A great many guides exist on how to be a better bartender, how to enhance guest experiences, how to embody the true spirit of hospitality. As a bartender of fifteen plus years, I’ve read a good percentage of those. This right here? This isn’t that. There are scant few resources out there on the bar etiquette of how to be an exemplary customer. If you treat your bartender so they smile when you walk in, you are going to have a far more enjoyable night than the alternative.
So, pour yourself a seltzer and bitters and perch on that stool, the lesson starts now.
1. Be A Nice Human.
Bartenders are people too, y’all! As fun as the job may look, there are multitudes of stressors in the hospitality industry, especially these days. A little kindness goes a long way. Your bartenders, servers, barbacks all would love to be treated as a human first, not simply as the cog in the wheel that can put a drink in your hand. If that’s what you’re into, I’ve heard there are robot bartenders out there… but since we are dealing with real live people, actually ask your bartender how they are before you order and listen to their answer (unless they are crazy busy, see Step 2).
This sentiment will come up again & again:
2. Read The Room.
First, what sort of establishment are you in? I love me a solid dive bar, but my drink order there is going to be vastly different than my order at a classy speakeasy.
Second, is the bar slammed? Before you belly up to the bar, have your order (and your friends’ order) and prefered (and alternative) method of payment at the ready, my friend. If the bar is three deep, stick to things that are easy to execute. Craft beer and a shot? You got it!
Craving egg white cocktails? Mojitos? Maybe don’t order those if you notice the service printer going off non-stop and it took the bartender 5 minutes to greet you. Wait for the intricate cocktails until the bar calms down.
Speaking of cocktails, check out their menu—chances are, they are proud of it! So open it up and take a peak. This will give you a clear idea of what the bar offers AND what the bartender is set up to make. Want to go off menu? Have a clear conversation about your likes and dislikes, don’t make us attempt to read your mind!
And, for the love of all things spirited, DO NOT STAND IN THE SERVICE AREA. DO NOT DO IT.
3. Repeat Step 1.
Did I say go back to Step 1? Yup, sure did!
The best method to getting your bartender to like you is to be a nice human. Please do not make jokes at our expense, or insinuate the pandemic shut-down was “a vacation,” ask us why we are out of half the products we normally offer (supply chain issues are real y’all), attempt to pick us up, or ask for something for free. Be kind and respectful and we will notice. Say please and thank you. Bar etiquette means being polite!
…and don’t just be a polite TO the bartender. While we are often busy, we are paying attention to everything going on around us. If you’re standing at the bar making rude comments under your breathe, guess what? We can hear you more often than we let on. Conversely, if I greet you and ask for your order and you’re kind enough to point out the person next to you was there before you, that’s kindness. And kindness is memorable. Kindness will reciprocated in the bar and in life.
Want to become a ‘regular’? Remember things—our pet’s names, that taco spot we recommended—and actually have conversations with us, bartenders like to chat when we have time! We also love fun travel stories, chances to show off our skills, and snacks. We all love snacks.
Something I have 100% noticed and felt grateful for: letting me go ahead of you in the bathroom line if it’s busy and I finally got a minute to leave the bar.
4. Tip Like You Mean It
You are probably wondering why this isn’t Step 1 to getting your bartender to love you, don’t we work for tips? Tips are important and yes, we do notice them. I personally feel like being a good tipper goes hand in hand with being a nice human and therefore should be an understood fact. That being said, in case anyone needs a glaringly obvious trick for how to be a great customer: leave a fat tip.
Know that most establishments pool tips, so it isn’t just your bartender paying attention. The server, barback, busser—all of them benefit from a solid tip.
5. Repeat Step 1. Again.
Oops, I said it again! Seriously, this is the only tip or trick you really need for most things in life: be nice and respectful. We all have bad days, bartenders can actually help make yours better and, if we get good vibes from you, chances are we will go out of our way to make you feel special and turn that frown upside down!
If you’re a nice human, you’re also nice to other patrons of the bar. As a result, they enjoy themselves and are more likely to return. This is good for my livelihood and I notice.
Got an extra minute and had a great time? Leave us a stellar Yelp review! It makes us feel good, looks good to our bosses, and we’ll remember you even more. Bartenders like compliments, I mean, who doesn’t?
Next time you slide up to a bar and place your order, take a minute, check out your surroundings, recognize the human being behind the stick, ask them how they are, order your drink, tip like a fiend and enjoy!
Human to human, thank you for listening.
Jena is an event host & contributing writer for The Crafty Cask, as well as an award-winning bartender, cocktail educator, Cicerone Certified Beer Server, and Executive American Whiskey Steward. Based in NYC, Jena has been working in the craft alcohol world for the last 15 years with recipes appearing in Manhattan restaurant/bars & multiple publications. She is the 2019 Nikka Perfect Serve Global Runner Up and a 2020 Cognac Connection winner.