You step into a crowded bar after a long, grueling day. You’re meeting friends for drinks, but you’re the first to arrive (as usual). Elbowing your way past groups of noisy patrons, you try in vain to get the bartender’s attention so you can order your favorite libation and finally take a minute to relax. It takes forever for the bartender to notice you, and when you do finally manage to make eye contact, he walks right past. What are you doing wrong?
It turns out there are some tricks of the trade that bartenders wish customers knew. We talked to a few real life bartenders to find out the mistakes you’ve been making when ordering drinks, along with a few little known facts to help you get better service while you’re out and about on the bar scene.
1. Being obnoxious will get you nowhere
“Snapping, whistling, waving your money around like a flag … it’s all bad form,” says Cristin, a former bartender from Pennsylvania. Instead, she recommends making eye contact and smiling, or better yet, learning your bartender’s name and using it. A little bit of human decency goes a long way toward good service.
2. That $1 tip may not be enough
The rule used to be a $1 tip per drink — but when you’re buying $15 cocktails, that’s probably not enough. Instead, treat your bartender well and try to tip 15-20% on each drink, especially if you plan on hanging out for a while. And don’t be surprised if you get quicker service and stronger drinks when you hand out better tips (duh).
3. Telling them how to do their job will get you nowhere
“Asking me to ‘make it strong’ is a great way to make sure you never get a good drink again,” advises Mike, a former bartender at a private social club. If you want a strong drink, order a double — or better yet, be courteous to the bartender, smile, and tip well. A little kindness is all it takes to get that perfect drink you’re seeking.
4. Nicknames can be really condescending
Bro, chief, sweetheart, cupcake, champ, doll face, hombre, dude … the list goes on, and they’re all terrible. Just stop it.
5. Asking for free drinks means you definitely won’t get any
Many bars have built-in comp tabs for free drinks, but those are all used at a bar’s discretion. Blatantly requesting free drinks is a good way to guarantee you won’t get one. Being nice? That’s usually the quickest way to get an unexpected surprise, like an extra shot or even something for free.
6. Garnishes are not meant to be a meal
There’s a good chance those garnishes have been sitting out for several hours at the very least — so don’t use them as a makeshift snack. Requesting an extra slice of lime is no big thing, but loading up on cordial cherries and oranges to make your own mini fruit salad is just gross. If you’re hungry, order food from the kitchen or carry a granola bar in your purse.
7. Hitting on the bartenders makes you look sleazy
If you’re looking for love, go for the other patrons, not the person trying to do their job. “There’s nothing worse than being aggressively pursued by drunk customers,” says Katie, a former bartender. No matter how much liquid courage you manage to muster, leave the bartenders out of it.
8. Know the right way to ask for drink recommendations
It’s OK to ask for advice on what to order, but at least have a vague idea of what types of drinks you normally enjoy. “I can’t tell you how many people ask for something fruity, but not sweet. What does that even mean?” says Katie. Matt agrees, saying “Don’t ask me what I like drinking. I might have totally different taste than you. Tell me your favorite drink and I’ll make a suggestion based on that.”
9. Complaining about steep drink prices is pointless … and annoying
If the person you’re speaking to is making the drinks, chances are he or she isn’t the owner and therefore isn’t the one in charge of setting the prices. Complaints will get you nowhere, so just pay your tab and move on. If you want a cheaper drink, try the dive bar down the street.
10. Pay in cash if you’re only staying for one drink
Credit cards are great for tabs, but if you just plan to have one quick drink, stick to cash if you can. It’s faster and easier for everyone.
11. Keep your tab open if you’re sticking around all night
If you plan on paying with a card and staying in one place for a few hours, don’t hand the card over each time for a fresh swipe. Bars lose money from credit card fees, which leads to higher drink prices for you in the long run. Start a tab even if you only plan on having two.
12. Order your drinks all at once, not one at a time
“Nothing bothers me more than when I bring back the drink you ordered and you ask for another,” says Katie, “Just tell me everything you need at once. I can handle it.” Remember, good bartenders know what they’re doing, and they can certainly remember three drinks at a time. Give them a little credit.
13. The blender probably isn’t broken
“I’ve totally lied and said the blender was broken to avoid making obnoxious drinks,” says Abby. If you absolutely must get that blended drink with 14 ingredients, be sure to do it early in the evening and not five minutes before last call when the blenders are already cleaned and sanitized for the night.
14. Avoid ordering made up drinks you saw on the internet
Sure, you may have read a great recipe for something called Wild Jungle Monkey Slapping the Banana, but that doesn’t mean it actually exists in most bars. When it’s busy, stick to the basics or ask for a drink made with a specific alcohol or liqueur that you know you like.
15. Your bartender is not your therapist
You might feel a kinship with the person pouring your Mai Tais, but at the end of the day, they’re just a person trying to get through their workday. Don’t sit there talking their ear off about relationship problems, and never ask them to settle an argument between you and your significant other.
16. It’s always better to ask for what you need instead of helping yourself
Leaning across the bar to help yourself to garnishes and napkins is just rude. Have a little patience and wait until you get the bartender’s attention, then ask nicely for whatever you need.
17. Don’t try to order a round of drinks after last call
The rules apply to everyone — even you. Don’t be a jerk.
18. If you get cut off, accept gracefully and leave (in an Uber or a cab)
“I have the cops on speed dial, and I’m not afraid to call them,” warns Matt, a current bartender. “I see so many guys who come in the next day and don’t even realize how drunk they were the night before.”
Bottom line: The bartender is the professional, and they’ve seen it all. When they say you’ve had enough, take the hint and go home.
19. Good manners are your best asset
They say that on a first date, you should pay attention to how the other person treats the servers because that’s a true indication of character. It’s so true! Make eye contact with your bartender. Say please and thank you. Smile. Tip well. These are the social basics you learned in kindergarten, but they still hold true whether you’re 5 or 35. And if you do follow all the rules and treat your bartender like the human being they are, don’t be surprised if you’re rewarded with a free drink or appetizer. After all, what goes around comes around.