Portrayed on-screen, bartending often oscillates between scantily clad bartenders dancing atop counters and a solitary individual quietly polishing a glass while serving as the audience’s confidant. The reality, however, diverges significantly. Most bartenders are adept professionals committed to efficient service, with neither dancing nor counseling forming part of their job description. While patrons are likely aware of general etiquette, such as generous tipping and avoiding shared dislikes, specific “polite habits” in bars may not be as well-known.
Despite bartenders tolerating these missteps, like restaurant staff, they find such behaviors less than enjoyable, significantly as it hampers their ability to perform their duties seamlessly. Whether in a dive bar, upscale hotel lounge, or cruise ship bar, understanding what to avoid and adopting alternative actions is essential for a harmonious bar experience.
Stuffing Trash Into Your Cup
“Now I have to stick my fingers inside the used glasses and fish out soggy napkins,” one person said that works on the Miami bar scene.
On busy nights, it makes sense to hand the bartender cash and let them close out the bill when they have a spare minute. But this isn’t as good an idea as you think it is.
Reaching Over or Behind the Bar
“Wrong. Always wrong,” says another bartender, “It’s already crowded back here, and we have things organized just so. Plus, if you put your dirty fingers into my fruit bin, I have to throw the whole thing out!”
As empty glasses accumulate, the bussing station is conveniently located behind the bar, or when you know the extra straws and lemons are just within reach, the temptation to swiftly grab what you need may arise. However, it’s essential to consider the bartender’s workload. While darting or reaching behind the bar might seem convenient, it’s more courteous to refrain. If your table requires clearing, signaling a server or busser is appropriate. Patience is critical when seeking something from the bar—waiting your turn and making a polite request ensures a smoother interaction.
Asking Them to “Surprise You” With a Drink
“When I first started, I used to ask a lot of questions, trying to help them narrow it down,” says one college bartender. “But now, I just joke, ‘Don’t worry, we took all the bad drinks off the menu already—you’re safe,’ and hopefully they’ll get the hint to just order something off our well-curated menu.”
“What’s good here?” or opting for the adventurous, “Just surprise me with something good!” might stem from good intentions, relying on the bartender’s expertise. However, alcohol tastes vary so widely that these phrases place the bartender in an awkward position of guessing your preferences. If seeking a recommendation, provide specifics about preferred liquor or flavors. Alternatively, if you genuinely desire a surprise, express that preference, but be ready to embrace whatever concoction is served without reservations or complaints. Clarity in your request ensures a more satisfying and stress-free experience for you and the bartender.
Keeping Things Simple Without a Menu
“People will come in and say, ‘Oh, I don’t need a menu—I’m not here for anything fancy,’ and then say, ‘What beers do you have?’ But that’s the point of the menu!” says another frustrated bartender. “We have 20 rotating beers on tap, and I don’t want to have to recite them every time.”
Streamlining the process for both you and the bartender is the benefit of bypassing the menu, provided you’re clear on your choice. When certainty prevails, and you’re confident about your selection, placing the order promptly is efficient. However, if uncertainty lingers, perusing the menu beforehand is advisable. Reviewing the menu before seeking clarification ensures a smoother interaction, allowing you to make informed inquiries and facilitating the bartender’s assistance with any questions you may have about the offerings.
Waving Money to Get the Bartender’s Attention
One bartender says, “It’s obviously rude in general to wave money in anyone’s face—or throw it, as I’ve seen that too.”
In the midst of a bustling atmosphere, when thirst strikes, brandishing your cash to catch the bartender’s eye may unintentionally come off as obnoxious and offensive. Similarly, resorting to physical contact, like touching or grabbing the bartender’s arm, is considered “rude and unacceptable.” Opting for a more respectful approach, a simple wave coupled with direct eye contact proves effective in getting prompt service. Even in noisy establishments, refraining from yelling for attention remains the recommended course for ensuring a smooth and courteous interaction with the bartender.
Itemizing and Splitting a Tab
“This is too complicated for us to sort out, especially during a rush,” says one member of the staff at a sports bar in Minneapolis.
Commencing a tab for an entire group by one individual is a common and considerate practice to streamline service for the bartender. However, settling the bill can become intricate. While requesting an equal split between two or three credit cards is acceptable, it’s advisable to avoid burdening the bartender with itemizing the check by drink. A smoother approach is to designate one person to close the tab, with others reimbursing them through apps like Venmo. Alternatively, if individual tab splits are anticipated, each person can initiate and manage their tab, ensuring a hassle-free settlement process.
Using Beverage Napkins to Clean up a Spill
One bartender from Austin. “Grabbing the entire stack of cocktail napkins off the bar and throwing it on a large puddle. I appreciate the help, but we have bar mops and rags for exactly this purpose, and those cocktail napkins are pricey.”
Accidents occur, and swiftly snagging a few napkins to address spills proves a wise course of action. Conversely, the less advisable approach involves shouldering the expense and inconvenience. Instead, signal any available server, busser, host, or bartender and articulate the spill scenario. Their prompt response ensures the proper deployment of cleaning supplies, efficiently resolving the issue without burdening you with unnecessary costs or frustrations. Seeking assistance from the designated staff members facilitates a smoother resolution to mishaps and upholds a more comfortable environment for all.
Asking Them Out on a Date
“We’re not into you, we’re not flirting with you, and we do not want to go home with you,” says one female West Coast bartender. “Being kind and nice is part of our job. That’s it.”
