A broken piece of glass - Incident at the lobby bar and false accusations

Nov 23, 2022

The following article is a guest post from Mladen Jakovljevic - former crew member and author of the book "Modern Age Slavery"

It was a rocky, stormy, but an elegant night at sea. Our guests were dressed up for the occasion, looking forward to creating unforgettable memories on their voyage. The lobby bar was different from any other bar on the ship because of the demanding and picky guests. Most of those guests in the Lobby bar had platinum or diamond sail and sign card. For sure, it was not my favorite working area at all. Those spoilt diamond guests wanted continuous entertainment on the bar counter, and I often had to force myself to be their clown. 

Indeed, some lovely guests were also in the Lobby bar, but most were not humble. The arrogant attitude was the predominant behavior code at the Lobby bar.

It was almost 7 pm. Two other bartenders went on their dinner break, and I stayed alone. Shortly after, a group of twenty guests approached the bar counter simultaneously. Despite my experience, deciding who gets a bar service first was a challenge.

"Good evening, folks. Who was next in the line, please"? Politely, I asked them this essential question. Somehow, despite a bustling evening, I have managed to maintain the expected high service standards.

The elegant night on board was when the Lobby bar usually gets packed with guests. It's a special kind of bar where guests sit down for several hours and talk to the bartenders. The type of guests would observe every move I made inside the bar. They looked at how I was preparing those drinks and where we keep the fruits, sodas, juices, and wines served first during those busy times. It was annoying and disturbing for me, working hard while being scrutinized by those guests looking for little things to complain about. After ten years onboard the cruise ship, I have learned about the guests' significant demands and service priorities. To earn my monthly salary, I had to deliver fun and create a memorable customer experience at all times.

On that busy night, I had stayed entirely alone in the bar for some unknown reason. Other bartenders went on their scheduled break, but still, they made a mistake because, in the bar department, we should never go at the break if it is a busy time and let our colleagues suffer on their own. Especially around 7 pm, many random guests were strolling around because the Lobby bar was located next to the busy dining room area.

At one point, I got hammered. Twenty of my valued guests approached the bar counter simultaneously, trying to order their drinks.

It was an experienced, quick, snappy movement, yet it was not enough; I got slammed. My colleagues left me on my own to deal with an unpleasant situation, managers and supervisors were far away to help, and I did not even have the time to pick up the phone and call for support. Of course, in this situation, the guest will always order the most complicated drinks to be prepared. Those kinds of drinks require a longer period of preparation time. To keep everyone happy, I had to smile contagiously to avoid complaints. So I did. I Took as many orders as possible and told my remaining guests that I would be back in a minute. The most important thing was to make eye contact with everyone and smile to recognize guests' presence at my bar. I was shaking the cocktail with one hand, and with the other hand, I was placing the napkin in front of the guests. Rapidly, I moved around while sweat was dripping off my chin.

"Mladen, are you supposed to get some help here," one of the guests noticed my extraordinary effort to accommodate everyone at the bar. " Yes sir, my colleagues will be here shortly, I hope so," I have replied.

With those circumstances, my job was to prioritize certain activities to achieve unachievable. I was running around like a chicken, made some fantastic cocktails, smiled, and joked with everyone, always keeping in mind that I couldn't afford to look stressed in the eyes of those guests. Frankly speaking, it was not their fault because I was left alone in the bar. Some of them who had already got their drinks were still sitting at the bar counter, enjoying my show and spontaneous entertainment. To avoid any unnecessary arguments, I never decided who was next in the line to be served; that would be such a catastrophic mistake. When finishing one guest's service, I would politely turn toward all the other people waiting for the drinks, and I would kindly ask them, " Who was next in the line, please?" That way, I would let them decide who was next, and it was a beneficial tactic not to offend any of my respectful customers. Usually, the guest would decide who was next in the line. The bar counter was getting messy, but I did not have time to clean it because I prioritized tasks. Quick service was a significant priority. When I taught that everything was under control, and when all of the guests on the bar counter were happy and set in good moods, things were about to change drastically and unexpectedly.

The elderly couple approached the bar counter and were about to order their beverage. The first impression, they looked rude and intimidating. 

