Inside Staff Meal: Behind the Bar

by Katherine Sacks
Antoinette Bruno, Will Blunt, and Shannon Sturgis
July 2012

Staff meal is a term not usually included in the mixologist's glossary. While the kitchen crew is filling up at 3:30pm, the mixologists are just catching up on the day, barely recovered from their 4am shift the night before. As Booker and Dax's Tristan Willey puts it: "Eating on a bartender's shift is really hard. We are the first in and last out at the bar, and the shifts are hard."

Unlike their culinary brethren, the eating routine for a mixologist—whether it's a bartender working the restaurant scene, or a mixo pouring in a drinks-only spot—is generally a fend-for-yourself situation. From healthier energy bars and smoothies to the greasy grub that's easy to get your hands on (and the every-once-in-a-while sip of Bloody Mary mix), some of our favorite mixologists' shared the go-to snacks that get them through a long shift. (Share your survival bar eats in the comments below.)

Beyond Bar Snacks

Chris Hannah

Deli sandwiches are easy to store in the beer and wine coolers, so when staff meal consists of deli meat buffet-style, I'll have one before the shift and hoard another for when 11pm comes along. Smoothies are the best for health reasons and also can be hidden in beer-wine coolers. After nibbling on whatever the kitchen puts out for family meal, there's this easy formula: put 8-ounces ice, 1 banana, 4 strawberries, and 6-ounces orange juice in a Vitamix. Pour in large to-go cup and hold in cooler with a straw. I don't like to eat where guests can see me, so it's perfect for discretion

2012 New Orleans Rising Star Mixologist Chris Hannah
of Arnaud's French 75 – New Orleans, LA.

Lara Creasy

For me, it's way more about the fact that I'm vegetarian, and chefs never prepare vegetarian staff meal! I always, always pack my own food for a shift: prepared salads, avocados, or yogurt and fruit. If I don't think I'll get to step away for 5 minutes (to shove food in my mouth in the office or walk-in), then I bring things I can have behind the bar, like vegetable juices (I love beet-apple-ginger medley) or fruit smoothies. Or I sneak bites of energy bars (Luna Carrot Cake is a particular favorite) or graham crackers with peanut butter. And bananas.

Mixologist Lara Creasy
of JCT. Kitchen & Bar – Atlanta, GA

Tristan Willey

I have our bartenders bring in a snack, preferably healthy, to stop and eat around midnight. It's been my desire since entering this lifestyle to spread a healthier drive amongst our peers, so I encourage something healthy that has enough energy to get you through, such as a protein bar and green juice. We are all so prone towards crappy late night foods: pizza, pierogies, tacos... and lots of alcohol. As soon as a new barback or bartender comes on, we try to hammer home the importance of eating throughout the night and eating well. We still have one server who always brings in a Snickers and soda, but on the other hand, we have a girl who brings in whole wheat pasta and fruit salad for us all to eat.
In short, when we do actually get to eat, it's whatever happens to be around, but we do try and get in a bite when we can, and make it worthwhile.

Mixologist Tristan Willey
of Booker and Dax – New York City, NY

Jeff Bell

We are open from 6pm-4am and I arrive at 4:30pm to start setting up the bar. I usually start my shift with hummus and pita from Hummus Place, a sub from the Sunny & Annie Deli, or there's a vegan spot across the street that has a rice, bean, and mixed vegetable dish. I start with something pretty substantial and eat close to 6pm so it will last me until 11 or midnight.

Once midnight rolls around, I usually order a couple veggie dogs from Crif Dogs (soy dogs with pickles, peppers, and hummus) or I order a burrito from Paquito's or from Tacos Morelos. Ideally, I like to order an iced coffee from Ost Café and save it for the last leg and drink it right after my quick (5-minute) dinner break. This is an ideal night, and I have a very short window to eat. I have to time it right so that all the dishes are clean and all the guests in front of me have full cocktails, waters, and hopefully food in front of them. This all has to be done before I can sneak away for a bite.

Mixologist Jeff Bell
of PDT – New York, NY

Brad Farran

How to survive a long shift? Well, these days, it kind of depends on where I am. If it's at Clover, I'll order something quick, like our deviled eggs. These little gems are perfect: they're quick to eat, and packed with protein. If I'm at Death & Co., I'll try to have something on hand in my kit, like a sandwich. We've also been known to order our house popcorn, which is no longer on the menu, but is delicious and certainly manages to fool one into thinking he's eaten. They're also really good about putting up at the end of service whatever can't be used for the next day. So, we can snack on that.

Most nights, we just go and go. Eat before you arrive, and head to South Brooklyn Pizza when you're done. They serve until 4am, and are making some of the best damn pizza I've ever tasted.

