How over-serving nightmares killed the dream.

June, 2013: Two popular Austin bars sued for over-serving alcohol

Even though I was delighted to be working in a winery, I was terrified about over-serving someone. My fears were realized on my third day on the job.

“What are your happy hour specials?” the girl slurred at me as she leaned heavily against the tasting bar. I had watched her approach the bar with a mix of fear and amusement. She was very well put-together: extra skinny, long straight brown hair, tasteful makeup, wearing a quilted Burberry coat, pearl earrings, carrying a designer leather purse. She was being dragged/supported by a woman who looked to be her polar opposite: spilling out of (both above and below) a low-cut faded black shirt, messy-crunchy hair, runny makeup, wearing a satin “bride” sash and a plastic tiara.

Skinny girl’s eyes weren’t focusing. As she approached the bar, it was obvious that her balance wasn’t working that well either. She misjudged the distance and ran into the bar, dropping an extinguished, pre-lit cigarette onto the bar’s surface. As it rolled towards me, I flicked it away in horror as if it were a bug. She threw her purse on the bar and started rummaging around for money. She asked again, increasing the volume in case I hadn’t heard her the first time, “WHAT ARE YOUR HAPPY HOUR SPECIALS?”

I recovered my composure and replied that we didn’t have any specials – we were a winery, not a bar. We had wine slushies, wine by the glass, and beer. She debated and finally decided that she wanted a beer for $3. The price was a very important factor in the decision. She had that look, that look where you can tell that the extremities are no longer being controlled by the brain. She couldn’t get the money out of her wallet. At that point, I decided that I shouldn’t serve her. I started looking around for help.

Thankfully, the assistant manager had just stepped behind the bar. During training, Stacy* had told me that she and the manager stood behind their employees when they decided that someone should not be served. They and the door guys were there to back us up.

“Stacy,” I whispered, “this girl just ordered a beer, but I don’t want to serve her. She’s really, really drunk. What should I do?”

Stacy looked at the girl for a minute. The skinny girl was doing that thing where you slide so far to one side that you start to fall over.

“Just give her a wine slushie,” Stacy said. “There’s hardly any alcohol in those things anyway.”

I looked at Stacy in disbelief. She nodded at me; it’s OK, just do it. I knew at that moment that I wasn’t going to last long at this place. I poured a wine slushie and handed it to skinny girl.

“That’ll be $5.”

Skinny girl stared hard at the slushie. Something was wrong, but she couldn’t figure out what. We had just had this whole discussion about how much everything cost and this wasn’t what we had decided on – or was it? She handed me her credit card anyway. I rang her up for $5, handed back the card and receipt, and moved down to the other end of the bar.

I didn’t feel good about that day. I still don’t. Everyone who worked at the wineries on the trail had a favorite horror story that they’d share after work at one of the industry hangouts, trying to one-up one another. I would have thought they were exaggerating…until I too saw things from the other side of the tasting bar.

Like the middle-aged woman who took a cork from a bottle of wine that had just been opened, reached under her skirt, ostensibly stuck the cork in her vagina, pulled it out, waved it under her fellow tasters’ noses, and told them what she had just done, thinking it was the funniest joke in the world.

Or the girl who passed out in the bathroom after vomiting on a busy Saturday afternoon in one of the “classy” wineries. I never would have guessed that the manager would refuse to call an ambulance, that we’d continue with business-as-usual as the still-unconscious woman was carried out the front door by her friends.

Or the girl who fell off the toilet and then was unable to get back up…or pull her pants back up. Or the group of Prada-wearing students who fell through the ice and had to be rescued from one winery’s (shallow) pond, destroying their beautiful, expensive shoes in the process.

Did I mention that these places close at 5pm?

It was this sense of drunken entitlement, more than anything else, that cured me of my dream to own my own winery. The things I saw in  just six months were unbelievable. Sure, the most outrageous offenders were on bus tours and weren’t getting behind the wheel. But who wants to cater to a room of monkeys? And who wants to bet that those monkeys aren’t driving? Sadly, I concluded, the risk is not worth the reward.

Tastings by appointment only, anyone?


*Name changed