I’ve seen a lot of bartenders in my day. Bartenders, as a species, tend to be a cordial and gregarious lot. In all my interactions with them, though, I’ve never seen a bar keep so happy to meet new customers and introduce people to each other as when I sat with Patti McDonald at Tucci & Fresta’s Trattoria and Bar. The 24 year industry veteran took time away from her meet-and-greet to talk to us about her life keeping bar patrons pleased.
How’d you get into bartending?
I like to say that in my first life I was a bartender and waitress, and that’s all I’ve been all my life. I love working in restaurants and working with people and behind the bar. Being in this industry is fun and exciting, it changes all the time.
Are you like a lot of people in the industry who started working in restaurants as a high school student?
Many, many years ago my grandparents had restaurants in St. Louis during Pre-Prohibition and Prohibition. In 1959, their restaurant burned down, so my grandmother went to work for other people. My family’s always been in the restaurant business so I figured that’s where I was supposed to go, and that’s what I enjoyed. I wanted to work with my parents and help out and I’ve always been intrigued by food and loved to cook.
So you prefer bartending to having your own place?
Yeah, I don’t think I’d ever want my own place. At one time I thought about it, but it’s just a lot of work. Not that I’m opposed to work, but it’s a different animal. It’s not as much fun when you become an owner because you have to worry about the business side of it. Is the economy bad? Are people stealing from you? Can you pay your bills? That takes the fun out of it. I want to come to work and have a good time.
You’ve been doing this for a while; do you think the business has changed any?
I take pride in what I do and it’s a career. The cool thing today is that a lot more bartenders are doing that. In Europe it’s always been [seen as] a career where you were very proud of what you do. In the United States, though, it was always [done] “until I get my real job”, but somewhere along the way it became a career we take pride in.
Why do you think that’s happened?
I don’t know. It’s certainly not for everybody. I think people realized you can make a very good living in this industry, and if you like people it’s a good, fun business.
What makes you a good bartender?
Well, I enjoy what I do. I think I’m attentive and I care what [the patron] wants and what their needs are. I like to talk to people, and I think sometimes when people come to a bar they need to talk to somebody. They need a break or social interaction [and I can give them that].
Why is Tucci & Fresta’s special?
It’s a family here and I love it! The other night a customer said something to the tune of, “I’ve never seen so many people hugging in a restaurant before.” Everybody hugs everybody here. And if you don’t know someone when you come in the door, you know somebody when you leave. It’s a very friendly atmosphere and I think I love that the most. The service is very good here and [everyone’s] a professional; they’re here because they want to be. That’s kind of refreshing!