A Brutally Honest Guide to Keeping Your Bartender From Hating You

Want good service? Or even some free drinks? Read some industry secrets from this experienced bartender.

October 23, 2019
16 mins read

You’ve just handed in your 20,000 word paper. All the stress and worry vanished as soon as you submitted the assignment. Your friends feel the same; responsibilities have either been resolved or temporarily pushed to the back burner. You only have one job now: to have fun.

What do you decide to do? Go to the bar.

The bar is made for fun and lowered inhibitions. The locale sets the scene for a well-deserved night off. Yet, your relationship with the bar is a bit of a strange thing. You enjoy being there, but you might not respect it. You enjoy the fast-paced, but essential interactions with the bartenders. And you want quick, free drinks.

Now, I’m going to bring you over to the other side of the counter to teach you about bartending from an honest, candid bartender’s perspective. Here are the tips and secrets that your bartender wishes that you knew. Leave your sensitivity at home.

The Tips:

Be Polite

When it comes to drinking and going out, the college-age group’s number one priority is not missing the party.

Fear of missing out (FOMO) is probably the strongest within the college student demographic. You are so hyped up about the idea of the party and making sure you don’t miss the experience that you’ll forget to use the occasional “please” and “thank you.” More than likely, your manners will dissipate as soon as you walk out the door of your last class before the weekend. Undeniably, this mindset is highest with those barely above the legal drinking age.

Before I even get to say, “Hello,” I’m often greeted with, “Coca-Cola with rum, tall, uhhh two … no, no, three. Make that doubles.” Sometimes, I’d like to hear, “Hi, I’m super good. Thank you,” before you ask for three double-spiced rum and cokes.

Unlike the bargoers, bartenders are sober, and we have work to do. So, it’s honestly disappointing when our fleeting interactions are ruined due to a lack of simple and easy manners. You can be excited or even in a rush, but do not treat bartenders like furniture.

Do Not Act Entitled

If I’m sticking to stereotypes, college students are the age group that hardly ever deserves to act entitled. As a group, university kids are more likely to yell, interrupt you while you’re talking, use their to sleazy “charm” to flirt with bartenders and tip the least.

Plus, not only are college students annoyingly impatient, but their tendency to practice public displays of affection is off the charts. Seriously, keep your PDA outside of the bar. And don’t get me started on the complaining. Drinking and partying does not make you special. In a bar, being thoughtful and not taking yourself too seriously makes you special.

Do Not Forget to Tip

Now, the art of tipping should be old news for many bargoers, but I’ll repeat it here for all of the new kids. Also, remember this: Tipping well does not mean that you should expect us to do you favors. That is not how this trade-off works.

Now, this is borne from a complicated and inherent dynamic in the restaurant and bar industry. Bartenders are there to supply the highest customer service possible. Granted, we are here for your service, but that does not mean we are your servant. There’s a difference.

You buy drinks, we supply a service and then you pay us for such a service by tipping. Bartenders really don’t owe you anything other than their basic job requirements. You should tip because that is an unspoken part of the deal.

However, you are not special for tipping. Period. What you are is appreciated, and bartenders will express our gratitude. For the most part, we enjoy serving you, and I guarantee that tipping will positively affect your experience.

Basically, tip because you’re a nice human. Plus, it’s the right thing to do. Okay? Be nice and we’ll be nice back. When common decency and mutual respect take charge, everybody has a good time.

Do Not Objectify Us 

While this advice may seem designed to scold men acting shady toward women, this is addressed to everybody. You might be a girl, but that does not mean you get to say things like, “What? No free drinks for us pretty girls?”

Do not assume you’ll receive special treatment on the assumption that the bartender should only focus on you. That being said, do not play the shame game. You might be cute, but that doesn’t mean you can skip paying. Playing this card will land you at the bottom of the patron totem pole. Bartenders are not obliged to be flattered by your comments.

If I am not able to ignore your advances, I will find a way to switch this situation in my favor. You’ll either buy a shot for all my friends in the bar, or you’ll purchase the most expensive tequila in the joint.

Don’t call us “sweetie,” “honey,” “good looking” or whatever other pet names you have stored away. Ask me for my name if you really must call me something. If you cannot talk with your mother the way that you speak to bartenders, try it out with her first and then let her shame you into remembering your respect.

