Drinking the Profits


I’ve noticed that proprietors of small restaurants and bars often drink with the customers. Sometimes guests bring a bottle of something special back from a trip and share it. Other times the guests offer a drink to the owner to show appreciation.

Doing things together is an important part of companionship in Japan. This extends to drinking; which is natural, since it is a social activity in most parts of the world. Traditionally, when drinking together, it is common to use large bottles and small glasses. This creates the necessity to refill the drinks often, allowing the opportunity to take turns serving each other.

Along with this togetherness, there is a lack of social levels. On my first trip to Japan in 1989, I was a punk kid loading tapes and configuring software, but the refinery manager sat across from me and gladly served me. When I drink with the Good Doctor, he often denies me my turns to serve and gladly pours for me. Likewise, the concept of “the help” is not very present. When we eat at a bar and grill, we are sharing the experience with the chef. Occasionally patrons want to extend that sharing to the drinks.

I imagine this is tough for restaurateurs who don’t want to destroy their liver. If every customer shared a couple drinks with them, they wouldn’t be able survive a week. I notice that my two favorite restaurant owners have only had a few drinks in the last few years while I was present. I think they get good at politely thanking while declining.

This post came to mind the other night. I went to a place I like, but rarely visit, and the chef kept forgetting my orders. I think the customers had shared enough to challenge her concentration.


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