually just prepping ingredients for cocktails and cleaning the bar. High season is from the end of October through March — that’s when you make money. You can make $500 or $600 per day — even more, if you’re working an event — while the rest of the year that average goes down to $150 per day on a good day. I’m making anywhere from 400 to 500 cocktails a day for clientele who come in for $25 drinks.
The busiest stretch is from 6 to 8 p.m., when guests have a drink at the bar before dinner. After that, it slows down for the rest of the evening until we close around midnight. There’s usually a DJ playing music and there are plenty of places for high-profile guests who want privacy. When the Rolling Stones played last fall, they sat at a little table hidden in the corner — of course, everyone still noticed them; you couldn’t miss them with their big hair and colorful jackets. They ordered two rounds of lychee Martinis, and finished the second set of cocktails in the restaurant at dinner. I was surprised they were drinking something sweet — you would expect them to drink hard spirits or an Old Fashioned.
Since there’s security around the hotel, there’s no paparazzi; we try to treat special guests with the same hospitality as everyone else. They usually just want to be somewhere quiet, so we don’t interact much with them or ask for photos. But one guest I did have the chance to make small talk with was Daniel Craig. He came in for an aperitif around 5 p.m. and ordered a dry Martini with a lemon peel — and didn’t want it shaken. I couldn’t believe Mr. Martini himself, James Bond, was coming into a real bar to ask a real bartender for a Martini. He was really easygoing and took a few photos with people. After about half an hour, he left to join his guest upstairs.
Location: Late-Night lounge in Wynwood
Total Tips: $700
Shift: During our weekly Monday night house party, we open the doors at 9 p.m. We have a lot of regulars and people in town, so it’s a busy night. One of our regulars is a very sweet woman who always wears noisy chains around her waist that get even louder when she dances — which she will do for hours. After handing her a fruit punch, she gives me a single wrapped piece of chocolate. I thank her and set it aside.
I would say about a half-hour goes by before my manager tells me that our sole barback is feeling ill and that they may have to call an ambulance. A few minutes later, the other bartender tells me she feels weird and she thinks there was something in the woman’s chocolate. My immediate response is, “You ate the chocolate?” I’m shocked because I know she doesn’t smoke weed and realize she thought it was regular chocolate. That’s when we learn that our barback, who also never smokes, ate the chocolate, too.
By the time we realize, the ambulance is already here, but the barback is still very happy to be taken away. Soon after, we find out that our two security guards — also not pot smokers — are stoned, too. The bartender sticks it out as best she can, and once the music stops at 3 a.m. (when we close), she’s immediately given a ride home. Everyone was OK the next day, and we all laughed about it. It got rough, but we each made around $700 that night.