[Redacted] Bar Ends Badly?

I am completely blown away. As a matter of personal standards, I’ve refrained thus far from writing about the appalling management at the [Redacted] Bar where I have worked since December. However, after tonight, I can’t help but share the Golden Moment.

For background – the [Redacted] Bar is owned by two men who – in my experience and opinion – are nice, fun, easygoing guys. It makes it hard to believe the murmurings that claim they are impulsive and abusive to their “duty managersa*A “duty manager” is a term from New Zealand liquor laws. Any establishment that serves alcohol must have a “duty manager” present at all times. To be a duty manager you need six months of experience working around alcohol in New Zealand and then you have to take a class and pass a test about liquor laws. At a fundamental level, duty managers are only responsible for what’s happening with alcohol. However, from a business’ perspective, in lieu of the duty manager requirement, it makes sense to have this person also be the shift manager. Because all duty managers have purchased their credentials, it’s not altogether uncommon for them to lack critical components of a management skill set – most noticeably in the personnel department..” Next there are two general managers – one who is spot on and rather hilarious and doesn’t really deal much with staff. The other is a young woman for whom, thanks to a growing series of unprofessional behaviors and responsibility failures, I have lost a lot of respect. Below them, there are three “duty managers.” The first is a brilliant ray of sunshine, the next is a sweet, often exasperated young woman, and the last is generally aggressive and abusive. I’m sure it’s obvious that the characters involved in the Golden Moment are Unprofessional General Manager (we’ll call her Helga) and Abusive Duty Manager (let’s say she’s Bertha).

The unstable and abusive [Redacted] Bar’s “Bertha.”

The night before the Golden Moment was St. Patrick’s Day. “Bertha” was on as Duty Manager. Working with her is unnerving in the same way being a repairman in a psychiatric ward could be. Everything seems to be going fine, until she suddenly explodes over tiny things. In a brush of true irony, she’ll do a 180 the following shift and have another explosion over the same issue, but with the opposite demand. Couple this with the negatively administrated [establishment’s] standard to “always be doing the right thing at the right time,” and we have a recipe for unavoidable drama.

As per usual, we had our normal after-work rush sprinkled with periods of calm. There were too many of us working (four people behind the bar tripping over one another, plus “Bertha”) – a common occurrence that frustrates everyone. “Bertha” had already seized many opportunities to give the younger staff aggressively delivered directives about busywork they should have thought to do the minute no customers were clamoring for attention. “Go wash the already-clean TAB tables! Empty the super hot glasswasher! Restock the two missing chiller glasses!

I made the unforgivable mistake of preempting Bertha’s powers of observation. Four of us were standing behind the bar with no customers in sight. I told the most senior girl that I was going to go do a chore in the bottle store and to call for me if it got busy again. Not two minutes had gone by before Bertha stormed into the bottle store and demanded to know “what the hell” I was doing.

I tried to reply, but Bertha seized the opportunity for one of her rants. She pummeled me with a diatribe that went something like, “No! You can’t be out here doing NOTHING when we’re BUSY! Get back in the bar RIGHT NOW! Behind the bar is where I need you!” Amongst her explosion, I managed to squeeze in an explanation that we weren’t busy when I started doing what I’m supposed to do when we’re not busy.

When we walked through to the bar, all three other staff were standing there doing nothing, just as I’d left them.

I said to Bertha, “This is *exactly* what it was like when I left.

Bertha yelled over her shoulder, “COME HERE!” as she stormed into the back room.

I poked my head through the doorway, she locked her eyes on mine, and just about spit as she demanded “GET OVER HERE RIGHT NOW!” and pointed vehemently at her feet.

Now, I’ve been in plenty of similar situations with Bertha. I am always the “bigger person,” taking her verbal abuse on the chin while staying calm and collected in spite of the fact that almost everything she throws a fit about is illogical. This time, I was more flabbergasted than ever before. I was about to get yelled at for a completely reasonable choice. Not to mention I firmly disagree that yelling at anyone is acceptable management behavior.

So I calmly and evenly said, “No. I’m not going to come in here so you can tell me off. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Bertha totally lost it and yelled, “FINE. THEN GO HOME!

You may find it mildly surprising that this was not the Golden Moment.

I happily left, having just lucked into having St. Patrick’s night off with my sweetie and satisfied that I’d sent a fair, clear, calm message to Bertha that the way she treats people is unacceptable.

Free Holiday Evening Off!!

Throughout the evening, as I told my story to people, I discovered that what she had done is supposedly illegal bonce someone starts a shift in New Zealand, they can’t be sent home until they’ve worked a certain amount of time.  Or at the very least, they still have to be paid for their time, even if they are sent home, and that no one who knows her was even a tiny bit surprised at her behavior.

The Golden Moment took place the following evening.

Unprofessional General Manager Helga was filling in as duty manager. I assumed the prior evening’s bizarre yet all-too-common events were water under the bridge, like always. When Bertha arrived an hour later, I said hello to her and received a glare in response. I poured drinks while Bertha disappeared into the back room.  I looked around and realized Helga was gone, too.  About 20 minutes passed and Bertha came striding out of the back room, and snootily announced, “Helga wants to see you in her office.

The door to the the tiny closet used to conduct business was open, so I wandered in and grabbed the second chair .  Helga took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and said sternly – in her no-nonsense British clip – “I’ve just spoken to [Bertha] about what happened last night and you NEED to go apologize to her RIGHT now. When a duty manager tells you to do something you NEED to do it.

The unprofessional GM “Helga.”

I replied, “Helga, I’m more than happy to apologize to her, but you should know I didn’t do anything wro-.

As per her appalling, recent standard, Helga cut me off, saying, “Jema, I don’t care, and I DON’T want ANY attitude about this. YOU NEED to apologize to her and if you don’t like it, you can finish c“Finish” is how New Zealanders (and maybe Aussies, Brits, etc?) refer to getting off work. You friend might phone you and say, “You finish at six, right? Want to grab a drink afterward?” RIGHT NOW.

A short back-and-forth ensued with me asking Helga if it was okay for managers to behave unprofessionally and Helga telling me to stop giving her attitude and that if I didn’t like it I shouldn’t work there anymore. I left the office shining Helga on with my lack of “attitude” and mulled my options of either apologizing to Bertha or ending my Wanaka stint at the [Redacted] Bar.

When I walked out front, Bertha was talking to customers. I resisted the urge to go up to her and make a small display of my apology. Instead, I turned on my heel and went into the back room to evaluate my position. I had five shifts remaining, having already given my planned notice awhile ago. So, I went back out front, picked up my bag, filled in my time card, found Helga, and apologetically said, “Look, I’m sorry, but this is really inappropriate, and I just can’t.  So, I guess I’m going to go.

And that was the Golden Moment.

I feel like things went about as well as they could. I didn’t come apart and yell back, I kept my cool, and I stuck up for my principles. I didn’t agree to continue being abused in exchange for money. Now I have an unexpected thirteen days to plan our onward journey, catch up my archives, and enjoy life in Wanaka!


1 comment

  • March 21, 2011 at 9:37 am


    Good on ‘ya. I totally empathize with this story! I think you handled things well– and so cool that you got the night off with Pat!

    Keep the stories & photos coming! Big hug to you both,

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