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Mixing It Up: From Bartending to Branding

By Vanessa Doll

Two Freshmade teammates reflect on the five ways their design agency careers were influenced by working in the restaurant industry

Vanessa Doll (L) and Elayane Merriwether (R) sling it at the office

Top 5 Ways Working in ‘The Industry’ Informed My Social Media Career at a Design Agency

by Elayane Merriwether –– Social Media Manager

Being a bartender is no small feat. There is an unspoken code and respect among us. It’s a demanding role that requires a serious skill set and a damned good ability at making small talk. If you can master the beautiful chaos that is bartending, you can take on anything. With over a decade of experience, from college bars to martini lounges and private celebrity parties for P. Diddy and Steve Aoki, I’ve seen and heard a lot (most of which I wish I hadn’t). But long shifts and getting caught in the weeds has shown me how to navigate the complicated waters of social media for my clients at Freshmade––a branding and design agency in South Florida. And how to swim outside the boat as well… 

1. They’re always watching you.

All eyes are on you when people are waiting to order drinks. Guests are watching to see if you’re paying attention to them, how fast you make their drink, and the energy you’re giving off. For brands, what they post in social media says everything about who they are as a brand and how people will perceive them.

Last year Chase received a lot of backlash about a #MondayMotivation tweet that smugly berated people for their financial instability. The tweet was in poor taste and even prompted presidential nominees responding with their disdain. Followers are the judge, the jury, and the executioner, and your platforms are at their mercy. It’s critical to understand someone is always watching and to keep that in mind when making decisions on social—knowing that anything you say or do will be under a microscope. 


Within seconds, you could potentially damage your sentiment and have a long-lasting negative impact on your brand. As a social media manager, a vital role of my job is to make sure that the final curtain call never falls on your brand.

2. Taking care of the guest is a huge responsibility.

Guests come to a bar for three things: to grab a yummy cocktail, have enjoyable conversations, and––most importantly––have a good time. The guest is looking to you, the bartender, to provide all this and more. They are putting their trust in the smiling face in front of them to whip up that drink, engage them in small talk, and provide an extraordinary experience. Taking care of guests is a huge responsibility, and as a social media manager at a design agency, you have that same responsibility to your client’s social platforms. 

If you can master the beautiful chaos that is bartending, you can take on anything.

You are in charge of creating dynamic concepts that people will want to engage with on social, which is a crucial component in building a community of brand advocates. When you are managing social media platforms, you want to create that same unforgettable experience for your audience. It is this unique and exciting interaction with your page that will position your brand at top of mind. It is as easy to click the ‘follow’ button as it is to hit the ‘unfollow’ button. Building a community of loyal brand advocates takes time and care.

3. You must have an always-on mentality.

When you’re slinging drinks, you must always be scanning and observing what’s happening throughout the bar. Similarly, the life of a design agency’s social media manager isn’t just about responding to DMs and writing a witty caption. You are always following the latest meme, keeping up with who just tweeted what on Twitter, and looking for the next viral trend to leverage to put your client on the map. It’s a 24/7 job. After all, you don’t want to miss the next Instagram post of an egg that tries to become the most “liked” photo in history. 

4. Master balancing a variety of tasks.

Bartending is a high-volume atmosphere where you are constantly doing two or three things at a time while anticipating what’s coming next. At any given moment, you’ll have five guest orders in your head, be pouring a drink, and mouthing to the couple to the left you’ll be right with them. Every move is with purpose, and the same rings true for being a social media manager. From trendscaping to gathering social sentiment or planning out the next two months’ worth of content, you wear many hats. Social media moves at a quick pace and trends can rise and fall within 48 hours. To stay current, you must always be thinking ahead. 

5. Adapt to the unique needs of each customer.

You have to adapt your serving style based on who is sitting in front of you. One day you’ll have an older couple chatting your ear off, and the next day it’s a group of businesswomen on their lunch break who want to get in and out. You learn to understand who is sitting in front of you and how to accommodate their needs.

The same goes for running social media accounts. Each platform is its own ecosystem and should be treated as such. The content that resonates with your audience on Facebook won’t necessarily work for your Instagram followers. A carefully crafted social media strategy leverages each platform for its innate use and crafts a more meaningful experience for varying audiences.

5 Things I Learned From Bartending About the Role of Client Services

By Vanessa Doll –– Director of Client Services

When I was fifteen years old, my first job was as a hostess at Chili’s. Incidentally, it was also the first––and only––job I was ever fired for. Over the two-plus decades that I have been garnering a paycheck I have worked in retail, administration, higher education, house cleaning, picture framing, advertising and design agencies, and restaurants. I often worked at least two of these jobs at the same time.

Of all these modes of employment, I came back to two: design agencies and “the industry.” In fact, I owned and operated a bar/restaurant while simultaneously building my career in client services. While it may seem that these career paths should not, or would not, cross, I feel I am the better at both for taking this twisted route.