2010 New York Rising Star Mixologist Brad Farran
of Clover Club and Death & Co - New York City, NY

Natasha David

I have a hidden talent—I can go very long periods of time without eating real food. Olives and soda water are what help me survive a 10-hour-long shift. As I'm breaking down the bar, you will usually find me eating all the garnishes that are going to get thrown away—cucumber slices with a sprinkle of salt, a mushy strawberry. So really, I am a garbage disposal.

Mixologist Natasha David
of Demi Monde – New York, NY

Bob McCoy

We're pretty fortunate to be provided with a bountiful staff meal from the kitchen every night before our shifts here at Eastern Standard Kitchen and Drinks, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and The Hawthorne. Sometimes we'll even get a special treat like owner Garrett Harker's prized hot dogs! But I'll usually bring something from home in case it's a busy transition into dinner service and I don't get a chance to indulge. If that's the case then I'm all about the protein—grilled chicken, tuna fish, and cold cuts are my go-to for easy-to-make and quick-to-eat snacks. When things are so busy that I can't make it off the bar for a moment, I'll keep myself afloat with a healthy glass of our homemade Bloody Mary mix.

Beverage Programs Liaison Bob McCoy
of Eastern Standard Kitchen and Drinks, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and The Hawthorne

Tim Rita

My servers always notice if I'm losing wind and feed me M&Ms in a shot glass until I've picked up my speed. And "post game" Korean food is always a winner late at night.

Mixologist Tim Rita
of The Lobby at the Modern Honolulu – Honolulu, HI

Paul Calvert

If I eat anything in particular to get through the night, it would be protein: eggs, trail mix, tuna sandwich, etc. Bananas work well, too.

Mixologist Paul Calvert
of Pura Vida – Atlanta, GA

Jeffrey Morgenthaler

I learned years ago that I can't make it through a long shift (ours typically last nearly 10 hours) without stashing a protein shake somewhere in the building. Often I'll keep it in our large, walk-in beer cooler, and take a 30-second break while standing in the cold refrigerator, drinking a chocolate power shake. It's about the closest thing to lunch a bartender ever gets.

2011 Portland Rising Star Mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler
of Clyde Common – Portland, OR

Jon Langley

Sometimes we have the foresight to bring granola bars or something. We do a lot of juices and smoothies. They are easy to consume behind a bar with no utensils. Every now and then we go to Mile End and get a smoked meat sandwich. If chef is in a good mood we'll get and split some fries. One of our bartenders (who is Jamaican) brings these spiced breads, or cheddar and cream cheese sandwiches sometimes. It's so good.

Beer Sommelier Jon Langley
of DBGB – New York, NY

Bobby Heugel

Most of our staff actually tries to eat as healthy as possible. In addition to myself, about half of our staff order meals from private chefs, who cook very healthy options that we can eat during our shifts. Chicken, turkey and lots of carbs can get you through a week at Anvil!

2011 Houston Rising Star Mixologist Bobby Heugel
of Anvil Bar & Refuge – Houston, TX

Jason Dietrich

Shifts at Cure tend to be fairly long and busy. When it comes time for food, there isn't a whole lot of time to actually sit down and enjoy a meal. Most of our bartenders tend to bring their own meal or order something from one of the restaurants in the neighborhood. These are things that some of us eat:

Frito Pie—probably the thing that has been consumed most by bartenders at Cure over the last six months. It's a dish on our menu—think homemade chili with fritos. This can be eaten very quickly, and one bowl is enough to get one through a shift.

Turkey sandwich and a piece a fruit—what I eat when I'm feeling the need to be somewhat healthy. Sandwiches are the other thing consumed the most while on shift.

Burgers and French fries. We have this amazing place called Company Burger one block down from us. They have the best burgers in the world. On a very long shift like a Friday, burgers and French fries are great because they are very filling. It's all about the carbs to give the required energy needed to get through the shift.

Mixologist Jason Dietrich
of Cure – New Orleans, LA

Liam Deegan

At least once a week, I will go to this great spot by my house, Stein's Deli, to get a sandwhich before I head into work. On days when I seem to be rushing in, there's a Rouses, the local grocery right around the corner from us. In a pinch, an Odwalla bar works but they also sell Boar's Head turkey or ham wraps and at least one bartender gets a "Rouse's Wrap" daily. One bartender eats them 4 to 5 times a week and swears by them. They are good to crush right before your shift, or to pull the second half out of the cooler as soon as the last guest leaves. The Turkey Flatout and a Schlitz is a pretty good end to a night.

Beer Sommelier Liam Deegan
of Sylvain – New Orleans, LA