“Tending Bar” in Tender Times

Grateful for opportunities to comfort, to connect

By Lanette Smith

Tending bar epitomizes a certain trust in the best of times. Remember the “Cheers” theme song? “Sometimes you want to go; where everybody knows your name; and they’re always glad you came.” There’s truth behind those lyrics.

To say hospitality has adapted since this time last year is a huge understatement, giving us endless opportunities to be caring workers. 

Consider the gentleman who picked up his wine club allotment and ended up processing the recent loss of his father who first got him into wine. By being comfortable with his tears, I helped him not feel embarrassed about his unexpected crying and invited him to tell me more about his dad. 

When offered space to share about her day, a woman, initially voicing frustration over receiving Chardonnays in her order, shared with me her fear about a biopsy as well as missing her kids and grandkids in quarantine. 

Not yet able to pour tastings for guests in person, I wasn’t as keen to work my way through spreadsheets for tele-sales this winter. Until I realized the potential of every connection.

Ample opportunities arose for me to comfort grieving officemates, friends of deceased club members, or one afternoon, a widow in mourning.

When I called, she was driving home from canceling her spouse’s bank accounts. She told me he had been the most generous person she’d ever known, especially when it came to running their business and always remembering the names of grocery store clerks. “Bless you for listening to what I miss about my husband; I’m still in shock, but this call has been really healing.”

We are privy to people’s full range of intensified human experience:

“Thanks for letting me vent about my divorce. This year has pushed me to my limits, but I know I can always stop by here, and you guys will be there for me.”

“I saw that it was the winery calling, so I wanted to pick up the phone. We can’t celebrate in our usual ways, but you just brightened my birthday!”

“For some reason, that Pinot Gris reminds me of where we spent summers on the lake as a kid; thanks for caring about my memories, being at home more has made me nostalgic.”

For one club member, just some human interaction meant everything. “I’ve outlived most of my friends,” she told me, “and my grown kids are busy, so it makes my day that you telephoned.” She continued to tell me all manner of wonderful stories, including what she was doing when she first heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

“I was making toast,” she recalled, “on one of those toasters where you still had to turn the bread yourself.” Born in 1933, her stories of collecting tin for the war effort really gave me perspective. “I’ll tell ya, kiddo, I haven’t worried a day in my life about things I can’t control.” Later that week, I received a beautiful thank-you card from her in our pile of office mail.

Like wine itself, acidic and sweet sometimes come simultaneously. What began as a call to update credit card information became a chance to care about the losses of one woman’s father and brother-in-law, job transitions, and the deaths of patients she faces every day as a healthcare worker. She and her husband also celebrated 35 years of marriage and welcomed their first grandchild; all this sorrow and joy mingling in the span of less than three weeks.

“We are treasuring each of your wines because we can’t afford more right now.” Needless to say, they were overjoyed at receiving a gift of their favorite sparkling from us in the mail.

Wine accompanies experiences which become memories.

Guests can tell us where they were when they enjoyed a particular bottle and know we’ll understand the significance. It matters to them that we can recall which vintage they bought for their son’s wedding reception five years ago. And they are relying on us not only to listen and commemorate their loved ones but to help them celebrate milestones and create new memories, perhaps now more than ever. 

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