Bar etiquette: the ultimate guide to ordering drinks

I set out a few weeks ago to discover the secrets to successfully getting served faster than every other Johnny McDouchebag in a crowded bar. While I did pick up a few tips, what I really learned is that bartenders hate almost all of us.

I have spent far more hours in a bar than any non-employee should, but I haven’t put in any time on the other side of the altar. Being friends with many a barkeep though, I fancy myself a pretty good patron. Simple things like giving good tips, treating workers like people, and not being demanding have always been staples of my stool-side manner. Apparently that isn’t the case for the majority of people though.

As punishment for all your wicked ways, you’ll be getting an etiquette lesson instead of the Konami Code to unlimited fast and free beverages. The truth is that there’s no way to ensure that you’re going to get great service, and getting hooked up is going to take a little luck or a Care Bear Stare. Stick to these techniques though and you will improve your odds of getting in good with the bartender.

Flagging the filler

Start by snapping your fingers at them. Nothing gets someone’s attention quite like snapping at them as if they were your moronic cat with an attention issue. For female bartenders, I recommend yelling “Hey, sugar-breasts!” Males, on the other hand, prefer to be called chief or boss. All of these terms are seen as a sign of respect in the industry.

If you happen to overhear one of the bartender’s names, be sure to yell it repeatedly as if you are friends. Bartenders love serving their friends and often times they will forget that you are actually a complete stranger and come to you first. If you can’t play the friend card, just remember that they are your servant for the evening, and should be treated as such.

If neither of these moves get their attention, just start yelling your order at one of the bartenders while they are filling someone else’s order. Technically that makes you next, regardless of what kind of rotation they are working with. Remember — it’s not cutting if you are the loudest.

Picking your poisons

Be sure to use the ordering process to try to impress your friends. Once you have the bartender’s attention, make each person feel important by individually asking what they want. Then be sure to relay the order to the bartender one drink at a time. They work in a bar, so it follows that they are certainly not intelligent. If you tell them your complete order at once, they will obviously just get confused. Also, much like when you are making sweet sweet love, eye contact should be avoided at all costs. You don’t want the girl making your drinks to think you respect her as a person.

While an empty wienertail lounge is a terrible place to talk to a bartender, a packed frat-fest is the ideal situation during which trust in the mixologist’s instincts. Just tell them you want a Jameson and assume they know what to do. If you are too specific (shot, rocks, twist of lemon, sweet ‘n’ low), then it’s your fault if the drink sucks. By not telling them what you actually want, you can then complain regardless of what shows up.

An extra insider tip for you: If you ask for a “strong one” or for less ice, you will automatically get more alcohol. Most bars don’t operate with revenue in mind, so you can easily cheat them out of an entire second drink’s worth of booze just because they want the glass to appear full. Don’t Stumble or Digg this too many times, because if the bars start to catch on the free ride will be over.

Tackling the tab

When your drink arrives, be sure not to thank them. No one thanks me for filling out my TPS reports, why would I thank them for just doing their job? They are getting paid and that should be all the gratitude they need. If they are ridiculously attractive, you can consider leaving a tip as an extra reward. Regardless of how much the tab was, the change should suffice. It doesn’t matter if it was $2.50 or $15.50; the leftover fifty cents is the appropriate tip.

One thing many people forget is that all bartenders are lazy. By not having your money out when your drinks arrive, you give them a chance to take a short break. Another great way to help out is by repeatedly paying with a credit card. Have them close it out each time you order a drink because it gives them an extra minute of just hanging out instead of serving other customers.

While there may not be a patron bill of rights on the wall, there are certainly unwritten rules that are common knowledge. The fruit/olive tray is on top of the bar because they want you to take your own. They have tons of those things, so go ahead and stick your disgusting fingers in there and take as many cherries as you want. And when it comes to beers on tap, be sure to ask what they have. Just because you are standing directly in front of all of them doesn’t me you should be required to read what they are.

