This was written for a newspaper in a college town…
OK, everyone…most of you are college students or freshly cast away from the glorified freedom that student life provides. At this point, whether you’re 21 or not, you have probably been going to bars for a few years. I’ve bartended a long time, and I’ve been going to clubs and bars for more years than I care to reveal. If I wasn’t working in one, I was bringing one to its knees…or vice versa as was often the case. The point is I know bar etiquette, and although it may be hard to hear, these are points that you all need to read and practice.
1) NEVER ask a bartender to “hook you up”. That is a sure way to get a bartender to go out of their way to avoid you. Bartenders reserve the right and privilege to take care of any patron they deem worthy – within the boundaries of their own employment policies, of course. It’s one of our special powers, and asking for something outright puts your server in an awkward position. Most bars allow bartenders a certain amount of “comps” to pass on to customers, but the odds of you getting one of those comps go completely out the window when you ask for one. In bars whose owners don’t allow comps, you’re essentially asking someone who’s on 3 cameras at all times to risk their jobs for you. Your best bet is to be courteous, funny, and most of all generous with your tipping. Whether it happens on your current visit or another down the line, it will always come back to you.
2) If you want to be treated as a regular…be a regular. Bartenders love people knowing them as much as you love it when bartenders know you. If you have a favorite bartender, treat them well. Always seek them out. If you’re good to them, they will be good to you. It’s a simple concept. But pointing out the fact that ‘so and so’ is your favorite bartender in a crowd, or saying “you know I always come to you” to a bartender reeks of desperation. A “regular” is defined by the bartender. He or she knows their regulars…don’t constantly point it out. It makes you look like you want something in return.
3) The average bartender is of above average intelligence. We deal with shadowing multiple personalities in order to pull tips from every direction. We do this while screaming over loud music, recording multiple orders in our heads, doing semi-complicated math without calculators, and referencing mental lists of memorized prices, recipes and procedures. If you think you’re pulling something over on a bartender, you’re likely wrong. Writing “cash” in the tip line doesn’t allow you to get away with not tipping without consequences. We’re all street smart, and we remember faces.
4) When the bar is crowded, keep your eyes locked on your bartender. Discreetly hold a card, cash, or a finger up over the bar top enough for it to be obvious you need something, and most importantly, don’t yell for attention. We see you, and we will get to you. The more cool and casual you are in these situations, the more likely we are to take your order next. After you order, don’t turn your back and walk five feet away from the bar oblivious to your server. He or she doesn’t have time to throw ice at your back to get your attention.
4a) Just because we’re in front of you doesn’t mean we’re ready to hear your order. Keep your eyes on your bartender and wait until he/she looks or points at you.
5) There’s nothing wrong with asking a bartender to make you “their choice” of a shot or drink, but always give them a direction or don’t complain about what you get. When someone says to me, “make me your favorite shot!”, they better like Jack Daniels straight. If they don’t, it’s their own fault. I have a drinking problem.
6) Do your part in keeping things clean. When you do a shot, NEVER shoot it and put the shot cup upside down on the bar. This isn’t the bar contest scene from Indiana Jones. All that does is make a liquid mess. Be sensible.
7) NEVER say these phrases: “I’ll get you next time”, “I’ll hook you up, if you hook me up”, “I’m a big tipper”. 99.9% of the time people that say these things don’t understand what they should mean. Hint: 10% of a check does not make you a high roller. Example: I had a guy bug me all night about how I was his new go-to bartender and got a lot of “do me right” and “I’ll make it worth your while”. It was annoying to no end. At the end of the night, after paying his $31 tab (which should have been $40) he slipped me four wadded up dollar bills in a James Bond-esque handshake transfer and said “put that in your pocket, don’t share it with the rest of these bartenders”. Thanks Jay-Z. It was all I could do not to put it “near” his pocket forcefully. I remember him. Good luck getting decent service from me again. The sad thing is he actually thought that was “hooking me up”.
8) This is mostly for the guys out there…It takes stones to leave your number on a credit card receipt for a bartender. I applaud your gumption. There’s also nothing wrong with doing it. The odds of ever being contacted are slim, but certainly possible. You have to take chances. But your odds dramatically decrease as the size of your stones increase when you leave your number but stiff your bartender. Good luck getting a text, high roller. ~Thanks for your contribution Laura Lazas~ Guys…feel free to leave her your number but just remember that she could kick my ass and yours at the same time if she chooses.
9) Understand the reason there is a minimum for credit cards. Every swipe costs the bar a fee. Establishing a limit is a bar owner’s policy and quite frankly makes a lot of sense. More important for this editorial is this: If you’re one of the people that run their card every time they buy a beer, bartenders will come to you last. The reason is simple: the amount of money we make depends on the amount of drinks we serve. If I’m running your card when I could be making a drink, I will smile to your face but internally regard you with disgust. Just speaking the truth.
10) Keep your nasty digits out of the fruit trays. I could go on and on about the unused handwashing sinks in the bathrooms, but I won’t. If you want a lemon, lime, or cherry, simply ask a bartender and they will hand you one.
11) Say please and thank you…this is a good one for life in general outside the bars. Wake up people. It’s sad I have to write that.
12) Ask your server’s name, and then address them by name if you plan on returning throughout the night. Life lesson.
13) Don’t be the girl who comes up to the bar and knows she’s good looking enough to get away with acting like she can’t find her wallet just long enough for a less than intelligent guy to buy her round. I’ll lose all respect for you, and any other individual of average intelligence in the immediate area will too.
