Andrew Wells - America's Most Responsible BartenderOctober 23, 2012 By: Robert Plotkin
Andrew Wells is exactly who you’d like to have working at your bar. Gregarious, talented and knowledgeable about the craft, Wells has what it takes to anchor any bartending staff. But the quality that makes him extraordinary is his unwavering commitment to serving alcohol responsibly. His resolve was forged during a childhood living with alcoholic parents.
“Both of my folks drank heavily and unfortunately they drove us kids around while they were intoxicated,” admits Wells. “I can recall one incident in particular as if it were yesterday and I promised myself then and there that I would never endure something like that again.”
Wells started his career washing dishes in a local restaurant at 16. By the age of majority, he was living on his own, self-reliant and working in the food and beverage business. During his career Wells has worked in Philadelphia, Tampa, San Diego, San Francisco and Somers Point, New Jersey. He has worked in all aspects of the service industry from bartending and managing bars and restaurants to bouncing to working as a cook. Wells attended the San Francisco Culinary Academy with the hopes of becoming a sommelier, but after the events of 9/11 decided to move back to be closer to his family.
“It seems all too often when you tell someone you’re a bartender that they immediately ask what else you do,” says Wells. “I’ll be the first to admit that being a bartender isn’t rocket science, but I do love what I do and I take the job seriously. I’ve done stints in the 9-to-5-world and I always found it routine and repetitious. Conversely, bartending gives me freedom to be on stage, have fun and make people smile.”
In 2011, Wells decided it was time “to put up or shut up” and to finally make good on the promise he had made to himself years before wedge underneath the dashboard of his mom’s car. He gathered some backers and created the Responsible Bartenders of America (RBA), a professional association of bartenders, servers and other restaurant and food-service employees dedicated to the responsible service of alcohol.
“Bartending is a manual job. The hours are long and the work often extends to a 7-day work week,” says Wells. “We needed a platform that will leverage the collective power of a massive community to build a powerful voice to promote responsible practices in terms of serving alcohol. The collective power will also provide volume-driven benefits from multiple service providers, particularly the insurance industry. But that collective voice is only as loud as the number of individual voices. More members mean greater representation and bargaining power, and better, broader and more affordable benefits and greater lobbying power to influence responsible legislation.”
Obviously Wells is someone who places little value on free time. In addition to his other ventures, he is the founder of the Atlantic City Bartenders’ Ball, which Wells established to raise funds for the HERO Campaign, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing drunken driving tragedies by promoting the use of safe and sober designated drivers.
“We donate all the proceeds generated by this annual event to the HERO Campaign, which was started when Ensign John Elliot was killed by a drunk driver. It was a tragic incident that galvanized the community. We just want to be a part of the solution.”
Wells also owns and operates the Atlantic City Bartender Training Center, which he started to advance professionalism behind the bar. He teaches his students not only how to make drinks, but also how to serve alcohol responsibly.
“When I started my bartending school, I wanted to make sure that my graduates not only were highly skilled, but that they appreciated the necessity of social responsibility,” says Wells. “I’m a TIPs trainer and try to use real life anecdotes that my students can relate to. Unfortunately, sometimes alcohol awareness programs are taught by individuals who have never served a drink. I felt that if a bartender taught other bartenders about responsible service more of the critical information might sink in. So I decided to try to be that person.”
Wells is now bartending and managing the Dog & Bull Brew and Music House in Croydon, Penn. “I care about our guests, just like so many other bartenders do. I’m not looking to get rich all at once. People occasionally get upset with me and don’t tip me because I cut them off, but they’re safe for the night, I am okay with that.”