Mixed manners: Bone up on your bar etiquette


File photo. File photo.

I don’t care if you’re at a speakeasy, a restaurant bar, or a dive—there are unspoken rules of conduct to which one adheres when you belly up to the bar. Many of them can change with the type of joint you’re hanging in for the night, but all have basic codes that are very much appreciated. A recent article in the New York Post had me hot for a few days—and not in a good way. The author said that, as servers and bartenders, we are basically servants. This could not be more untrue. Yes, we serve. Yes, we make your nights magical. Yes, we provide an escape from the normalcy of the day. But we do all of these things because we like you.

The article had me thinking about how, as a bartender, I not only serve, but I might also make or break the difference between a mediocre and amazing night for you and your friends. But it’s a two-way street. Just as you hate having to wait too long to be served, I have a few grievances of my own. Here are some points of etiquette that can make both of our nights more enjoyable.

Make eye contact. Waving money in my face on a busy night isn’t the best way to get my attention. If you don’t walk into a barbershop and wave money in the barber’s face, logic follows that this will not work at the bar either. Let me acknowledge you with my eyes, and know that if we’ve made eye contact, I’ll be with you shortly. If it’s really busy, it means I’m working to make sure that every single person is taken care of and everyone is equal. I want everyone to have a blast and a drink.

Learn my name. Especially if you’ve started a tab, as soon as I get you your first drink, I’m working on memorizing your first or last name. Take the time to learn mine. It’s Nick-—not Yo, Fella, Barkeep, or Dude.

Start a tab. Multiple runs on the same credit card make no sense. If you know that you’re going to be at the bar for multiple drinks, do everyone a favor and start a tab. Even with the most advanced data systems, it still takes time to process a card. Add up all those minutes and you’ve just wasted a lot of time when I could have been serving you and your friends.

Buy in bulk. If you’re in a large group, buy rounds. It makes everything go more smoothly on a busy night.

Don’t get sloppy. Are you supposed to have a drunk customer at the bar? Not really. Does it happen? Yes, from time to time. I want to see you again, but not making out on the bar.

Accept help. I don’t have to tell you not to do something stupid like drink and drive, but if you have had a few too many and I offer to call you a cab, take me up on it. Purely from a customer retention standpoint, I’d like to see you get home safely so you can come visit me again. Your wellbeing, believe it or not, is always on my mind.

Praise me. If you’ve had a great night, let me know. I love hearing that you had a good time and it helps me know when I’m doing something right.

Have fun and be courteous. I’ll be waiting for ya on my side of the bar.

  • tippy

    and people, TIP for the love of god. if you’re too poor to tip, you’re too poor to be in a bar drinking.

    those of us behind the bar know who you are – we see your credit card slips, we watch you put your change in your pocket.

    leave a friggin’ tip – at least 15%, 20% is better.

    • Twenty Percenter

      Well, maybe. The tipping system is broken.
      Just b/c someone buys a more expensive item doesn’t mean the service commensurate with the item earns the server the 20% tip. Of course, we all do it. We don’t want to be jerks, but a tab vs its service are two separate things.

      • Shame on CNN

        You’re wrong. Delivering a $20 drink is a more valuable service than delivering a $3 drink, just as delivering ANYTHING of more value is inherently a more valuable service than delivering something of less value. To think otherwise is the height of obtusion.

        Bottom line remains: Don’t buy the more expensive item if you aren’t willing to tip.

      • Shame on CNN

        According to 20%er, mixing a cocktail and serving it is the same as slapping a can of PBR down in front of someone. I have a feeling this is the guy that wants separate checks for his 10 person crew of frat boys…

  • Pelagius

    I work in a bar and so tips are an important part of my income. However, I don’t think it is my customers’ job to pay me a living wage, it is the employer’s. That tips are so important in making enough money is a real shame on the employers.

    • Shame on CNN

      Ultimately it’s a meaningless distinction. The employer only gets money from one place: the customer. Either way, the money comes out of the customer’s pocket. The employer could put a surcharge on every bill and pay that to the staff, but that money still comes from the customers…

  • laughnotcry

    News flash, you are a servant… by definition and this article makes me think you are not a happy one. I guess the years of loving yourself while dreaming about the movie “cocktail” didn’t end in the glorious conclusion that you anticipated but it’s the life you chose and to whine about it under the guise of a social service educating the masses in the proper bar edicate, I.e. how you would like your nights to go better, is transparent. Don’t like drunk people yelling at you to bring them drinks, stop working at a bar, clue phone, it’s for you.

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