"Does anyone work here at this bar? Can we order some drinks, maybe today?"-gentleman approached me with a critical look at his sweaty face." Good evening folks,  sorry about waiting a bit longer, just give me a moment please, I will be right back"- I kept calm and still replied smoothly to their concerns, not giving them any further reason to complain.

They looked just like people who wanted to make drama and complain about anything. Even more, I have decided not to give them any reason for that. It took me years to master that skill, yet it was not enough.

When I finished serving other guests, I politely returned to the elderly couple, and surprisingly, the grumpy old lady threw her diamond sail and sign card in front of my face.

" Don't you see that we are VIP guests here? Do you know how many cruises we have been on before? We should be served immediately upon approaching the bar counter, do you understand that? "

To hear such an arrogant statement, I was burning from inside. Naturally, I wanted to teach them good behavior, but self-control was much needed, and somehow I remained calm and professional.

" Madam, I am sorry to disappoint you, but your diamond card does not make any difference for me. To be more specific, It does not make a difference if you have been on 100 cruises before and have a diamond card, or it is just your first cruise, and you have maybe had a blue card. We operate in this bar based on a simple rule- first come, first served." I replied with a vast, sarcastic, and fake smile.

"Now, may I kindly take your beverage order? What kind of drink would you like to have? May I suggest some refreshing tropical cocktail?"

It was quite a comedy show at the bar counter because about 20 other guests were sipping their drinks while listening to our conversation. That gave me an extra boost of self-security; most of the other guests were smiling and giving me the kind of look," Dude, how could you do that? This woman is just nasty and horrible!"

Well, they did not say that, but I could see it by their facial expression. I have quickly and professionally prepared strawberry mojito for an old, grumpy lady and double jack and coke for her husband. While placing their drinks on the napkin, I gave them a huge fake smile and told them to enjoy it. Other guests at the bar knew me already by my name, and some of them were raising their glasses in my direction.

Everything seemed tremendous and under control; I was at the top of the game. My responsibility was maintaining that positive bar mood with my funny and exciting stories. Suddenly, I heard a scream from the grumpy old lady, like the lighting from the clear sky.

" There is a sharp piece of glass in my cocktail! Bartender, you put me in huge danger; what could have happened to me if I drank this? It could become tragic! This is ridiculous. You will pay for what you just did! I will make sure that you will lose your job!" She was screaming louder and louder at me.

Now, let's put the facts first. Straight away, I knew her plan. Being responsible for one of the busiest bars on the ship, I ensured safety in the Lobby bar. A neat procedure of washing all the glasses and the ice machine was cleaned with precision. There was no flipping way that piece of glass could end up in the guest cocktail glass.

Calmly, I have approached the grumpy, arrogant lady. " Madam, just calm down, please. My significant role here is to ensure your safe and memorable experience in this bar. If that piece of glass was in your cocktail, accept my most profound apology. "

My kind words were meaningless. She kept firing at me, "It's too late; I will make you pay! My husband is a famous lawyer; we will sue you- she kept yelling mercilessly. Other guests who were witnessing this occurred conversation were listening in disbelief. At that challenging moment, my goal was only one, to remain calm until my manager arrived. Strangely, it took another 20 minutes for my manager to show up at the scene. While waiting for him, I was exposed to pretty nasty comments from this challenging customer. Well, it's still part of my job, I thought. I can't please everyone, indeed.

Finally, after what seemed like a decade, my manager showed up. Honestly, I have been in this kind of situation before, and I knew that my manager would take the guest's side, even his job was to protect his staff members. When this grumpy lady saw my manager approaching the Lobby bar, she only got louder in her nasty comments. " Your bartender almost killed me with this," she was showing the piece of sharp glass in her hand," If you are a good manager, you will know that we are a diamond guest and that it's your job to ensure our expectations are met all the time during the cruise. Also, it's your job to make sure that this bartender will be terminated instantly," she concluded, her nastiness in style. "

While my manager was preparing to reply to her, one of the guests who witnessed the entire situation stood up from the bar and loudly said," It's enough! This is all bullshit! I am tired of listening to this old grumpy bitch! Do you think you are a big deal with your diamond card? Do you think we are all impressed here? Nobody gives a shit! By the way, Mladen is the best bartender we have ever seen; any of the guests onboard will confirm that! But you came with your dirty plan, to create a drama and to show your arrogance in front of all the other guests who are just trying to enjoy their time and relax in the silence here in the Lobby Bar. " the guest concluded his angry statement.