If the charming bartender offers a warm smile or a casual touch while returning your card, it may not necessarily signal romantic interest. It’s advisable to avoid questions about their off-duty hours or residence, as such inquiries can be perceived as intrusive and unsettling. This advice extends beyond bartenders; flight attendants, too, appreciate respectful boundaries. It’s essential not to presume that the bartender is flirting. Nevertheless, if you’re inclined to take a chance and create your meet-cute narrative, offering your number on a napkin and allowing them to decide is acceptable.
Not Bothering Them With Unrelated Issues
“If you see someone slip something into someone else’s drink, alert me or the other staff immediately,” says one bar manager at a hotel in Seattle.
It’s understandable to avoid burdening the bartender with additional matters amidst a crowded bar scene. However, there are certain situations where it’s essential to communicate with them, regardless of the bustling atmosphere. Besides drink-related matters, always consider it good etiquette to inform the bartender about first-aid issues, health emergencies, or if you require assistance for a safe journey home. In case of safety concerns, promptly convey the information to the bartender or another staff member. Prioritizing guests’ comfort and safety remains the overarching commitment, as emphasized by one bartender: “Guests’ comfort and safety is always our top priority.”
Grabbing Your Drink Before They Give It to You
“I take a lot of pride in creating custom cocktails that don’t just taste great but also look beautiful,” says one NY bartender, “I want the guest to have the full experience.”
While pouring a beer on tap involves minimal effort—just filling the glass—crafting a cocktail is a meticulous process akin to creating a work of art. This artistic endeavor extends to the final touches, including the addition of a garnish. Some patrons, however, mistakenly perceive the cocktail as complete once the liquid is poured. Despite good intentions, prematurely taking the drink, especially in a bustling bar, disrupts the experiential aspect and, more importantly, is considered impolite as it involves seizing something still within the bartender’s possession.
Handing Them a Wad of Cash
“Sometimes people will just hand me a ball of cash and be like, ‘This is for the bill—keep the rest for your tip,'” says a bartender from Portland, “And these are usually the people who end up stiffing us money.”
Handing the bartender cash and allowing them to settle the bill at their convenience might seem logical during bustling evenings. However, it’s not as foolproof as it appears. Even with honest intentions, miscalculations can easily occur when combining the bill and tip. To navigate this, hand the bartender cash, patiently await the tab closure after they’ve tallied the amount, and then extend a tip. It’s crucial to note that tipping practices vary based on location and the nature of the bar. While all-inclusive resorts may not necessitate tipping, it remains a thoughtful gesture in various settings.
Buying a Round of Drinks
“I love when someone volunteers, ‘I’m buying a round!'” says a bartender in the South. “But I cringe when they then turn around and say, ‘So, uh, what do you guys want?’ and I’m waiting 20 minutes for everyone to figure it out.”
Treating your friends to a round of drinks is a thoughtful and enjoyable gesture that the bartender gladly accommodates—provided you’re armed with everyone’s preferences. Instead, before heading to the bar, consult with your group to gather everyone’s drink choices. When you reach the bar, be ready to place a collective order for all. This streamlines the process and allows you to unwind and craft a fitting toast to honor your friends. It ensures a seamless and pleasant experience for both you and the bartender.
Life Story Tales
“Sometimes customers will sit and chat with me for my whole shift, insisting on keeping me company, telling me they don’t want me to get bored or even saying they’re protecting me from other people who might have bad intentions,” says one bartender. “But while I appreciate the thought, they’re rarely helpful, and they can make me miss out on tips.”
Bartenders are often perceived as warm and understanding individuals, and confiding in them might seem like a privilege. While it’s true they appreciate the company, the situation isn’t entirely straightforward. Firstly, it’s crucial to recognize that they aren’t therapists. Secondly, it’s essential to acknowledge that they’re on the clock! One bartender says, “During slow periods, I don’t mind a chat, but the reality is we’re there to fulfill our duties, often with a busy crowd to attend to.” So, be friendly and share a smile, but refrain from extended conversations when they’re occupied. If you’re seeking companionship, fellow patrons are always an option. You can explore these conversation starters to engage in light banter.
Cleaning up Broken Glass
“Drunk people should never be in charge of picking up broken glass,” says another bartender at a speakeasy in Manhattan.
Did you spill your drink? It happens—no need to fret. However, reconsider taking matters into your own hands by crouching to clean it up. This seemingly helpful act carries potential risks of self-injury or harm to others, posing both physical pain and a liability concern for the establishment. A more prudent approach is to promptly inform a staff member of the situation, allowing them to manage the cleanup. Equipped with the proper tools and expertise, the staff can address the spill swiftly and efficiently. Similarly, this practice aligns with restaurant servers’ preferences, which prefer handling such situations like their counterparts in clubs.
Asking Them to Do a Shot With You
“I get that you’re offering because you want to be nice and have me join in the party, but you’re on your own time, and I’m working,” says one bartender at a restaurant in Colorado. Adding, “If I did a shot with every customer who asked, I’d be drunk in the first hour [of my shift].”
She emphasizes that a rule in most bars prohibits bartenders from consuming alcohol during their shift, yet adherence to this rule is, in her experience, a coin toss. A prudent alternative, Miner suggests, is redirecting the money intended for a shot toward an increased tip. Alternatively, if you intend to buy a drink for the bartender, instruct them to add it to your tab, allowing the bartender the liberty to decide when to enjoy it post-shift. Insisting on a drink with every guest similarly aligns with the disliked polite habits among party hosts.
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Victoria Clarke is a passionate American author with a gift for bringing characters to life on the page. Born in the heart of New York City, she found her voice among the hum of daily life, weaving tales that resonate with the experiences of everyday people. From heartfelt family dramas to the intricate dynamics of modern relationships, Victoria has a knack for capturing the nuances of the human experience in her works.