Age has forced me to throw in the towel on bartending (It turns out late nights and bad habits do get old!), but I still love the energy and detail that goes into this particular field of client service. I also attribute much of my work ethic and personal style as Director of Client Services at Freshmade to the lessons I learned working nearly twenty years in the bar/restaurant industry. (Not to discredit the 7 years I spent at LPK, which can be read about in more detail here.)

Some of these lessons were handed down by mentors, and some were those learned the best way… hard. They are my guiding principles in Client Services. I use them to mentor my own up-and-coming team members at our design agency. Because there are no secrets in the bar industry among colleagues, I’ll share them here as well:

1. Kill ‘Em With Kindness

I mention the story of being fired at Chili’s above not because the incident was particularly unique, but because it was my very first lesson in employment: The customer is, in fact, not always right, but how you manage them can be. Being a hostess is thankless, especially at a chain restaurant in suburbia. Your whole job is to get yelled at for double seating a server, or yelled at for making someone wait to be seated. As a strong-spirited fifteen year-old-girl with an affinity for shooting her mouth off, that job did not last long.

But that job is the same everywhere. Those people are the same everywhere. And the consequences of responding the way I did (use your imagination)… well, it’s the same everywhere. If I was going to keep a job, I needed to learn how to respond to people’s frustrations in the opposite way. When someone is being a jerk to you, make them feel like a bigger jerk by being nice as pie. And even if they never notice, you can walk away from the situation knowing you didn’t stoop to their level. At the end of the day, you can’t control how other people behave, only your own behavior.

2. You Got Time to Lean, You Got Time to Clean

I came up in the industry during the 90s and early 00s and this was a funny David Spade line from the movie “Reality Bites” that we would always say to a co-worker who was slacking. The point is that there is always something to do, and there is always an opportunity to pitch in. I can do nothing without my team and my clients’ partnerships. It is also important to prioritize and identify the places where help is needed most. A task for a task’s sake may be the equivalent of standing around.

If there is one thing I take fierce pride in, it’s my strong work ethic and my dedication to supporting my clients, my team, and the task that needs to get done. I gained that from working with one other bartender when 150 people pile into the door on a Saturday night. Similarly in a design agency, you also have to work hard and support one another inestimably.  


If there is one thing I take fierce pride in, it’s my strong work ethic and my dedication to the task that needs to get done. I gained that from working with one other bartender when 150 people pile into the door on a Saturday night.

3. The Best Way to Get Someone to Behave: Sit on Them

In 2009, I opened my own bar and restaurant in Cincinnati called Mayday. Similar to any industry, it’s one thing to have worked at many businesses, it’s another to own one. An older friend of ours who owned the neighborhood watering hole was a wonderful mentor and gave me this sage piece of advice. Luckily, I never had to sit on anyone. Fun fact: one of my secret talents cultivated over the years is that I am amazing at throwing people out of the bar without riling them up.

But I love this piece of advice because it’s a telling comment on the human condition. If a situation feels out of hand, sometimes doing something irreverent and unexpectedly humorous can ease the tension and help all parties to stop and self-reflect on their behavior. I use this in client services; I use it at family gatherings. It’s called “lightening the mood” and it’s an essential component to human exchange. 

4. They Want to Go Where Everyone Knows Their Name

Forging a strong connection, even a full-on friendship, with a client is not something to fear. Many folks in client services at design agencies worry about getting too close to their clients because they think they won’t feel comfortable having conversations around money or other challenges. I find having a good relationship with my client actually helps with that. I even wrote an entire blog post around that called “Conquering the Conversation.”  

It’s important to keep in mind that clients are people too. They have bad days; they have life-altering experiences. We should empathize and celebrate with them just as we would our ‘regulars’ at the bar. They are bringing valuable business to our company, and if we are lucky, they are letting us into their world. I say “Cheers” to that!

5. If You Ban Someone, Don’t Let Them Back In

This is a very personal lesson that may be controversial, but I’ve gained confidence in this viewpoint over time. The first week we opened the bar, a neighborhood guy came in and tried to punch my co-bartender while I was there. When you work in the bar industry for decades, you know that good people will do bad things. I’ve forgiven literally hundreds of people for misbehaving. However, he threatened the safety of my employee, and I had to value that above all else. More importantly, I must act on that value when put to the test.

So I banned him from my business for life. Over the course of 5 years, he sent me emails, tried to sneak in, and had his friends advocate for him. I would not budge.

I can only explain it this way: he had irrevocably damaged my trust in him, and his insistence on crossing the line I had already drawn made me feel that he had no respect for my authority or my establishment. If I had folded and let him back in, I would have shown my employee I no longer valued his safety. Plus, I would have been uncomfortable in the patron’s presence. It would never be worth the couple of hundred bucks he may have spent. Even at a design agency, if an incident occurs that can not be overcome, it’s better for both of you to walk away. Sometimes unforgivable mistakes are made. For me, it’s more important to trust my instincts, and if I can, avoid the hard feelings that follow.  

Learn more about all of the Freshmade team members.

June 2021

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April 2021

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