My manager was speechless for a moment. Undecided about what to do, he gave me a sharp, threatening look, like this was all my fault. Finally, he called me on the side and said," Mladen, you need to know how to take care of our diamond guests. This will be a big drama now, and you should prevent it from happening. An investigation will be happening into this case. Security officers were on their way,"  he concluded.

Not long after, the Chief Security and hotel director showed up at the Lobby bar. Meanwhile, my colleagues, 3 of the new bartenders, came to the Lobby bar to replace me. The manager told me to wait for him in his office in 10 minutes, and he talked to the grumpy old lady.

Shortly after, Hotel Director, Bar manager, and chief security asked me questions about our diamond guests. Interestingly, a bar manager who should support me, he did the opposite instead." The company will pay the price because of your mistake Mladen. You should double-check before you serve that drink." He accused me without any evidence.

Luckily, chief security was a little more supportive. He told me his officers were reviewing the video footage to see what had happened in the Lobby bar earlier.

A few minutes later,  shocking facts surprised everyone, including Hotel Director! While having an intense conversation with senior managers on board, the phone of the chief security rang. His assistant called to inform him about the news.

As the Chief security put his phone down, he slowly started to talk," Mladen, we apologize for all this inconvenience... My assistant just called me and said that the following diamond guest who complained earlier in the Lobby bar did something awful. The video footage that the security team reviewed showed when she went in the corner next to the bar, took a small piece of glass from her pocket, and then intentionally dropped it into a cocktail that you made. After some attention, I guess she was probably planning to sue the company. Investigation about this incident is concluded now," chief security told us.

My heart was pumping vigorously. This case was over, but I was not happy at all. The hotel director tried to apologize to me for false accusations, but he was not meant to do that. It was my manager. Speaking before listening and withholding positive feedback about my performance, I got used to having a biased manager onboard the cruise ship. Still, it was hard for me to understand that my manager did not support his crew member earlier in the Lobby bar. Instead, he rushed to false conclusions and made an unfair accusation. It was already the third month in a row that I had the most positive guest feedback comments compared to all other bar waiters and bartenders on board. Yet, that was not good enough; I never received any form of recognition or validation. To be completely honest, I did not even expect to get encouragement. But this incident in the Lobby bar showed that the diamond guest just wanted to create drama and potentially sue the company at my own expense. Luckily, the security chief brought up the facts correctly and proved that it was not my fault. After hearing that I was not responsible for a piece of the glass in the cocktail, my manager was quiet. He did not say a single word until I left the bar office.

Situations like this onboard the cruise ship can test your courage and determination to preserve the rotten management system. Slowly, I was on my way to take a break, and I decided to go on the open deck for some fresh air. When I got on the open deck, I felt lonely. I missed my family and friends. Looking at the ocean brought me peace and much-needed calm at that moment. I took a deep breath. The smell of the sea was refreshing for my mind and soul. Yet, a couple of tears dropped down into the ocean, and I did not even notice it. I am strong, and I have to do this, I thought, for my family.

Suddenly, while I was struggling emotionally, I noticed something glorious. It was windy, and the waves were getting more significant. Standing on the open deck on the fourth floor, I could feel the great waves splashing the boat.

While staring at the endless ocean, something instantly took my attention. Small, tinny flying fish was getting out of the water and flying above sea level. What was spectacular to witness in the course of their flying route. The fish was flying at the lowest possible point above sea level, and yet, whenever a huge wave would approach, flying fish would amazingly change direction in a matter of seconds. Wave after wave came into the path of flying fish, yet, this fantastic little creature managed to avoid getting hit by the huge splash. The flying fish skillfully managed to adjust her course while in the air.

Now, for me, that was inspiring. I could do the same if that little creature could spectacularly avoid the vast waves. In the remaining four months of my contract, I promised myself that if any big wave came my way, I would instantly adjust my wings to keep flying like this incredible fish.