Hotel F&B controls are very strict when it comes to serving alcohol, and yet some bartenders do not shy away from employing a few tricks
Bars in five-star hotels get away with more than your neighbourhood pit stop ever would and there is a well-calibrated reason behind this. The foremost being the inhibition that these elegant watering holes subtly encourage in their patrons. It’s all part of the ambience or the experience—the overdone decor, extensive wine list, finger food, prices, guest profile, which underline the goldfish-bowl experience these bars aim to provide. See and be seen. All these aspects make the guest a little self-conscious in a way they wouldn’t be at, say, TGIF with its margarita pitchers.
Two weekends ago, I found myself at the Library Bar at The Leela Hotel in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. The first time I visited the bar was at their hotel in Bangalore around 10 years ago. The experience left an impression on me, owing to my own repertoire at that time, which mostly consisted of pubs in the pub city. When I returned to it in New Delhi after all these years, I was waiting to be impressed. The bar doesn’t disappoint in terms of ambience and boasts the famed Indian opulence with a gothic touch that The Leela is known for. The al fresco seating is delightful and the cozy nook we occupied offers privacy. However, what ruined all this for me was being inadvertently cast in the role of a ‘mark’ in this bar room hustle. It’s a pointed accusation and I do so with responsibility and the insight owing to my years in hospitality, which have familiarised me with tricks bartenders have up their sleeves. And it has very little to do with mixology or what you get in the glass.
The hustle I was treated to was ‘short pour’. Now, what is this, you might ask. Simply explained, a short pour is when a bartender or server pours less into your glass than what you ordered for or what you’re paying for. In my case, it was a glass of Moet & Chandon Rose ordered by the glass. The service sequence is simple. When you order champagne or wine by the glass, it must be served to you in a fresh glass every time you order another. Should you order a bottle, the glass is topped up at intervals. In this case, we ordered by the glass and on two occasions despite pointing out to the server, he topped up our glasses when we still had drink in them. So essentially, he filled the glass with two-thirds of the standard pour because there was already some in the glass. Keeping our ordering pattern in mind, he probably managed to get two glasses out of us. Petty? That’s exactly what they hope you are thinking, so you won’t question them or ask. Apart from alerting the server twice, I didn’t do anything either in part constrained by the need to not create a scene, although I knew exactly what was going on.
But why would someone short-pour champagne that, unlike spirits, cannot survive the night, although those new bottle-stoppers do keep the fizz fresh for longer and extend the short life? With champagne, it’s usually done to oblige a regular guest with the excess or used in service recovery. If there’s a particularly audacious bartender and a guest paying in cash, as happens often in five-star hotels, they can make a sale and not ring it up. I don’t know what the motivation was in this instance. With spirits, say, whisky or vodka, this happens often enough since the short pour can be carried forward and used for the same purposes the next day and onwards till there is a month-end audit. Hotel F&B controls are very strict when it comes to excess alcohol in the bar and this can mean losing one’s job since it’s considered equivalent to cheating a guest.
If there is what we call a ‘shortage’ of alcohol, the bartender usually just pays the difference.
Another trick bartenders employ is ‘brand switch’. This happens after about three drinks—when your brand can change from Absolut to Smirnoff if you’re not paying close attention. By this point, people usually aren’t. Hotels have in-house controls that discourage this behaviour, but every once in a while, there is an employee who thinks he can get away with it and is confident that most of us are too polite to say anything in a fine establishment. We mostly are, but not always.
By Advaita Kala
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad