You’re in a bar, which is one of the great experiences and privileges of being an adult, so you need to behave like an adult. To those who work in them, bars are sacred places. I’ve been tending bar in various places around the Bay Area for more than ten years, so I know what I’m talking about.
I’ve seen some bad behavior, and I’ve seen some angels. It all boils down to this: the more awesomeness you radiate, the more your bartender will like you. When your bartender likes you, you get service faster, you get the inside scoop on any fun new product coming in the door, and you might get a free taste or drink once in a while. However, building that relationship takes work, so follow the instructions below to know what not to say to us bartenders and you’ll be a star regular in no time.
“Can you make my drink really strong?”
Sure, if you want to pay for a double. If it’s a more complicated cocktail, then no—the ratios are the way they are because it’s what makes the drink taste good. Then again, if you’re asking for a martini or a Manhattan, it’s already 100% booze so it’s not going to get any stronger.
“Can I have a martini?”
There are a lot of modifiers involved in making a martini. If you want one, that’s great. But before you order one, ask yourself the following questions. Do you want gin or vodka? What brand of gin/vodka? Up or on the rocks? Dry? Dirty? Perfect? Olives? Onions? Lemon twist? Default for a martini is stirred because there’s no citrus added, but make sure to specify if you want to be like James Bond and get yours shaken, keeping in mind, that it’ll be one watered-down cocktail. Similarly, don’t walk up to the bar and say, “I’ll have a beer.” You’ll need to narrow it down a bit, unless you’re at some strange bar that has only one kind of beer.
I have a name. If you know it, use it. If not, don’t use a pet name to get my attention. That’s really really bad. Even “Hey Bartender” works better than that. Better yet, just make eye contact and smile. After that, any good bartender will get to you when it’s your turn. And yes, there is a line. Even if you can’t see it, I can.
Whistling or snapping
This immediately makes you invisible to a bartender—and frankly should make you invisible to any reasonable human being you did that to ever. I’m not a dog. Repeated violations of the no whistling or snapping rule will result in getting you hauled out of the bar by my 6’4″ door guy whose shoulders are wider than you are tall. Seriously. Don’t do it.
“Can I get a free drink?”
No. However, most bartenders at good bars do have some sort of buy-back policy or discretionary free drink fund for each shift. Be nice to your bartender. Be friendly. Be respectful. And if you don’t actually ask for a free drink, well, one might still come your way; eventually.
“I’m Yelp Elite, so…”
Congratulations. You have too much free time and think the internet cares about your opinions. You’re still not getting a free drink.
“Can you just make me something off-menu? Whatever you want to make.”
What I want to make right now might be half a pint of shitty well vodka at room temperature with a pickle in it. Seriously, though, any bartender worth his salt is going to be happy to make you something delicious that you’ll love—you have to be specific about what you want. For example, my favorite cocktail to request of a good bartender (on a slow night, of course) is a spirit-forward, overproof rye cocktail that tastes like Christmas. I always end up with something warming, spicy, and very slightly sweet. If you want to order a bespoke cocktail and make sure to get what you want, specify your base spirit and then follow up with some solid adjectives—sweet, herbal, floral, fruity, tart, light—to give the bartender an idea of what you’re looking for.
“I’m a great tipper.”
If you’re saying that out loud to someone in the service industry, you probably aren’t. Also, you’re breaking the unwritten contract whereby everyone knows not to talk about tipping. You just do it, I take it away and say thank you, and unless it’s a large enough amount that I’m concerned you made a mistake, we will not be discussing it again. Of course, if you’re looking to become a regular and want to skip to the head of that line when it’s a busy night, a really good tactic to take to make that happen is taking good care of your barkeep.
“Can you recommend a blue drink for me?“
No. I absolutely cannot.
“Is this your real job?”
Let’s start with, yes, this is a real job. And it is also my real job. While it may seem all throwing back shots and meeting cool people—and sure, there are days when bartending barely feels like a job, and those are great days—there are also the other days.
The Friday night where the guys out for someone’s 22nd birthday get the birthday boy so wasted that he pukes on a table in the corner, which they cover with newspapers and rush out quickly without telling anyone. The Tuesday evening where for some reason, only your three most irritating regulars decided to come in and they’re alternating between pounding $2 High Lifes and arguing politics and they’re all getting increasingly offensive. The Saturday night when it’s three deep at the bar and you just can’t get out of the weeds because for some reason everyone wants a damn ramos gin fizz and your arms might fall off from all the dry shaking you’re doing.
So yes, it’s work. Real work. Tiring work. Just standing and smiling and being polite for a 10-hour shift doing anything whatsoever (teachers and nurses, I’m lookin’ at you) is tiring. And yes, sometimes we can drink on the job. Think about it as a different kind of perk, like your health benefits and retirement plan.