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A little bar etiquette 101

Updated on October 4, 2009

After working in bars and restaurants for roughly four years I can tell you I've seen some stuff. I've seen the best of people and conversely some of the grossest and most ridiculous behavior, ever. I've been called names, and seen grown men throw terrible two-year-old-caliber temper tantrums. When a bar is busy and running smoothly it's a great thing to watch... it's a well coordinated dance of taps, shakers, bottle openers, ice bins, and bottles that is exhilarating, and a thing of beauty. Below is a list of pointers and tips to help keep the dance going and your drink full.

  • Know what you would like. Most bars have tons of signage letting you know what the specials are and that's a good starting point. standing in front of the taps and asking what is on draft makes you look a little silly, especially if you've been waiting a little while. I've never worked in a place that carries a secret mystery draft that has to be mentioned in order for you to order it. I'm guessing that would seriously bum out the distributors, because they want to move their products in big numbers.
  • Be ready to pay. Have your cash or card out and ready to go. If you're hanging out for awhile, just start a tab. It's easier than running your card for each round, and saves paper too. Unless we see you every single day and know you personally, we will need to swipe a card to start a tab, even if you know the owner (everyone does) and went to grade school with his neighbor's sister. No one wants to cover your tab at the end of the night if you walk out. I like you, but I'm not going to buy all of your beers. Ask my boyfriend, he pays for his too :)
  • String ordering is just as bad in bars as string betting is in poker. Just don't do it. If you've got a big order get it out all at once. Which kind of is related to bullet No. 1. Knowing what you want is a great thing. Most of us are good at remembering at least 8-10 drinks, maybe more, at a time. The worst feeling ever is when you hustle to make five drinks and three individual complicated shots, and then a customer says, " oh wait, and Tim wants one too. Make one more Red Death." I'll do it for you once because I'm a nice girl, but a lot of bartenders might not be so accommodating. We want to do our jobs as quickly and efficiently as possible, and stuff like that really slows us down, and ultimately keeps you waiting longer next time. No body wins.
  • Please don't tell us to smile. It's been said before, but if you sat around smiling non-stop in your cubicle all day long, people would think that you were nuts. Bartenders, the good ones, like people and like their jobs for the most part. Chances are good we've recently just caught an elbow to the kidney from one of our co-workers who works like a line-backer, or have smoked our shin on a speed rail, in our haste to serve you faster. I like to smile, I just physically can not smile constantly for a 10 hour shift. When you tell me to smile it comes off a little "dance monkey dance" and that's just no way to make friends.
  • If you know my name that's cool, but I'm not a big fan of having it shouted at me incessantly. Imagine if someone did that to you at your job, you'd probably think they were a jerk. Just saying... Even if it doesn't look like there's a system, we're working logically and we will get to you. Yelling names might get our attention, but could get you negative attention, and that makes you wait longer.
  • Along the same lines as given name yelling, I'm not going to respond to "Hey, Baby" or any other ridiculous thing a certain kind of customer thinks its appropriate to yell. It's caveman-ish and impolite. "Yo, my man" does not work for guy staff either. They've told me so.
  • If you order a drink light on ice, or light on juice, expect it to have less liquid in it, and maybe me to judge you a little. I'm not going to pour it stronger. If you want more alcohol in your beverage expect to pay for it. Well mixed drinks are sneaky and tasty. They don't put hair on your chest or make you breathe fire even though that's how your buddy makes them at parties in his basement. We get in trouble if liquor costs are skewing high and you're going to get the proper amount commiserate with what you're paying for.
  • If you made up a drink at your house, don't try to order it at a bar by the name you and your friends have given it and expect anyone to have any idea what you're talking about.  This would seem like something I shouldn't have to mention, but you'd be surprised how many home mixologists (especially in a college town) try this move.  Yes, all drink recipes start somewhere, but last weekend isn't nearly enough time for what you made up with gin, henny, pineapple juice, hypnotiq, captain, jager, and sprite to become public knowledge. Don't get mad when I look at you like you're nuts when you order a Benjamin Franklin Hops Sideways in a Watermelon Field and expect me to know what it is.
  • If you've had too much to drink expect us to cut you off. Spilling a drink down your shirt and stumbling into other customers is a sure fire way for us to end your night early and call you a taxi. Lots of states have laws holding servers responsible for customers in the event that we've served negligently. I'm not okay with seeing people puke and I'm definitely not okay with you potentially hurting yourself or others if you hop behind the wheel wasted. Getting cut off can be embarrassing, but causing a scene and becoming nasty is very embarrassing.
  • I can't even tell you how much please and thank you are appreciated. Little things like that make our night and go far into redeeming a bartender's faith in humanity.

It's been about two months since I've left the restaurant business, and I haven't written it off entirely, although having a break has been quite nice. With any job that is heavily customer service oriented there are always pros and cons. I love working with people, although quite often people can be difficult, particularly when alcohol is involved. Alcohol numbs the frontal cortex, which is a gift from thousands of years of evolution making us capable of fantastic things, including the ability to be both rational and reasonable. A frontal cortex is a beautiful thing, because we don't have to rely purely upon instinct like a lot of animals do. When we drink, particularly to excess, inhibitions are lowered and that creepy caveman reptilian brain takes over. The older part of our brains is really good at fighting, fornicating, feeding, and fleeing, but not so good at making well-thought decisions. If you've ever worked in a restaurant in a front of the house setting you'll understand where I'm coming from. Sometimes the line between server and servant gets blurred, and that's the hardest part about restaurant work. Have fun the next time you go out, and see if you can spot anyone breaking the bar etiquette bullets above.


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