by Lou Mancinelli
Alcohol is so intertwined with our culture that when President Franklin D. Roosevelt repealed Prohibition on March 5, 1933, he said, “What America needs now is a drink.”
Americans spend more than $90 billion each year on alcohol, according to drug-rehabs.org. Some of those purchases are made in bars and restaurants, and that means a bartender prepared the drinks. But is it difficult to bartend? What types of shenanigans is a bartender exposed to? And does it ever get boring preparing the same drinks?
For Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT) teacher Summer Fitch, 34, the repetition was near unnerving. Seeing regular customers has its perks since you may develop a relationship that generates bigger tips. But the downside is the job, like any other, becomes the same daily routine, and you may find yourself turning into a human robot.
Fitch envisioned a more stimulating environment, so in 2002 she founded the company Hot Toddy Mixology, a traveling bartending company. Instead of working at the same place every night, she found a way to unleash her spirit and attitude on clients by traveling to different locations for parties, private events and similar occasions. In time, she started to create her own recipes, often focusing on coordinating colors with the theme of a party. Think green drinks on St. Patrick’s Day, and Sixers-colored vodka-based drinks come basketball playoff time.
She plans to teach some of her inventive recipes at her class, “Making Martinis and Margaritas” through MALT on Thursday, March 22, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 22 E. Chestnut Hill Ave., 7 to 8:45 p.m. ($24 and $5 materials fee made payable to Fitch). Students will learn a twist on traditional popular drinks like Fitch’s “Oceanview” and “Pink Lady.” The latter is a mixed-drink with a vodka base and strawberry flavor. She first hosted the class this past fall.
Fitch says her bartending is about recipes and presentation. Her endeavors include variations on popular niche drinks. Instead of Jell-O shots, she makes Jell-O kabobs. Those are specialty shots that taste like fruit but resemble a shish kabob in form.
Raised in Germantown, Fitch’s bartending career started in 2002 at the Hathaway Inn in Germantown. In 1994 she graduated from Lankenau High School in Roxborough, and in 1999 she graduated with a degree in communication studies and marketing from West Chester University.
After college, she returned to Mt. Airy and worked in the automotive finance industry for Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz. She later moved to Lansdale, where she remained in the industry but worked for Wells Fargo. She did everything from being a collector to an auditor to a supervisor.
Regarding bartending, however, Finch says, “I’m always amazed by barfights.” Something about how people can be having a great time and then, punches and blood-curdling screams explode like an unexpected rainstorm. This is unsettling to Summer.
Her biggest piece of advice about how to get good tips is simply to be nice. Remember you are there to perform a job, so you do your best to smile and leave personal tribulations away from the workplace. After all, the drinkers are often there to lend their own problems to the ears of their tenders.
As one might expect, there are patrons who flirt with Finch. One of the best ways to handle such a situation is to be respectable and remember you are working. And “You can’t avoid weirdoes.” Her biggest worry as a bartender is her safety. She said staff members or friends are willing to help her reach her car free from trouble late at night after shifts.
“Everything is not gonna be roses when people are drinking,” she said. “You have to have thick skin.” She compares the bartender’s role to that of a poker player. You have to put on a strong, believable face. “Tipping is subjective,” she said about rates and how much people should tip.
These days, Fitch also works for the Mayor’s Office of Community Services. Before that, she worked for the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corporation. In 2007, she earned a master’s of business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurialship from Eastern University.
Summer is also writing a recipe book based on her varied use of colors and flavors in drink-making. Fitch soon plans to reincorporate her traveling bartender business, using the name In Good Spirits Traveling Bartending. Plus, she sings in Carnivale, a cover band that plays weddings and other private events. Fitch herself plays the violin and some piano. Her future vision is to open a bartending school.
For more information or to sign-up for “Making Martinis and Margarita’s,” visit mtairylearningtree.org or call 215-843-6333.