How To Not Be a Dick to the Bartender

Oh, hey there! It’s me, your friendly neighborhood bartendress, rolling out of bed at noon to give you a few pointers on how not to be like the bachelorette who barfed into my ice bin last night.
Publish date:
January 22, 2013
bars, drinking, how not to be a dick, bartenders, M

Anyone can enter a bar and, with the help of some social lubricant and a decent barkeep, find respite from the stresses and demands of their daily lives.

Bartenders work late into the night, often until our waterlogged fingers bleed, sometimes holding our pee for an entire eight-hour shift because we can't catch a break from the demands of our thirsty patrons. We smile and crack jokes as we serve, every move designed to facilitate your fun. So, hey, do us a favor and try not to be a dick while you're in the bar, OK?

That bachelorette who couldn’t hold her Kamikaze shots, a drunk guy pounding the bar and barking like a dog to get my attention or the pack of girls that keeps calling, "Sweetie? Sweetie?" at me aren't the only perps in the vast landscape of bar dickery. You've probably committed an offense or two yourself. Here are 10 tips on how to avoid becoming “that customer.”

1. If you want service, act like it.

For the love of God, peel your eyes off of your phone for 30 seconds while we’re attempting to serve you. When it comes to actually ordering, there are a few misconceptions I’d like to clear up. Firstly, yelling something at me as I walk by does not qualify as placing an order. Blurting it out in response to, “I’ll be right with you!” is also not how it should be done.

“I’ll be right with you” is a bartender’s way of saying, “I’m busy at this precise moment but I know you’re waiting and will get to you as soon as I can.” Our job requires an exorbitant amount of multi-tasking. Just cool your jets, wait your turn and you’ll have that beer in no time.

2. Know how to order a drink and be flexible.

When you enter a bar, look around. Is it a dive? Wine bar? Fancypants cocktails? Da club? Order accordingly. Use common sense; don’t request a mojito in a wine bar or ask to taste the chardonnay in a bowling alley. Personally, my default is a Campari and soda because I know that all bars carry Campari and it’s refreshing and uncomplicated.

Pick a go-to and tuck it in your back pocket -- that doesn’t mean you always have to drink the same thing but if the bar is super busy, doesn’t have a big selection or you’re unsure of what to get, you can bust that out. Don’t be afraid to ask the bartender for advice but be specific.

“What should I get?” or “What’s good here?” are a waste of everyone’s time. Try, “Is there a white wine you can recommend?” or, “I really like tequila, can you suggest a drink that uses it?”

The recent “craft cocktail” movement seems to have confused the general public into thinking that all bartenders are mixologists and, as a result, we receive a myriad of strange, vague requests. Even those of us who do have some know-how aren’t capable or particularly willing to just invent a new drink on the spot for you.

“Can you make me something refreshing? With like, cucumber or something?” is not a drink order. If the place has a solid cocktail list, there’s no harm in asking but don’t expect every barkeep to be able to just pull something out of her ass.

3. No need to snob out because we don’t carry your favorite bourbon.

Instead of moaning about the absence of the obscure small batch gin that you had once in a bar in Portland, utilize our professional opinion and pick something else. Most bartenders know our stuff and are happy to suggest something. Don’t try to stage a booze-connoisseur pissing contest with us just because you visited a distillery once or went to a few wine tastings. We know more than you do about the sauce because, well, it’s our job to.

4. If you get carded, please don’t give us a hard time.

Verifying that everyone is of age is a non-negotiable part of our job. Giving us crap about it will get you nowhere but kicked out. Also, could y’all stop with that tired old “I’m so flattered” game when a bartender asks to see your ID? Important academic studies at super smart places show that “I’m so flattered” is employed primarily by people between the ages of 21-28. Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up! Someday, nobody will ever card you and that’ll suck. Trust me.

5. Cool it with the pet names.

I’m already waiting on you, there’s no need to degrade me further with a “honey” or “sweetie.”

6. Don’t get wasted.

Learn your limit. If you’re that girl who starts crying as soon as the fourth Sauvignon Blanc hits your blood steam, just have three. Or, if heavy drinking turns you into an argumentative rage monster, how about you scale it back a few? Many of us cut our drinking teeth on slamming shots and chugging keg beer, as our culture of excess treats power drinking like a sport.

A celebratory shot here and there is fun but know this: Pounding drinks is the onramp to Blackout Highway, a hangover/shame spiral aftermath and eventually the possibility of alcoholism. Drinking is a privilege that should be treated with respect. Besides, alcohol truly tastes best when sipped.

7. Keep your paws off our stuff.

There are sharp objects and tons of glassware behind the bar, so your hands should stay on your own side! This applies especially to condiments. Don’t ever help yourself to fruit, olives or cherries. It’s true that bartenders reach in there with our bare hands but we wash those hands compulsively and consciously avoid touching our hair or face. I head straight to the sink after every high-five or fist bump.

You, on the other hand, just came back from having a cigarette. Do not touch. Period.

8. Tip!

Every drink or food item we serve you should be rewarded with a tip. This includes water. Contrary to popular belief, bartenders don’t actually hate people who opt to drink water instead of alcohol -- just the ones who take up valuable real estate and don’t tip. Just because it didn’t cost you anything doesn’t mean it took any less effort on my part to get your water than say, pouring a glass of wine.

As far as the amount goes, the standard “dollar a drink” is fine but when you’re ordering complicated cocktails that require a lot of time and effort, bump it up accordingly. If you’re eating a full meal at the bar, 20% is the norm just as if you were dining at a table. While we certainly also appreciate kind words and compliments, if you really think we’re so great, put your money where your mouth is.

9. The first rule of getting a free drink is: You do not ask for a free drink.

On your birthday, it’s your friends’ job to buy you drinks, not mine. If you’re lucky enough to get one, tip on it. We don’t just give stuff away because we’re nice; it’s to increase our income or show appreciation for someone who has been loyal or generous. Even if we’re pals, you should always, always tip on a free drink.

10. Just be nice, OK?

The bartender is your friend. Most of us really like people and approach you with the best of intentions. We’re chock full of random information, give great advice and stellar first-date assessments. We make time to ooh and ahh over pictures of your dog, listen to your stories and keep a mental Rolodex of what you like to drink. All we really ask for in return is a few bucks and some respect.