Safe restaurant practices as crisis therapy: lessons from a bartender

By | June 27, 2020

With a leftover airline credit to spend, I recently decided to take a quick trip down to southern California and make one of my routine treks along Interstate 5 from San Diego to Orange County. I wanted to see how the area was dealing with the pandemic and enjoy some sun.

No trip would be complete without a visit to my favorite bar in Encinitas, which had expanded its barbecue offerings and was now selling a brisket flatbread. It was amazing, which is saying a lot coming from a Midwest guy and barbecue aficionado. I met bartender Mike who always remembers my drink order despite the fact that I only visit about every four months. This sort of thoughtfulness and attention to detail is uncommon in my experience.

The restaurant follows all of the required safe practices. The tables were appropriately spaced, the employees faithfully wore masks, and the staff actively enforced the policy not to have patrons congregating at the bar. Active and robust cleaning was taking place as guests filtered in and out. This is a place that is doing it the right way.

The need to keep businesses like this one–one that does this the right way–can not be understated. While the media continues to count the number of coronavirus-infected patients and monitor its direct physical health effects, ignored is an appropriate discussion of the harm caused by social isolation. If people cannot connect with each other in a time of crisis, they risk increases in the sort of stress that results in illnesses that make people susceptible to the effects of the coronavirus. This really is a vicious cycle.

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Enter Lisamarie, the head bartender and wife of a critical care nurse-hero. Her passion for customer service, speed, and attention to cleanliness shine through despite the dreariness of our current state. Having made it through the business quarantine, her attitude remained nothing short of positive. In speaking with some of the employees trained under her supervision, it became clear that her teaching mantra remains the most important concept of any interpersonal business, that people always remember how you make them feel more than anything else. This message was lost in my department when the coronavirus struck. My managers were gloomy and provided little optimism, instead focusing on themselves. We needed Lisamarie’s attitude.

She and I share some similar background traits as children of the Midwest. Raised by a hardworking family, she brings a charm not commonly seen elsewhere in California. You would never know that she is somewhat of a celebrity in her own right. As my new baseline involves me performing my clinical duties from home, she occasionally appears on the television, which plays in the background of my home office, as she was the most popular bartender on a cable program that now runs several hours of reruns every morning. You would never know it talking to her. Her passions are people, quality, and safety, not personal recognition. I know a lot of doctors who could learn from this model.

As the coronavirus situation continues to evolve, we need safely-operating businesses to stay open. These businesses deserve a shot at keeping our economy afloat while helping to facilitate a somewhat normal semblance of life. A little bit of hospitality paired with an exclusive, fantastic meal goes a long way in addressing isolation and depression.

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As for my favorite bartender, it takes a special person whose smile looks nearly the same with a mask on. The coronavirus can’t take away our optimism or fortitude unless we let it. Thanks for re-teaching me this lesson, Lisamarie.

Cory Michael is a radiologist.

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