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Ten Situations a Bartender Will Probably Encounter

Updated on January 27, 2022
The domain of the bartender
The domain of the bartender
Keep your finger on it
Keep your finger on it

#1 "I gave you a twenty."

We all make mistakes sometimes. If you hand someone the wrong change in error, it can make you feel like they think you tried to rob them. When you are making repeated transactions, particularly at busy times, it can be easy to forget the denomination of a note you were just given. And let us not forget that there are chisellers out there who will claim to have given you a note of a larger denomination than they actually did.

One way to be sure of giving the correct change at all times is to keep your finger on the note after you have put it into the till or register. You can then pull out the change with your free hand. It might also help if you say the denomination aloud just before you remove your finger and close the drawer. This way you know exactly where you are.

If a customer is adamant that they have been short-changed, it can be useful to make some sort of gesture towards any CCTV cameras that are present. A signal, such as a wave of the hand, will indicate to the operator that the last transaction is the one being disputed, and the footage can be scrutinized.

If a customer becomes angry or threatening, refer the matter to the manager.

Incidentally, there was one occasion when a customer said, quite pointedly, that he'd given me a twenty pound note and I'd only gave him change for a ten. As I had used the above system at the till, I knew that he had only given me a ten. This knowledge gave me the confidence to ask the customer if he was absolutely certain he'd given me a twenty, as I was positive he hadn't; there was no "are you sure" uncertainty from me. His accusing tone evaporated and he slunk silently over to where his friends were standing.

If music be the food of irritation. . .
If music be the food of irritation. . .

#2 "Turn that garbage off."

The development of the Internet jukebox has brought a whole cornucopia of musical styles into the barroom, some of which were too obscure for inclusion on the limited content machines of yore. From Scandinavian hard core thrash-metal to expletive-filled gangsta rap, the modern online jukebox offers a whole lot more than its hard copy counterpart from the days of vinyl and CDs.

People have very different tastes in music, and these differences are bound to be reflected in the music that is played via the jukebox, and for the most part, people are generally tolerant. But there are a few flies in the ointment.

If the bar is family-friendly, you should be prepared to eject songs that contain particularly harsh profanities. Dealing with one disgruntled customer who lost his music is better than facing a group of angry parents whose children have had their ears assaulted with expletives over Sunday lunch.

Generally though, you have to bear in mind that someone has paid money to hear music, and so they should be allowed to listen to it. Remind customers who ask you to skip a song they don’t like that they would not be very happy if someone asked to have their paid for music ejected. A compromise can sometimes be reached with use of the volume control.

#3 "I'm ash shober azza shudge."

It is against the law to serve someone with alcohol if they are in a state of inebriation. I have refused to serve customers on several occasions because they appeared to be extremely drunk. I might add at this point that if the turned away customer then gets a friend to buy alcohol for him, then that friend is committing the offence.

While the law may be clear cut on paper, it is a far greyer area in reality. Some people have huge capacity for alcohol, while others turn giddy at the sniff of a bottle top. Your eyes are your best guide here, as someone who has had too much to drink cannot usually hide that fact. Be polite, and if they become confrontational, remind them that CCTV is recording the entire exchange, and that your job could be on the line if you serve them.

Total guesswork
Total guesswork

#4 "Put a half in there."

Sometimes a customer will hand the bartender a pint glass, usually about a quarter full, and ask for a half-pint of beer to be poured straight into it. While this method of serving makes for one less glass to wash, I usually take the more cynical view that the customer is trying to gain a free mouthful of beer.

With measured pumps, a press of the button will deliver exactly half a pint, but these are rarely seen around here. Trying to pour half a pint into a pint glass which already contains an amount of beer is sheer guesswork, but the bartender will usually err on the side of caution, giving the customer more than was requested.

I worked in one bar where a regular customer pulled this trick all the time, sometimes offering up his glass with only a heeltap in the bottom. I learned that it took precisely eight seconds to pour a half-pint, and so I would count in my mind and he suddenly found himself receiving less generous measures. He wasn't too happy about this, so I gave him a demonstration. I poured beer into an empty pint glass, counting eight seconds in my mind, and I transferred this into a half-pint glass. I had got it pretty much bang on.

But all things aside, this practice is unseemly and unhygienic. If I put anything but a clean glass under my taps, I feel sullied.

Thinking of becoming a bartender?

#5 "Of course I'm old enough to buy alcohol."

Asking someone to prove they are old enough to purchase alcohol can be a little awkward or embarrassing, but it is a necessary part of the job. Most people who look under-age have had their age checked many times before, and so they usually have some form of ID with them.

One young man who came into my bar looked no more than fifteen. I asked him for ID, and he gave me this gem of an answer:

“If I’m not eighteen, how come I was allowed to travel from Stoke to Newcastle on the train on my own?”

It’s hard to argue against that kind of evidence.

We shared a laugh about his unusual means of ID, but then he produced his passport, which showed that he had turned eighteen several months earlier, and so I served him.

If someone looks under-age, and they don't have ID with them, you must stand firm and politely refuse to serve them. Mystery shoppers who check for bars selling alcohol to people who are under-age are rare, but they do exist.

As in item #3, anyone buying alcohol for an under-age person is committing an offence.

A fistful of faff
A fistful of faff

#6 "Take it out of there."

I don’t think I have put in many shifts behind the bar where a customer has not offered up a fistful of change to pay for a drink with the words “Take it out of there”. People who pay in this inconsiderate manner will often become distracted talking to someone at the bar while the bartender tentatively pick coins from the pile of change.

In these instances, I usually place the coins I have taken on the bar and when I have removed the correct amount, I get the customer’s attention and then count the money on the bar with him (or her). On one occasion I was accused of taking more than I should have by a customer. I put him straight, but this is the kind of inconvenience a busy bartender can do without.

A near cousin of the fistful of dollars customer is the one who slams a bunch of change onto the bar top – usually straight into a puddle of beer. The cry is the same, however, “Take it out of there”.

Could you cut it as a bartender? Try this quiz

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#7 Now you see me. . ."

One of the most frustrating aspects of the bartender’s lot is the vanishing customer, particularly at busy times. This is the man or woman who orders drinks and then vanishes as thoroughly as Marty in Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) while you pour them. They might be at the toilet, taking their shot at pool, or, in the most inconsiderate of cases, outside having a smoke.

If you have rung in the prices of the order on the till, you can’t ring in any more until you have pressed the sale key - and other customers are demanding your attention. The best way to deal with the situation is to jot down the amount the customer owes, and then continue serving others. Be sure not to forget about the outstanding bill though – leave the note in a prominent place right next to the till.

A friendly word with the vanishing customer on their return might not stop it happening again, but you never know.

Right - who's next?
Right - who's next?

#8 "One at at time, please."

One of the most common complaints customers have against bartenders is that they ignored them while they were waiting to be served. During busy times, it can be difficult to keep track of which customer is next in the queue, as a thirsty throng leans across the bar, vying for your attention like chicks in a nest.

While blatant queue-jumpers are usually easy to spot, it is a difficult task to serve everyone in the order they arrived at the bar. You can only do your best.

When customers are queuing for drinks, try to form some sort of order in your mind. Eye contact and a nod of recognition can calm an impatient customer, and frequent reminders that you only have one pair of hands, and you can only serve as fast as the beer comes out of the tap can also help.

Waiting customers are a lot more forgiving if they can see you are making a genuine effort and not slouching. If you can pour two drinks simultaneously, and you look sharp when bringing bottles from the cooler, then your customers will know they'll be served soon.

#9 "And one for my friend."

Under the influence of alcohol, some people become the epitome of amiability. As a wave of bonhomie breaks out in the bar, drinks are bought for friends and strangers alike. This can lead to exchanges like the following:

BILL: “One for me, and get my new friend one too, please.”

(Bartender picks up two glasses)

BEN: “No, really, I can’t.”

(Bartender puts one glass back on the shelf)

BILL: “But I insist; two drinks, bartender.”

(Bartender picks up the second glass again)

BEN: “No, seriously, I have a bus to catch.”

(Bartender puts one glass back on the shelf)

BILL: “But we can share a taxi later.”

(Bartender picks up the second glass again and awaits the verdict)

BEN: “Oh, go on then.”

(Bartender lets out a sigh of relief and begins to pour the drinks)

BILL: “Oh, and pour one for Bob too.”

BOB: “No, don’t get me one.”

BILL: “But I insist…”

And so it goes.

A similar scenario can occur when two or more customers vie to pay for a round of drinks. With outstretched arms waving banknotes, and each customer demanding that they pay for the round, it can be difficult for a bartender to decide from whom to take the money. In such disputes, a general rule of thumb is to take payment from the customer who initially ordered the drinks.

The dreaded bell
The dreaded bell

#10 "Time gentlemen, please."

Here in the UK, last orders is called ten minutes before closing time. After that period, the age old cry of “time gentlemen, please,” goes up. Customers are then allowed twenty minutes to finish their drinks and leave the premises. Unfortunately, by this time of night many revellers are enjoying themselves too much to be hurried. Some stragglers show no sign of complying with the rules, so repeated reminders must be barked. This can turn a hitherto amiable bartender into a wicked killjoy in the eyes of those who wish to party all night long.

Gentle cajoling, and pointed reminders that bar staff have lives too, can sometimes help to clear the premises, but when all else fails, you can go into ‘subtle hint’ mode.

Switch off some lights

Turn off the music

Close curtains

Collect glasses

Wipe down tables and the bar

Lock all doors but one

Sing the chorus of Homeward Bound

Keep barking those reminders

A good trick here, if you have the opportunity, is to pick up the half-finished drink of a straggler and ask “Are you finished with this?” More often than not this will trigger the customer into snatching the glass from you and gulping down the contents. Another one bites the dust.

You may not be Mr Popular during these bar clearing exercises, but don’t worry; your customers will be back tomorrow, refreshed and raring to go again.

We like to end with a smile

I can't decide if the rushing employee is a bartender or waiter, but what the heck; this is one of the most loved moments in British TV comedy.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


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