Todd Coggins is one of many bartenders behind Wall St. Plaza’s Waitiki Bar. He has been getting Orlando drunk for a debatable four years. Besides deserving recognition for his excellence in service, Todd is an amazing friend as well as one of the funniest and most entertaining human beings on this planet. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when and if he is being serious (as this interview will show). This is exactly why I thought he’d be a perfect candidate to kick-off my site.
When thinking of my first interviewee, it was important to find someone who could set the right tone, represent a fine understanding of Orlando, as well as articulately express themselves when I asked questions. Most importantly, they just had to let me ask the questions. So thanks Todd for being all those things, for the years of laughs and for sharing in my vision … even when it was a bit cloudy.
Jana: How long have you been bartending?
Todd: Is this an intervention? What’s happening here? [Laughs] Four years.
What? What are you talking about?
You live in a house of lies.
No. I’ve worked downtown in bars for eight years, but I’ve only been bartending for four years. I was a bar back before that.
Really? I’ve been going to bars for at least eight years and I feel like you’ve been with me every step of the way.
[Laughs] Alright, so eight. [Laughs again] You win.
Well correct me if I’m wrong.
No, you’re right.
Seriously, four years, that’s it?
Was bartending supposed to have been just a temporary fix?
Before that I was a waiter … you should have seen that mess. It’s gone on a little bit longer than I intended, but things happen … things change. And when they do there is always that one thing that is there for me – that one great job. As long as I put my time and effort in, I get to keep it.
What makes bartending so great?
I’d say the people I work with, the people that come in and watching all that interaction inbetween them all.
What gets you through the days, or should I say nights?
I’ve been doing it for so long that the actual work is routine. I don’t have to think about it. So I get to focus on the people and what’s going on. I’m surrounded by a total fiasco of people that are all pretty amazing.
Speaking of fiasco, I’ve been at the bar on a busy night when there are about 20 people calling your name. You’re like a machine, going from one to the next. How do you deal with that?
Well if you’ve been there and seen that, then you’ve seen me get angry. [Laughs] No, that’s kind of the excitement. Having all those people yell at you sucks, kind of, but half of them are good friends of mine and they’re just wasted. I’ve been there and I’ve been that guy. So you can’t hate on that at all.
How do you reel in your regulars?
I don’t know. I think it’s Wall St. [Plaza] that brings them in. I’m just a guy that’s there. I see all these people and really, I don’t know who they are.
But they know you.
Because I’m just that guy, we don’t talk on the phone or anything. [Laughs] Sometimes I’ll lose it and rip into people. These are people who are belligerent or not listening. My goal at that job is to make people drinks. The easier they make it for me to get those drinks to them, I’m happy. I’m working for them. I want them to get what they want.
I think you have an affect on people; it’s you that draws them to the bar.
Well that’s something to remember. I guess I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.
You survive on tips and it works for you?
Yeah, it’s good. They [Wall St. Plaza] are always booking events at the place and making different avenues for different people to come in and enjoy the bars. They’re good at it.
What’s the biggest tip you’ve ever gotten?
The biggest tip? I don’t know. Wow, that’s kind of a rude question to ask … about money. I’m not asking how much you’re getting paid for this interview. [Laughs]
You can. [Laughs] I’m getting paid nothing.
Wow, Wednesday nights must be slow for you … obviously … here we are. [Laughs] Where were we? Money, that’s right. Along time ago, I was bar backing and we got a $400 tip.
There’ve been some big tips.
On behalf of other service industry people what message could you give to tippers?
I guess be fair. People are going to do what they want to do. The thing is people start to tip more if they realize what the people are doing for them. Look at the little things people are doing so you can have fun and enjoy yourselves. That’s the goal. If you work hard enough, it’ll balance itself out.
But you notice the big tippers?
Yeah of course, that’s what I’m there for. I’m juggling all these people at different levels. I treat everybody nice, but I want to help those people more.
Do you have any crazy bar stories?
Geez, that’s like dropping a library on your head and then trying to pick one piece of paper out. Huh, one story? I don’t know. I can tell you what I like; I like all the things bar owners do to raise money for different causes. For example, Casey’s does a dog fest that puts money into the humane society. I’ve gone to it. It’s just insane and a good event. You can hang with your friends, watch them get wasted and fall backwards over their dogs while raising money for charity. Those are good stories.
Over the past 10 years, how would you say Orlando has changed?
It’s growing with people. Everything is going great for Orlando right now. There are so many people downtown now, thanks to all the condos and buildings going up. It’s going off. There is always something going on. There is always live music. It may not be what you want but it’s something to do.
People seem concerned with Orlando and its lack of culture, are you?
I think it’s headed in a forward direction. The next three nights is Florida Music Festival and it’s been around for six years. I’ve worked it every single year and it’s just grown. Obviously, we’re coming off a huge backlash from boy bands. What a mountain to climb musically to make people forget about that, you know? No offense. Justin Timberlake kicks ass now. [Laughs] So yeah, the culture is kind of glazed over. It’s such a melting pot of the college, older businesses and young professionals moving downtown and going out every night. There is always something going on here, you just need to know where to find it.
So you think more of the issue is that people are just unaware.
Yeah. People are busy working and traveling, or sitting in traffic because of the construction. They just don’t have the energy to want to work at it, but they need to know it’s out there. It is good stuff, and fun.
Do you think the construction affects your business?
No, not at all, it’s helped it. I mean, I know traffic is going to suck, on that one turn, and I’m going to have to wait a little longer. But when it’s done, things are only going to get better. So, good work boys!
Where do you see yourself heading?
Prison. Australia. Geez, I don’t know. That’s a good question. I’m always bouncing ideas off my friends, but nothing is solid. I just want to start working harder, at everything. Maybe I’ll go back to school. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately, but it’s only a couple days old – so call me in about a week or so.
* Note: Todd has not mentioned school to WI since this interview.
Interview Date: 5/16/07