As someone who has been both a professional writer for more than a decade and a professional bartender (among other things) for even longer than that, I find myself in a curiously ideal situation to be able to share some feedback on what life is like from behind the bar looking out. Although most of my writing has been related to my lifelong love for all things automotive, as New Year’s Eve approaches, I feel compelled to offer up some advice to the general public to simultaneously help you enjoy your night out — and (hopefully) help my fellow bartenders as well.
New Year’s Eve, along with the night before Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day (with an honorable mention to Cinco de Mayo), round out the podium of most irritating nights to work behind a bar. These days, in particular, are essentially one long, continuous amateur hour when novice socialites make silly faux pas that can easily be avoided with just a little bit of tact and common sense. With that said, here are four basic tenets to take with you while you’re counting down to watch the ball drop, or just going out on the town to a crowded bar.
Any bartender worth their salt sees you. Yes, you, standing there with your card or cash in hand. What you don’t see is that he or she has a list of about eight other people’s drink orders that are also waiting patiently. You may not even realize they saw you because they more than likely noticed you long before you decided it was your turn to get their attention. But, that initial glance, which may seem dismissive or insulting to you, is actually the bartender marking your place in line.
You may not know or care about the five other people on the other end of the bar who were there before you, but bartenders have to be somewhat impartial, and patience and kindness are always rewarded. But unlike many other facets of life, that list in their head is a sliding scale. So yelling, snapping, or, heavens forbid, whistling will instantly drop you to the bottom of that list faster than your self-confidence when you figure out there’s been something stuck in your teeth all day and no one bothered to mention it. Bartenders are people, and they are working hard. Relax and be patient. They won’t run out of alcohol.
Nothing says, “Hey, go make fun of me to everyone that works here,” faster than not-so-subtly suggesting that your drink deserves a little more alcohol than everyone else, and why? Well, because you’re you, after all.
Not only does this little comment tell the bartender that you are an amateur drinker, but it also tells them that you have no idea how drinks are made and wouldn’t know a good one if it spilled down the front of your pinstriped shirt.
If you want more alcohol, ask for a double. There is no such thing as a triple or quadruple (not legally, anyway), so that’s another comment to avoid. You can add more juice to your drink, but it isn’t free. The bar is a business, and you get what you pay for.
On busy nights, your role as a customer is simple. You have a place in the surging and swaying line of customers floating around the bar, jostling for position. When it comes to your turn at a busy bar, the bartender’s attention is limited and focused. You have about three seconds to convey your order in its entirety. Do not wait for a busy bartender’s attention and then start taking a survey on what everyone wants to drink.
I can almost guarantee that when you finally turn back around, there will be an empty poof of air where you thought your bartender was going to be. Know what you want, how much of what you want, and be ready with it. Know if you are going to open a tab or just pay on the spot and have your credit card (or cash) in hand and ready to go.
Bartenders make their money from the tips you leave them. In most states, service industry employees do not get a regular paycheck from their bar owner. What you (and many others leave) is what ends up in their pockets, so if they are doing a good job, don’t just tell them; show them.
This is the guiding principle for why bartenders are doing what they are doing, so if you feel like the guy or gal next to you got their drink before you, even though you were there first, you might be right. Think about what you do for a living. Now imagine that one of your clients, customers, patients, whatever, leaves you triple what the next one did. When it comes time for that appointment or meeting again, who is going to be higher on your priority list?
Tipping well is important, but here’s the caveat: don’t make a spectacle of it. This is their paycheck we’re talking about. Bartenders see what you leave and recognize it. They don’t need to be told, “Oh, don’t worry, I took care of you!” Even if you don’t get the instant feedback you might be hoping for, that big tip will bring a smile to their faces later, and if they see you again, you will be remembered.
These rules don’t just apply to New Year’s Eve; they just apply more. Any busy bar has its best people working behind it. That being said, for every job, there are people who are bad at it. Bartending isn’t for everyone, but sometimes it takes them a while to figure that out. So you won’t always get a professional, but generally speaking, if it is an established place with a busy crowd, those bartenders are pretty good. People don’t frequent a place they can’t get a good drink, or a drink at all, for very long.
But, this year, just remember these four snippets of tact, and you will set yourself up for a good time with good service. A little bit of kindness goes a long way. The saying goes, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” and that goes double for the hand that makes you something to drink.
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