What Maggie Haberman Learned Working as a Bartender

First posted on September 13, 2017:

By Jack Limpert

Maggie Haberman, a star reporter at the New York Times, was interviewed by New York magazine about “how she gets it done” and this quote got some attention:

On convincing people to talk to her:

I don’t know how I do it. I’m annoying, and I won’t stop contacting them. I was a bartender for four years, and that was the best training that I had for learning how to approach people.

My guess, as someone who also worked as a bartender before going into journalism, is that she could have said a lot more about what you can learn behind the bar.

You do learn how to approach people—each customer is different and you adjust accordingly.  I dealt with most customers in a neutral way—friendly but not too friendly.

Many drinkers wanted to be left alone, others liked some conversation, with sports the easiest topic to talk with men about. Sometimes you got to know their name but usually that took a few visits.

In my 20s I had a good memory and liked to greet repeat customers with, “A scotch on the rocks?” or whatever they had the last time they were in. Some of the bars I worked at drew a lot of traveling businessmen and they liked being remembered.

The most important thing that you develop behind the bar is a good b.s. detector—nowhere is more of it thrown around than among a bunch of guys sitting at a bar.

Other wisdom you might pick up:

Nice people, jerks, and drunks come in all genders, ages, and origins.

Based on working at two country clubs, there are a lot of rich people who either inherited their money or lucked into it and aren’t as smart or admirable as they think they are.

The dumber—and drunker—the customer, the more he talks and the more certain he is that he’s right about everything. Probably true of women, but I served drinks to a lot more men.

You’re there to listen more than talk. Good training to be an editor.

As for tending bar being good training for journalism, Haberman is right. I’d tell aspiring journalists to work as a bartender for six months at a country club and six months at a non-upscale bar. The education you’ll get will be worth more than most of what you might learn in college. And if you’re good, the tips can be very good.


  1. Barnard Law Collier says

    Spot on! From a bartender/oyster shucker.

Speak Your Mind