14) Don’t hand us money before we ask for it. A bartender, especially in a high volume bar, goes through a very detailed procedure to maximize efficiency. You throw our flow off when you drop cash in our work space or hold it in our face. Trust me, we won’t forget to ask you for your money.
15) When you do hand us money, it shouldn’t look like several paper ping-pong balls. Come on people. While we’re making drinks, you should be gathering your money (a good bartender will give you a total after you’ve ordered). It’s unacceptable to ask someone who makes money based on drink turnover to un-wad your pocket cash. Pull it out of your pockets, straighten it up, and have it ready to hand to your bartender when they ask for it. It’s also unacceptable to start looking for your money once the bartender is standing there with nothing left to do. Especially if your going to count out the total to the exact penny – a problem that is beyond being corrected with a simple etiquette list.
16) If you’re with a group doing a round of shots, don’t order them one at a time. Reference the earlier point that bartenders are of above average intelligence. It doesn’t matter that you are all going to pay separate, we can handle that. Shots are mixed together using counts of liquor and mixers. It’s much faster to make three together than one at a time. When you’re at a restaurant splitting the checks individually, the waiter doesn’t take one person’s order, run it to the kitchen, wait for it to be made, and then serve it all before taking the second person’s order.
17) Don’t ask us to make something strong. There isn’t a bar in the world whose drink potency is determined by how the customer feels…unless you want it weak, of course. This practice is widely looked at as a nuisance and it’s a good way to get bartenders to ignore you. Each bar has a standard pour (1.25, 1.5, or 1.75 ounces in most cases). Bartender’s are taught counts based on these amounts. They are set for the bar to control its profit margin. If you want to pay for a double, great. No problem. Any request to be treated differently goes back to the earlier point that asking for something usually guarantees you won’t get it. Bartenders regulate who they might want to “long” pour, and it’s based solely on your tipping reputation. The fact that it’s your birthday, that you have two ex-girlfriends in the building, or even that you’re pretty has no bearing on the issue. The “pretty” one is your best bet though.
18) Back to shots…In a group, try to agree on one like shot instead of ordering different single shots for each individual. This is another time-consuming hurdle a bartender has to go through. Technically, you’re not doing anything wrong, but think of this practice being subject to an inconvenience tax. We’ll be more than happy to do it as long as you acknowledge the inconvenience and tip well for the trouble. Thanks for that contribution Jessica Trainham, Bartender to the Stars.
19) If you knock a drink or shot over after we’ve put it down in front of you, don’t look at us like we owe you another one. We may make you another one, again, based on your bar reputation, but don’t give us that look like you’ve somehow been cheated.
20) “Light ice” doesn’t mean you’re getting more liquor, it means you’re getting more mixer. The count stays the same, it’s as simple as that.
21) Don’t split shots multiple ways. Some of you may not be familiar with this, and if that’s the case, please don’t become familiar. Basically it happens with a group of people who want to have four shots with something in it for their four friends but only have to pay for two. This is an example. It can be eight shots twenty ways if they choose for it to be. That’s the problem…there’s no stopping it. Each person will be getting a millimeter of liquid. Somebody in the state of South Carolina made the devastating mistake of allowing this once, and now it is common practice there. A nightmare for bartenders. I’m talking to you Clemson! It’s too late for them, but you can help prevent the spread of the epidemic.
22) If you’re trying to impress girls by buying a bunch of shots, don’t ask us what the cheapest shot is. Basically, don’t ever, under any circumstances, order a Kamikaze when you’re trying to appear all grown up. This is more of a “Being Attractive To The Opposite Sex Etiquette” point, but bar related. I always shake my head when guys do that. Why don’t you have the girls line up in front of me and I’ll pour sour mix and lime juice directly into their mouths?
23) Don’t place all your personal belongings in our workspace. Every night I bartend I have girls approach my station and proceed to dump their entire personal inventory, which is shocking, onto my bar mat. Purses, sunglasses, keys, phones – it never ends. Usually when they turn their heads I take the items and stash them behind the bar allowing them to panic just the right amount of time to teach them not to do it again.
24) Don’t fight us when we ask to see a hand stamp or your ID. This is a college town problem. Look at this as a complement. Someday you’ll see it that way. Along with this belongs a personal pet peeve of mine: Don’t comment on how old you feel and how you don’t know anyone in this bar anymore where you were once a regular. I hate this because usually they’ve only been gone a few months.
Let’s make this an even 25…
25) Here’s a thought…Tip at the beginning of the night. An odd concept, sure. But think about it. If you’re familiar enough with the bar to know that your service will be at the very least adequate, why not make the bartender aware of who you are by speaking without words in the only language he/she responds to? Here’s an example: Assume you’re an average-to-good tipper (15-20%), and you know you’ll be spending $100 at the bar tonight. You’re already on the hook for $15-$20 in gratuity. What good does it do you to give a bartender this money on your way out the door? If you hand me $20 with a credit card and say, “let me start a tab, put the cash in the tip jar”, you can rest assured that I will do four things: 1) Immediately point you out to any other bartenders so they know you’re generous, 2) Pay special attention to you when you’re anywhere near the bar making sure you’re never without a drink, 3) Throw you any extra shots or drinks that are made with no other destination but the trash can without charging you, and 4) Never short pour you. Wouldn’t that be worth the $20 you were going to pay me at the end of the night anyway? All the opportunity for these things happens before I know whether or not you’re a good tipper. Why would I give you special treatment? Actions such as these give you future bar clout as well.
Now, go…start working tonight on your brand new bar reputation. It’s a new year and I’ll give everyone a clean slate. Massage your reputation in bars across town, and before you know it, you’ll be the “regular” that everyone wants to see coming.