Lobo Plantation’s Mary White on empathy in bartending

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The Lobo Plantation bartender talks simplicity, and the importance of empathy in hospitality.

As told to Sam Bygrave

I’m from North Carolina in the States, and I started bartending there.
I started off as a host in a fine dining restaurant, and moved my way up into bartending and
started training when I was 20 — legally you have to be 21, so I technically started at 21. I kind of got a little bit of a head start in that way.

I found myself in Sydney pretty randomly, to be honest.
I was having issues with my visa in New Zealand, trying to figure out how I could stay there even though I didn’t meet all the requirements. And it didn’t work, naturally. At that point I had two weeks of my visa left, and was like, ‘OK, I’m just going to go to Sydney and figure it out from there.’

It turned out to be awesome. I ended up absolutely loving it.
Now it’s been a year and a half. I was working at Palmer & Co for the first six months of my working holiday visa, then I had Paige contact me from here.

I’m one of the managers here now —
I started as a bartender, then two months later started training for a manager’s role.
Working here is great. Working at Palmer & Co, you’re getting out at 5am every day, it’s tiring on your body. I wasn’t in the right mindset. And [Lobo] is a bar I loved, one of the first I visited when I came to Sydney, so I’ve always really enjoyed the atmosphere. And it closes at 12, it closes on a Sunday — so you can actually have a life. It’s great.

I like to approach things with a form of empathy.
It’s really easy to think that this person’s a dumb****, when in reality they’re maybe nervous or they’ve not been in this situation or they don’t know what they’re doing. I think it’s really
important to keep empathy in the back of your mind when you’re dealing with customers
and hospitality in general.

I really like simple, simple drinks.
It’s easy to go overboard with ingredients, it’s easy to add too much stuff. But it’s really great to see that there’s so many bartenders now who, they’re keeping drinks simple, but experimenting with ‘out there’ ingredients, or native ingredients, which you wouldn’t have found 10 or 15 years ago. I appreciate people thinking outside of the box.

I get annoyed with trends, in a way.
Even something like, people are going to assume that you love Daiquiris because you’re
a bartender, Daiquiris for everybody. Which I do — but it’s kind of one of those things which is
the cool thing at the moment. Are you taking a shot of Fernet because you enjoy Fernet, or because it’s cool and everybody’s drinking Fernet? It almost makes me want to say no, I don’t
want to do that.