Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

When everybody knows her name: Bartender talks experiences in service industry


Situated in the heart of downtown Tuscaloosa in between Epiphany and Catch 22 lies The Gray Lady – a two-story, uniquely-designed, pub-like bar famous for its drinks and welcoming atmosphere and staff.

With interior decoration that includes fixtures formerly a part of Bryant-Denny Stadium, The Gray Lady draws in many University of Alabama football fans. Although many of the regulars are Crimson Tide fans, occasionally, one of Tuscaloosa’s covert Auburn fans will walk in, prompting a football frenzy, discussing the latest games.

“The conversation could go on for days,” said Alana Sasser, an AlexanderCity native and bartender. “Sometimes we have to remind them that the bar is closing up.”

On most nights, Sasser can be found at The Gray Lady serving drinks and chatting with customers. Due to her well-developed listening skills she has honed during her five years working in the service industry, Sasser said her regulars always come in asking for advice on both personal and work issues.

“I have all different kinds of customers come in looking for advice,” she said. “From the married man who wants to surprise his wife but doesn’t know how to the guy everyone knows should not be getting married but is and is coming into the bar to drink away the pain, or what he feels like is pain.”

The warm, homelike atmosphere that clients experience at The Gray Lady is what differentiates it from neighboring bars. Caryn Lee, a junior majoring in fashion design and merchandise at the University and a regular at the bar, is one to quickly point out the amazing service and attention offered by Sasser while she is working.

“She never makes you feel like you’re simply a client,” Lee said. “Both her and everyone at The Gray Lady treat you like a friend, like you’re part of their family. It’s why me and my boyfriend always go there. We like drinking at a place where we don’t feel like we’re just one more customer.”

As one of the only female bartenders The Gray Lady has, Sasser is no stranger to being hit on by the occasional male customer. Though her male customers are often friends, she gets the occasional one or two who insist a date with them would be the best date she’s ever had.

“It’s funny because I always say no, and I think that when these guys sit down across from me, they don’t realize that it’s uncomfortable to have to say no and still serve you for hours to come,” Sasser said. “So I usually laugh it off, making sure when I do say no, it’s the least uncomfortable it can possibly be.”

Bar backs, the assistants of bartenders, also play a crucial part in how well the night will go and how comfortable she feels throughout her shift. Although she is very prideful and likes to handle situations by herself, Sasser notes it is always good to have someone who she knows will have her back.

Though her journey has been one that has had more ups than downs, Sasser said what drives her insane about working in the service industry, bartending specifically, is the lack of bar etiquette–particularly from the younger crowd.

“You’ll have those people who come in and snap at you when you take more than a minute to get their order,” Sasser said. “You’ll also have those people who think that because they are paying you for their drinks, that your whole time should be devoted to them. So many different people come in and you can tell the minute they walk in what kind of customer they will be.”

She goes on to add, “Then you have the older crowd who sometimes come in judging what I do, telling me how I have so much potential and I could be doing other things with my life. It’s stressful, but I feel like once you get past the bad bunch, the job is actually really fun and fulfilling.”

Through bartending, Sasser has learned some of life’s most valuable lessons. She feels the biggest lesson she has learned from it all is how to be patient and understand what your client needs.

“Sometimes I have to take it upon myself to set a limit for how many drinks a certain person can get, especially because I don’t want to go on JailBase [a phone app that catalogues local arrests] and see a person who I served the night before on there,” she said.

With a recent drinking and driving accident involving one of her regulars, Sasser has taken it upon herself to set limits for her customers, even if it makes them angry at first.

“I will not hesitate to give someone a water cup instead of the drink they ordered, because it’s not that I’m kicking you out, it’s just me letting the alcohol take its effect on you before you continue to drink the night away,” Sasser said.

Throughout her years of working in the service industry, Sasser has established a name for herself in Tuscaloosa. Known as the sweet, caring and friendly bartender, she hopes to continue making emotional connections with her customers five years from now.

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