Dear Ask a Bartender: I recently got a cocktail at a bar that was just plain bad. I drank it anyway, because I didn’t want to upset the bartender. How should I go about telling the bartender that I didn’t like my drink without making her angry?—Mike, Boston
Haven’t we all run into this situation? Whether it’s your painfully sweet cocktail, a bottle of wine that has turned to vinegar or an overcooked steak, everyone has had a less than satisfactory experience with something they’ve been served at a restaurant or bar. In this case, ignore your mother’s nagging, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” adage in the back of your head. By telling your bartender that you don’t like your cocktail, you’re actually doing precisely what they want you to do.
In case you didn’t know, your bartenders and servers want you to have the best experience possible every time you walk into their establishment. They want you to come back, again and again, and spend money and build relationships with folks there and tell everyone you know about how awesome they and their places of business are. Unlike, say, Comcast, they want your customer experience to be seriously excellent (and when YOU want it to be excellent, not in some window between 9 am and 4 pm two weeks from Tuesday if you’re lucky).
Basically, if you have a bad drink or bottle of wine or steak, be direct and polite. Politely tell your bartender (again, serious emphasis on politely) what you dislike or what’s wrong, and undoubtedly they’ll be happy to fix it for you. For example, you could say, “Thanks for the cocktail. I’m just finding that it’s a little too sweet for my taste. Could you adjust it for me?” Or, “You know, I think this wine may have turned. Do you have a suggestion for something similar?” Or, “I’m so sorry this happened to such a lovely piece of meat, but I ordered this steak medium rare and it’s definitely well done.” Polite, specific, and to the point.
Of course, if you’re ordering your steaks well done to begin with, you deserve that sad, charred hockey puck in front of you.
In any of these cases, the answer should be a cheerful, “I’m so sorry that happened. Let me fix that for you!” If that’s not the case, and you receive any kind of snark or pushback, ask to see a manager. They’ll be happy to know that their employees need a little more training in the customer service arena.
Keep in mind that this advice is for a normal, reasonable night, even if it’s a little busy. But for special occasions—Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, local sports team playoffs, etc.? Well, just let that one go, given that it was your mistake to decide to go out in the first place.
I know we’re all taught as kids to avoid conflict and be nice. But seriously, the nicest thing you can do in this particular situation is give the server or bartender the ability to right the wrong. They’ll be happy you did, and will look forward to seeing you—and your perfectly medium rare steak-—the next time.