Special Report

18 Things You Should Never Do at a Bar

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If you like to go out and have a good time, the bartender is your friend – even, these days, if your choice of beverage is non-alcoholic, as more and more establishments offer delicious, innovative booze-free options. (Here’s a list of the best bar in every state.)

Bartenders are many things: servers, obviously, but also artisans (some of the more pretentious ones even style themselves “cocktail chefs”), listeners (with varying degrees of sincerity), and advisors – sometimes on life itself, but certainly on what to drink.

A recent edition of the Global Bartender Report published by CGA, an international data and consultancy firm for the on-premise food and beverage industry, reveals that one out of every six customers is “influenced by bartender recommendations when choosing which category to order from in venues.” In addition, “the proportion of consumers who are open to bartender influence increases among specific drink categories…[and] 23% of cocktail drinkers ask bar staff for recommendations every time or almost every time they’re ordering the category.”

Many bartenders also watch out for their patrons. They’ll call an Uber for somebody who’s had one too many. They’ll sometimes be able to defuse potential arguments or fights with practiced diplomacy. They’ll keep an eye on young drinkers who maybe don’t know their limit and might be prey to thieves or sexual predators. 

They might be short with you if they’re slammed, and some are just naturally more gregarious and amiable than others, but basically bartenders are good people. As Craig Finn sings in his song “Bathtub in the Kitchen,” “Francis always said, ‘You gotta befriend the bartenders’ / Told me to tip really big on the opening round.”

With that in mind, based on years of personal observation as bar customers, 24/7 Tempo editors have assembled a list of 18 things you should never do at a bar – most of them having to do with maintaining a cordial relationship with the bartender. (As a parallel, these are 21 things you should never order in a restaurant.)

Most of these are just common sense or plain good manners – but unfortunately, along with its undeniably pleasant effects, one of the problems with alcohol is that it sometimes tends to make people forget, or stop caring about, the common niceties. With that in mind, although the list that follows is full of specifics, it all mostly comes down to just one simple rule: When you’re out at a bar, don’t be a jerk.

Skimp on the tip

Bartenders work hard, and make their income mostly from gratuities. Be generous, and tip 20% or more on the amount you spend, whether it’s just one drink or an evening’s worth of carousing. (If you experience genuinely bad service – not just delays due to a rush of customers – you can always complain to the management. That’s a more efficient tactic than not tipping – a gesture whose meaning will likely be lost on a bad bartender anyway.)

 

Shout or snap your fingers at the bartender

The bartender sees you. There are probably just a few dozen other people who got seen first. Snapping your fingers or yelling to the bartender (waving money in the air is even worse) isn’t just rude – it’s almost guaranteed to put you at the back of the line.

 

Hit on the bartender

Bars are often staffed by young, attractive people, and the good ones make every customer feel special, and may grace you with flirtatious smiles and (if there’s a slow moment) a little conversation. That doesn’t mean they want to go home with you. Really. Trust us on this.

Tell the bartender to “surprise me”

While some bartenders might relish the challenge of improvising a cocktail for a willing customer, most of them are too busy making regular drinks to stop in the middle of it all and get creative.

 

Change your drink order after the first few seconds

A good bartender at a busy bar often starts making your drink within seconds of your order. Unless you can beat them to the punch, don’t change your mind – “Um, actually, I think I’d like a Cosmo instead of a Margarita” – once you’ve made your choice.

Eat the bar snacks

Really fancy bars might offer you a small serving of nuts, wasabi peas, or suchlike, and that’s probably fine. But a communal bowl of pretzels or peanuts – rarer in these post-pandemic times than they used to be but still around sometimes – that who knows how many others have dug their who-knows-how-clean fingers into? No thanks.

Ask for a free round

If you’re nice and have bought a few drinks, or if you’re a regular, bartenders will sometimes offer you one on the house (either with or without the house’s approval). That’s great – but the bartender doesn’t “owe” you a free one.

Ask the bartender to make your drink stronger

Most bars have standard measures for the alcohol in their drinks, or at least a bartender who knows how a drink should taste. If you ask for more booze, expect the answer “Oh, you wanted a double?” and be prepared to pay for it.

Insult the bartending profession

Bartending is a part-time job for many people, but increasingly it’s becoming a full-time profession. Either way, there’s nothing demeaning about it, so don’t ask “What’s your real job?” or say “How come a [writer, teacher, etc.] like you is working here?”

 

Order a complicated drink at a crowded bar

This one’s obvious. Many bars now offer multi-faceted signature cocktails, and those are fine to order because the bar probably has the makings already set up. But ordering a drink that takes multiple kinds of liquor (like a Long Island Iced Tea) or that requires extra steps (like muddling the mint for a Mojito or Mint Julep) is just thoughtless – to the bartender and to the other customers – if the house is crowded.

Ask to change in ingredient in a house specialty

Speaking of those signature cocktails, someone has taken the trouble to invent an unusual potion, probably putting as much thought into the recipe as the chef does with his creations, so think twice before you say “Could I have that with vodka instead of mezcal?”

Talk about religion, politics, or race

This is a good rule just about anywhere outside your living room. Engaging the bartender or those around you – even if they’re your friends – on these potentially incendiary topics will rarely end well (especially if your tongue has been loosened by a drink or two). There’s a whole world of other topics to talk about out there. Sports are always good. How about them Yankees?

Hit on another customer who isn’t receptive

Okay, people often go to bars to meet other people and maybe to hook up, and flirtation is fun – but if it becomes pretty clear that the object of your intentions isn’t interested, don’t be a creep.

Make out with your date (or a willing stranger)

There’s a time and a place for everything, and a bar full of people isn’t the appropriate spot for enthusiastic foreplay. Get the proverbial room.

Get overly familiar with the bartender

He’s not your “pal,” “buddy,” or “amigo.” She’s not your “honey,” “babe,” or “sweetie.”

Ask to transfer your bar tab to your table

Pay up before you head into the dinner room for dinner – and don’t forget to tip. It may be more convenient for you to just pay one check for the evening, but the bartender will have worked for you for nothing if you do. (In some restaurants, especially on the high end, it’s actually policy to transfer the bar tab; if that’s the case, give the bartender some cash before you decamp, as tips on a food check rarely migrate bar-ward.)

Stand in the service area

We get it. The bar is three or four drinkers deep, and there’s that nice place of nearly vacant real estate down at the end – the one where the servers come to pick up drinks. Stay away. Blocking the service area is like double-parking on a narrow street, and it won’t win you any friends with the bar staff.

Linger on the barstool for too long over one drink

You’ve been lucky enough to find a place to sit and have enjoyed your drink – but you don’t want to give up your perch, so you’re nursing it in tiny sips, maybe asking for a glass of water on the side. Meanwhile, the room is filling up with folks who’d like a seat themselves. Don’t be selfish. It won’t kill you to stand for a while.

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