For many Philadelphians, happy hour means relaxation — a post-work detox with discounted food and drinks. On summer Wednesdays, Center City Sips adds to the allure, with extra-cheap beers, cocktails, wine and appetizers offered at more than 80 locations.
But enticing as the annual promotion is to the office crowd, there’s another group that views it as something akin to a marathon. Each week around 5 p.m., as the first wave of customers begins marching toward bar stools, hospitality industry workers like servers, bartenders, hosts and cooks are getting ready to run around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Here’s a first look at what Sips is like from the other side of the line.
‘You’re pretty much a dog walker’
Raúl, a bartender at Veda on Chestnut near 20th Street, explained that during Sips, “you’re pretty much a dog walker,” and everyone else is like a dog on a leash you have to keep under control.
“It’s pretty intense, because people are just yelling out drinks and jumping over each other,” he said. “You have to set the tone for the people. The moment you lose control of the crowd that whole bar is going to be out of control.”
Yet he doesn’t dislike the promotion. So far, no one has caused a scene at the 6-month-old Indian restaurant, even though somewhere between 50 to 70 people pack the windowfront bar during Sips’ peak. Per Raúl, most of the people coming in are young professionals — and are actually generous tippers. One night someone even slid him a cool $50.
“A lot of the people that come to Sips you might think are stuck-up,” he said, “but I think they’re just very good people.”
Raúl’s coworker Harris, a server, often has to turn people away from the dining room, since Sips specials are only available at the bar, but he’s found a way to handle it without getting too much blowback.
“There’s a word I learned a long time ago,” he said. “It’s called ‘no.’ You don’t have to be rude about it, but ‘no’.
‘I love working it’
Connor, a barback at Marathon Grill at 18th and Market streets, also doesn’t let Sips faze him.
The restaurant gets to capacity, he said, but there’s enough staff — and they all help each other out. He maintains that he doesn’t often feel like he’s “in the weeds,” the industry term for having more customers to check on and orders to fulfill than you’re possibly able to handle.
“I love working it,” he confided. “We got a DJ outside playing good music [and bartenders] serving beer. I mean, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
He also described the tips he makes — as a barback, he gets a percentage of what bartenders pull in — as “pretty good.”
‘It takes a special kind of person’
Per assistant manager Ryne, Devil’s Alley at 19th and Chestnut experiences a Wednesday rush that lasts from 5:30 p.m. all the way through 10:00 p.m, with close to 200 people flooding the bar at once. His servers do sometimes get “weeded,” he admitted, though as a manager, he wishes it never happened. But still, it’s not a big deal.
“During Sips it’s bound to happen at least once,” he said. “[But if] one server gets weeded, then someone comes and helps them out of the problem, and then they’re all good.”
He described the crowd as “mostly younger,” and noted that tips vary widely — but that it’s always better to be busy than not.
“I served Sips last year, so I know what it’s like,” Ryne said. “You get so many people that the good and bad will balance itself out. You’ll always end up making money on Sips.”
While he enjoyed the Sips shift, he recognizes it’s not for everyone: “It takes a special kind of person to have the amount of patience to deal with the volume of people who are heavily intoxicated.”