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On the pass

Restaurant pros dish about hitting on your server

Long before Tinder nightmares and Bumble fumbles, bars and restaurants were the popular place to meet people. Even today, while the number one way heterosexual couples meet is through mutual friends, meeting people in a social setting comes in second. With so many people prowling the town looking for love, it’s only natural that an attractive bartender or server creating the perfect hospitality experience becomes the object of a patron’s affection. I decided to get the scoop on this scenario from a few folks in the local restaurant industry.

“Well, think about it. You spend a good amount of your week at work. Other people meet at work,” says Elise Barnard, who crafts libations behind the bar at Good Luck, where she won the 2014 Rochester Cocktail Revival competition. She’s also the co-owner of Original Stump Blower Ciderworks in Lakeville, but she’s had a long history of working in the restaurant industry in several cities across the United States. “I don’t think it’s offensive,” she says, “It can be flattering. It depends on how it’s done—it can’t be socially invasive or creepy.” Barnard admits to dating a couple of customers and a chef while bartending in the financial district in New York City, but it was while waiting tables at a diner in southern California where she met the customer who would eventually become her husband. “We struck up a conversation, and he actually knew my hometown back here in Upstate New York. What are the odds of that?” Barnard continues, “And then I actually pursued him!”

New to the Good Luck team, Matt Fuller has also been in the service industry for years and also met the love of his life through work. He provides a colorful comparison: “Working in a restaurant is like being a zookeeper. We feed, clean, give out shots of tranquilizers, and have a front row seat to the mating rituals of humans.” He indicates that almost all restaurant workers, particularly bartenders, have dealt with being hit on at some point. “People open up to you like you are Dr. Drew. Numbers on receipts, Facebook messages, liquid courage, wingmen and wingwomen, Craigslist missed connections, and stalking are all normal ways to pick up your local bartender.”

Branca bar manager Abby Quatro has not yet crossed the bridge. “I’m not for or against it, but there’s a reason ‘don’t shit where you eat’ is a valid argument.” Quatro explains that while shaking and stirring, she’ll make lively conversation that could be mistaken as flirty when it’s not: “I’m just trying to do my job and provide you the best service possible—so I’m going to try to make it fun for both of us.” Quatro has had her share of peculiar pick-up lines. A group of businessmen staying at the hotel across the street invited her to go to a strip club, and one in that same group asked if she’d test run her brass knuckles by punching his friend in the face. She was also propositioned by a couple of regulars to be part of a “birthday celebration” threesome, which escalated to a follow-up call asking if she’d reconsider. Quatro declines these advances by stating, “I make a general rule of not getting involved with anyone at work, a.k.a. my bar.” She also indicates that customers feel a certain level of safety with bartenders and tend to share more once they indulge in a few drinks. That level of trust could be affected if things were to become more intimate. “If I cross that boundary, then that safety shield is broken,” she says.

Jeremy Bittle now works in marketing but worked as an assistant manager and bartender at Dorado. Since he’s had success with the ladies as both an employee and guest at bars and restaurants, he offers a bit of advice: “You can’t expect to walk in and throw your number on a check. It’s tacky. There’s a longer approach; you have to put in some time and communicate properly.” The incubation period appears to be worth it. He recommends discussing the expectations from both parties before getting involved and how each person plans on dealing with the consequences afterward. He says, “In the service industry, flirting tends to get a little exaggerated, but it’s a great experience that provides more opportunities to meet people.”

While relationship and dating preferences may differ, the service professionals agree that one can’t be a lousy tipper and expect to seal the deal. Barnard states, “Don’t leave your number on a receipt and a bad tip. The standard twenty percent is good protocol.” That being said, customers should also be cautious about over-tipping out of desperation. As a final note on not overdoing things and increasing the odds of success in a restaurant environment, Quatro suggests people ease up on heavy cologne and perfume application, “I know you think you smell great, but when you overdo it, it’s an immediate turnoff because I know I’m going to have a migraine later.” 


Stacey Rowe is a freelance writer based in Rochester. 

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