In Vino Veritas?

  • Sandra Trauner
  • India
  • Feb 01, 2013



At best it’s a kind of symbiosis: the patron needs somebody to narrate his sorrows to, and the listener is a barkeeper, flattered that his advice is needed. At worst, the bartender feels like he’s some kind of garbage pail, into which the guest is dumping all his emotional trash.

The tavern is a place of danger to both sides, says Frankfurt Psychologist Claus Lampert, author of a book about the psychological aspects at play in many a pub. Lampert, 51, grew up behind a counter. As a child, it was at his parents’ butcher shop, while later on as a juvenile it was at the bar of a country tavern belonging to his best friend. 

Lampert financed his psychology studies by waiting tables, and at night delivering newspapers to the taverns. Together with a barkeeper friend, he began writing a column for a magazine in 2004, called “The Couch At The Bar”. In 2006 he began holding psychology seminars for hotel and restaurant employees. In the book (now out in German), titled “Hotel-und Barpsychologie” (hotel and bar psychology), Lampert hopes to help people like Sabine Woelfinger. For 12 years she ran a village tavern in the Taunus Hills, outside Frankfurt. A year ago, Woelfinger, now 50, gave the tavern up. She says the main advantage of post-bar life is that she can now choose the people she wants to talk with.

The guests can suck everything out of you – like a sponge,” she says. “At the bar, they simply unload everything on you, like a garbage pail.” Except for a very few, nobody wants to hold a real conversation or listen to another’s opinion. “And if you give them some advice, they think they’re being attacked.”

Why is it that people target the bartender to relate their woes to? “They want some relief,” Lampert feels. At first glance, a psychologist and barkeeper have a lot in common: “People trust them, they listen, they keep silent.” Alcohol additionally loosens the tongue. A guest may even think it’s better in a bar than in a therapist’s office: “The advice doesn’t cost anything, you don’t have to be willing to change, and you don’t have to show up sober.


The proverbial couch at the bar is more often to be found in rural regions than in the city, Lampert says. “It’s personal hospitality with very intense contacts,” he says about rural pubs. The guest has less of a choice of pubs, the tavern keeper has often run his bar for decades – a perfect breeding-place for “chronicled tales of suffering.”

In the smart bars of a big city, the patrons rarely reveal any vulnerable side, or show themselves to be in need. In Lampert’s estimation, many people working in the restaurant business have “high level of social skills, and a good way with people.” But this does not make them psychologists. “The barkeeper isn’t paid for that,” he says.

Small-talk is “meant more to show sympathy, not to provide treatment”.  It is also not without its perils. Many a sympathy-provider can fall victim to the “danger of the night: he provides tips from a gut feeling, and these aren’t always the best ones.”

Krischan Knoll knows this well. The 30-year-old is Chief Bartender at the five-star Villa Kennedy Hotel in Frankfurt, and has previously worked in Dubai and top-class hotels around the world. “A little bit of knowledge is dangerous. You can quickly push things in the wrong direction with one faulty comment,” he says.

Sometimes, Lampert notes, things happen in a bar that one sees in a  psychotherapist’s office: “Transference and counter-transference.” One of the parties projects his or her previous experiences onto the other. “And voila, after only a few minutes, a feeling can emerge between complete strangers, that they have known each other forever.”

Sometimes it works like the key-and-lock principle,” Lampert says. The man behind the bar comes to regard the guest as a needy child, or as an unattainable role model. It can also happen that the bartender takes on the moods of his guest – sad when the person complains, and euphoric when the guest is in such a mood.

In his book, Lampert also offers advice on how to handle “difficult personalities”. For example, he advises against joking with people who are hyper-sensitive, or commenting on somebody’s eccentric behaviour, or denying somebody (who is obviously compulsive) their favourite seat in the bar. 


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