Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. In this installment we speak to a cocktail waitress and a bartender about what it’s like to work during SantaCon—the infamous bar crawl during which thousands of drunken Santas descend upon New York in all their belligerent glory.
Cocktail Waitress, worked SantaCon once:
SantaCon was the worst day I’ve ever worked. I got dressed up, and I was really excited, but then it was just really disappointing. The bar I was working at was an Irish craft beer bar near Madison Square Garden. It was the kind of bar where only girls worked as waitresses and the managers suggested that you get your skirt at the kids store. It was often really busy anyway, so I thought it was prepared.
At first, it was actually pretty fun when I started seeing all the Santas coming in, but then they started coming in literally 40 or 50 at a time and they just didn’t stop. I started working at 8 AM and I don’t think I stopped until 10. By the end of the night I had basically gone from a cocktail waitress to a babysitter. There was just a lot of cleaning up puke and finding a manager because lots of people were having sex in the bathroom. I’d be standing over puke making sure nobody stepped in it before a busser came to mop it up. There was also a lot of watching people to make sure they actually paid before leaving.
Day drinking can get kind of gross anyway, but Santacon just amplifies it. It was so sloppy.
I walked to another bar and got a couple shots and tried to get my own little quick experience of it, but there were just people puking everywhere and literally fighting in the streets.
I wanted it to be so much more enjoyable than it was. In the beginning, starting to see all the Santas coming, it was really exciting and funny to me. There were a couple people who had light up costumes and there were a couple people dressed up as dreidels, and there was a lot of creativity from some of the people. I love getting dressed up. I love halloween. I love themes. But the people who go out really hard are the ones who were doing it. It just was not my crowd. If it wasn’t so tasteless, I think I would have enjoyed it so much more.
When I left work I tried to go out after and make the best of it. I walked to another bar and got a couple shots and tried to get my own little quick experience of it, but there were just people puking everywhere and literally fighting in the streets, so I couldn’t really get into it. If I had made $1,000 or something, then maybe I would look back on it differently, but people were just wasted and most people just weren’t tipping well. So I look back on it with these gross memories. I have not worked SantaCon since.
Bartender, working her third SantaCon this year:
This will be my third year bartending for SantaCon. I have been fortunate to have some pretty lucky experiences, but I have heard and can sympathize with people absolutely loathing the holiday. I haven’t had any issues with fighting or anything, so I’ve been lucky, because I have heard some really terrible stories. I can definitely see a cocktail waitress having a harder time, but a bartender just has to stay behind the bar, so we’re not actually dealing with the ramifications of getting these people drunk. You do you see a lot of young kids, so there was definitely some vomiting. But luckily, if you’re a bartender you don’t really have to deal with that—the barbacks are dealing with that or my boss is dealing with that.
My first year I was at a bar downtown. That was the year that was a massive blizzard, so we didn’t really expect much to happen. And then around 4 pm, I’d been working by myself, and like 120 people walked in at one time. That ended up being really fun because they were all really, really nice. They were like, “We know it’s just you. Don’t worry. It’s snowing and we just don’t wanna go anywhere else.”
Once it hits around 6, 7 PM, pretty much everyone is hammered. You look around, and you’ve got drunk Elsas (from frozen), drunk snowmen, everyone is in Santa gear, but they’re all disheveled.
Then two years ago, that’s when we were one of the official SantaCon bars, and we were one of the bars right outside of Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. I opened up by myself that day at 11 in the morning and by 11:15, 100 people were in the bar. It was absolutely mad. At one point we had a line outside the bar for four hours, and this is by no means the type of bar that should ever have a line. But it was fun. People come as Santas, elves, a few Olafs (from Frozen), a couple Jesuses. Generally speaking the crowd is younger, but then you get a few older people that are just in it for the spirit. It was pretty fun, to be honest.
As the the day wears on, people generally tend to become less fun. People were very drunk. It’s a shit show. Once it hits around 6, 7 PM, pretty much everyone is hammered. You look around, and you’ve got drunk Elsas (from Frozen), drunk snowmen, everyone in Santa gear—but they’re all disheveled. When they first come in they look good, but by the end of the night everyone looks pretty rough, and the music is blasting, people are jumping up on chairs, dancing around. It’s just such a shit show.
(Both times) I bartended I made great money. You do get people that are incredibly cheap, but the volume makes up for it, because it’s a solid 10 hours of heavy volume, non-stop bartending. And you do get people who are stupidly generous because it’s the holidays and they’re drunk and they’re happy.
I am looking forward to it (this year). I love my coworkers and when it’s all of us behind the bar, we’re like a team handling the chaos of what’s happening on the other side of the bar. We all end up making money, and we have bouncers on the other side of the bar to handle the serious mess of what takes place. It’s fun.