Ignore these lies

Following my guidelines will surely gain you status as a regular after just one visit. Here are a few additional tips that actually came directly from bartenders themselves. I’m a bit skeptical about all of them though and think that the bartenders are just trying to screw with me. None of them seem to fit in line with what I have already outlined as the proper protocol.

  • Try to order from the same bartender all night. If you are tipping well, they will start hooking things up for you.
  • Do not ask, “What are your specials today?” when there’s a life-size “Today’s Specials” poster staring you in the face.
  • Put down the damn phone – will not serve.
  • Read An anonymous bartender spills... 10 tips to get better service.

If you have any tips and tricks to help enhance my blackout nights at the bar, feel free to leave them as a comment. I’m sure all the other degenerates reading this would appreciate the help as well. I’d also recommend keeping this article away from all your bartender friends. You don’t want them to know that you’ve learned how to game the system.

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  1. 13 years ago

    Damn, I think you nailed it Colin! I surely believe there will be a whole new appreciation for us small time drink slingers come welcome week this fall. If only I could Identify the owner of this fantastic earring i found outside the liquor room the other day!

  2. 13 years ago

    Hilarious…I own a bar and have worked in the industry for years. You nailed it. You brought back memories of some of my favorite patrons over the years with each technique. ( I love my job…for real though!)

  3. 13 years ago

    Now if only we could make this require reading for all patrons before they set foot in a bar!

  4. 12 years ago
    Don't Want to Get Jim Beamed

    Any advice or thoughts on dating a bartender? I just met one. I'm jealous. (Don't judge! I have many other wonderful qualities!) I have a day job. I spend all day at the office. I'm worried I'll never get to spend time with him. To be fair, he's not at all "the type." He's actually sort of quiet and mellow. I don't see him cheating on me, but isn't that what those guys are all about? Flirting and getting girls to hand over their numbers in exchange for better tips?

    • 12 years ago

      While high on cool factor, dating a bartender can be problematic. There're odd hours, attractive people, the widespread use of sex appeal to boost your dollar — and plenty of alcohol. Anything can happen. And often, it doesn't.

      Yeah, I realize. Not a typo. I used to work in a bar. A relatively cool one by Midwestern standards, with lots of young people. Yes, there's flirting. Yes, there are come-ons. Yes, there are customers offering to buy you shots. People are drinking, dancing, debauching and generally acting silly. All that's hot, right? [Insert loud Family Feud noise here.] Wrong. People act like idiots when they're imbibing. They think they're charming, funny and clever when actually they're really obnoxious. Even the ones who are trying really hard not to be.

      "That's okay. I know you never drink like this, Johnny Customer. You've already said it. Eight times. Yes, I'll clean up your chicken-wing remnants and broken Corona bottle. Yes, you're still a cool dude, dudebro. No, put away the Blackberry. Aaaand the Bluetooth. Yep. That's right. You don't have to apologize to my mother..." Now play out that same scene. Night after night. It gets really mundane after a while.

      My advice is to keep an open mind and remember that you're hotter and cooler than 99% of his clientele. It's just a job. A temporary one, probably. Don't stress before you need to. You can work anywhere and be a cheating butthole. Use the weird scheduling as an excuse to solidify your friend group or blast your pecs at the gym. I love me some night sweatin'. It's so much better when everyone's gone. Basically, anything you can do not to hang out at his workplace is the goal. Even if you say you're not there to visit him ("I'm not jealous! I just want to hang with my girls! In this particular bar! During the time he's working! Which happens to be right now!) you still come off like a bit of a loser.

      Don't be surprised if he doesn't want to hang out at the bar — his or others— in his off time. Sometimes it's hard to relax in that kind of environment for us bar/restaurant folk. I still find myself critiquing other people's technique and I'm over a decade out. Crack open a bottle of wine at home or go out with your friends if you need to have an ethanol-based beverage in your body.

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