10 Things Bartenders Wish You Knew


"Um... I’ll have a… Wait. Hey, guys, what do you want? I’m sorry… Uh… What’s on special? Do you have…?

Hi. I’m your bartender. I’d love to make you a drink, and make sure you have a really good time while you’re here, but that first impression, you gotta admit, was a little awkward.

How ‘bout we set some ground rules. Building a better drinking culture isn’t just about drinking better. It also includes being fluent in some essential bar etiquette. If you’re new to the drinking game (not to be confused with mixing red Solo cups and ping pong balls, which we don’t really advise), or just want to make sure you know what’s up, then here are a few rules you should know.


1. How to get a bartender’s attention.

First, be patient. Second, make eye contact. Not creepy eyes. A smile helps, too. If you wave your money, snap your fingers, whistle, or yell like a child, be prepared for your patience to be tested because you’ll now probably be waiting a little longer for them to acknowledge you. When they finally greet you, you don’t have to exaggerate telling them how long you waited. They know. They kept you waiting because you were rude. Be nice, mind your manners, and say “Please” and “Thank you.” They’re making your drink. They hold the cards.

2. Know what you want to drink before you order.

Okay, there’s some leeway here, but the biggest factor is being aware of how busy your bartender is. Think about it like this: When you and your friends pull into a drive-through for tacos or burgers, and there are five cars in line behind you, you probably don’t wait until that fuzzy voice comes over the speaker to poll everyone in the car for what they want. You know everyone’s meal deal # beforehand, right? So you can place your order efficiently, get your food, and keep the cars behind you happy. Because you (should) respect the person on the other side of the drive-through window.

If you’re out at a bar or restaurant, and the place is bonkers, prepare yourself mentally for what you think you’re in the mood for. Beer? Bourbon? A martini? Can you get your hands on a menu before you approach the bar and get caught like a deer in headlights?

If you don’t know exactly what you want or what they have, break it down in categories. If you’re in the mood for a beer, know what style(s) you enjoy. If you’re not a bourbon connoisseur, familiarize yourself with one or two popular brands if you prefer your brown spirits neat, or try an Old Fashioned and invite the bartender to make it with his favorite bourbon. You want a cocktail? Whatever you do, don’t ask for something “fun.” You should know what base liquor you enjoy (e.g. vodka vs. gin, or tequila vs. rum), whether you like sweet, sour, fruity, savory, spicy, etc. If there’s not a cocktail on their menu that floats your boat, at least give them some direction with your preferred flavor profile. But then, be prepared for whatever concoction they end up mixing for you. Sip it like a big boy or girl, and if you don’t like it, please don’t offend the bartender by telling her. Try something different next time. That’s part of the adventure.

3. Don’t ask for free drinks. Ever.

Where do you work? Do they give their products or services away for free? Probably not.

4. Your birthday is a private matter.

Happy birthday! Now, see #3.

5. Don’t ask for a “strong” drink.

Any reputable establishment should care about your experience, and how much booze you’re consuming. Part of that is pouring you a proper drink. The ratio of alcohol to non-alcoholic mixers is to ensure the cocktail tastes exactly the way it should. If you order any spirits straight, you’re paying for a specific volume of liquor. If you want a “stronger” pour, you’re essentially asking the bartender to steal from their employer. The same applies for asking a bartender to “hook it up” with the promise of a “good tip.” Getting more than you bargain for will catch up to you later in the night, especially if you’re being intentional about how many drinks you’re having.

6. This isn’t your house.

Yes, you should be able to feel comfortable when you’re out, but leave the furniture and decor alone, and let the music be. If you need to make room for more people in your party than your current seating section is designed to accommodate, don’t start pulling tables together and adding chairs at your own discretion. First, ask an employee if it’s okay, and if they can help you. Don’t tell them what you’re going to do. And be okay with it if they can’t or won’t (they have a reason). Your friends may have to stand, or you may have to wait for a larger section to become available.

7. Be aware of your surroundings.

You know that narrow area at the corner of the bar with the black drinks mats on the counter, a couple soda/pop guns, and stacks of glassware—you know, where all the servers are congregating? That’s the service area. For them. Not you. Stay clear of it so they can deliver your drinks to you and everyone else as quickly as possible.

8. The bar is not Tinder.

Is your cute server or handsome bartender being really nice to you? That’s because they’re trying to be hospitable and do their job. They’d also like to earn your gratuity respectfully. Don’t assume they have the hots for you. Granted, you’re probably a good-looking catch, but don’t harass them. It’s not cool. Ever. Be respectful, and tip well.

9. 20%.

Unless your grandpa is paying the bill (at which point you should probably look over his shoulder anyway to make sure he’s not leaving just a couple lint-covered nickels), we all should know that 20% is a standard gratuity. If you’re paying drink by drink, it’s customary to tip a buck per drink. Hourly employees in the service/hospitality industry generally make WAY less than minimum wage, and rely on tips to make a living wage. Bonus points if you start a tab at the bar while waiting for a table, and then close out your tab (AND tip on it) at the bar before walking away to get sat. Good on you.

10. LMFAO’s 15 minutes of fame are up.

Shots really aren’t that necessary. They usually only serve one purpose, and it usually ends poorly. No one wants to clean up your puke in the bathroom. Fighting isn’t cool. Hangovers suck. You get the idea. Make your awesome night last longer than the half-second it takes to throw back a line of Shots! Shots! Shots! Also, if you’re still listening to LMFAO, we need to have another talk.

What YOU Can Do

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