Rules of the game
Brush up on your Miss Manners-endorsed bar etiquette—and don’t forget to tip your bartender
So there you are, standing at the end of the bar, thirsting for a drink. The joint is swamped, with just one bartender. The jukebox is cranked so high you can’t hear yourself think—much less make your drink order heard above the din. Time for a pop quiz!
A) Stand there, quietly and forever drinkless, watching as everyone else around you gets served;
B) Snap your fingers and yell “Hey, bartender!”;
C) Leave and find a bar where they’ll roll out the boozy red carpet upon your arrival.
If you picked any of the above answers then, dear drinking buddy, it’s clear you need a little Miss Manners-styled advice.
It seems like it should be so simple—order a drink, pay for it, consume. Lather, rinse, repeat. But navigating the dos and don’ts of bar etiquette is tricky.
The point here is: Summer may be officially over but party time never is. As friendly get-togethers and celebrations shift from backyard barbecue to happy hour meet-ups and weekend de-stress sessions, the following is your tip sheet on how to get a drink—and get on your bartender’s good side.
It’s loud, it’s crowded and you just want a drink already, but you’ve been idling on your barstool for at least 10 minutes and the bartender still hasn’t glanced in your direction. Frustrating, sure, but the solution is common sense and simple.
“The best way to get my attention is to just call my name,” says bartender Art Rodriguez, who’s been serving drinks at Old Ironsides for more than 20 years. “The worst way is to yell ‘hey’ or whistle or tap the bar.”
Shady Lady Saloon co-owner Garrett Van Vleck agrees. “That’s the quickest way to not get served,” he says. “But if you’ve been waiting for a long time and people who came after you are getting served before you, then there’s nothing wrong with making eye contact and saying, ‘Excuse me.’”
Know your order
All right, you successfully made contact! Great! Except for the part where you have no idea what to actually order. If there’s a long line queuing up behind you, now is not the time to dawdle and dither. If you absolutely must, at least give someone else the right of way.
“It’s not rude [to not know what to order] but I’ll just tell them to let me know when they’re ready so I can help another customer,” Rodriguez says.
Once you do order, it helps to be specific. One of Van Vleck’s biggest pet peeves is the customer who gives the order that’s equivalent of asking for “the song by that one guy” at a record store. “I hate it when people say things like ‘I had this one drink at this one place and it was pink—do you know what it is?’”
The quick answer: No.
You don’t have to know the name or all the details but, Van Vleck adds, “at least know your favorite spirit so that we have something to base it on.”
On that note, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the bartender to get creative—time permitting. “If the bar is slammed, don’t ask me to make something up,” Van Vleck says. “But if it’s mellow then it’s OK to ask for a recommendation.”
Be a tourist
If the bartender has time, he or she would love to indoctrinate you into the ways of the establishment.
“When you go to a bar for the first time, you should try what it is that they’re doing,” Van Vleck says. “If the place is doing cocktails, then go in and try one and don’t automatically start trying to make substitutions.”
In other words, be adventurous. Don’t be that guy who wants vodka in his Gin Daisy.
Tip your bartender
It’s always nice to show your bartender a little extra love—even if they’re not asking for it.
“Whenever I go to a bar, I tip every time I get a drink,” Rodriguez says. “But I don’t expect other people to do the same if they don’t work in the bar or restaurant business.”
Still, it never hurts to earn a little bar karma. Drinks can be pricey, but it’s just good manners to lay down some singles. How much? Van Vleck recommends at least one dollar per drink ordered—two dollars if it’s one of them fancy, elaborate fixin’s.
Know bar customs
Proper bar etiquette isn’t just about treating your barkeep right. It’s about showing some respect for your fellow patrons as well. Need to step away from your barstool for a moment? Cover your drink with a napkin or coaster. This signals you’re “saving” your seat.
“It’s fair,” Rodriguez says. “The practice became more common when people couldn’t smoke in bars.”
Then again, you’re doing this in a crowded public place so, you know, good luck with that.
“It’s proper bar etiquette, but I don’t know how effective it is in a bar with a lot of drunk people,” Van Vleck says with a laugh.
Know when to say when
It’s all fun and games until someone acts like an ass—or worse, gets behind the wheel while drunk. What happens in bars is no mystery.
“People get drunk and aren’t able to communicate and then get confused about what they’re doing,” Van Vleck says.
That said, always make sure you have a designated driver (or taxi plan, etc.) and never, ever drink until you lose your wits—not if you want to be welcomed back to the bar again.
“Sometimes people’s personalities change after a few drinks,” Rodriguez says. “If they become obnoxious and bothersome to other customers, I stop serving them and ask them to leave.”