Bars encourage a patron’s desire to let loose, relax and have fun, and the staff often facilitate such, but not on your terms. Leave the power plays at home. If you insist on acting a fool, you will lose.

Do not ever tell us what to do. As soon as you decide that we are part of your power game, we can throw it back at you in ways you likely do not notice. We can tell who the suckers are. We don’t like to do it. But, we will. Do not make us have to compromise our behavior that comes from the honest expectation that everyone is wonderful. Do not insult those serving you, and don’t try to take advantage of the fact that part of my job is to be nice.

The Secrets:

Meet the Jerk Tax

Now, let’s discuss the “jerk tax.” I will not argue that this is problematic, but here’s how we get away with it.

Despite what they think and how they behave, customers do not make the rules. Similarly, they do not choose prices. If you haven’t asked about the price of your drink, the price is what I tell you. Obviously, we have a traditional set price for alcohol, but menus change and prices change … so who says they can’t change at any moment of my choosing?

Adding the jerk tax does not happen often, but, if you do not tip — especially not even a little bit — or act like you own the place, I am overcharging you. Thanks for the extra 50 cents.

Listen, every bar and club does this. When bartenders have to make hundreds of drinks in a night, and you ask for a stirred-not-shaken, not-too-sweet appletini with a sugared rim and a lemon on top that will force me to lose out on making other drinks (and you’re not tipping), you are getting overcharged.

If a customer is too drunk, I will put almost no booze in your drink; if they are lucky, I might put some in the straw or on top to trick them into thinking it is a proper drink. This is sometimes easier than arguing, even if we already told you that we cut you off. Still, if you’re extra annoying, we will charge you anyways.

How to Get Free Drinks

The secret to getting free drinks is … wait for it … to never ask.

Seriously, not once.

Do not think about free drinks in your head or joke about them out loud. Bartenders have heard it all. Literally.

This goes for any excuses (ATM not working), bargaining (tipping extra), accidents (spilling or losing drinks) and special occasions (his birthday, her birthday or your pet’s birthday). I don’t care who you are or how you look. Do. Not. Ask.

When you ask for free drinks, what you’ve essentially just told bartenders is that you do not plan on spending money. We need money to survive. So please: Do not be that person.

If the opportunity comes up to give away drinks, bartenders will let you know. It does happen; with shaken shots there’s often some leftover, someone ordered the wrong drink, I accidentally misheard someone’s order. It happens all the time. The key is to be chill, be pleasant, tip every time, maybe even ask us how our night has been and who knows? Maybe I’ll be feeling generous.

Extra Secrets

As previously mentioned, if customers are hitting on me, they’ll often ask what I drink to impress me. I’ll give you a hint: I do not drink bottle caps or the cheapest beer on draft. I drink patron and scotch, which are not usually big sellers with college students.

So, I’ll tell them that I drink Jager bombs or vodka Red Bulls, which both generally have some of the highest mark-ups; some bartenders have a 2-6 bottle on the bar that is literally filled with water. If I don’t like you and you want to buy me a drink, expect to pay big. But, if you’re cool, I will politely decline your offer, which is typically a thoughtful gesture in most interactions.

If we want to, bartenders will straight-up avoid you, delay your service or just ignore you. I’ll say it again, it is our job to serve you, but if you’re too drunk, too abusive or making the staff uncomfortable, we have the right to throw you out or cut you off. Also, if you’re a jerk, you’d better believe I will serve the nice, patient person beside you first.

This next one usually happens on busy nights when the bar or club runs out of what you ordered without me realizing it. If you want spiced rum and we’re out, you’re getting white rum. Sorry, but, you won’t notice (trust me), and if you suck, I’ll charge you for spiced which usually costs a little bit more. Also, everyone thinks they know wine.

If you want the pinot, and I just ran out, I will give you the same brand, but the Sauvignon Blanc. You literally never notice. The same goes for when your beer runs out on tap halfway through your pint. Guess what happens. I’ll top it with something similar; having a drink in their hand often overrides the drinker’s perceived taste bud preferences.

And finally, remember the managers, door guys and bouncers are there for our safety as much as yours. If I ask to kick someone out, it is done swiftly with no questions asked; the same goes for when I want someone banned. Removing one extremely angry, profanity-spewing customer who’s causing a scene is not a difficult decision for the establishment. We have enough awesome patrons already who don’t act like idiots.

If you want bartenders to like you, just follow these rules and remember this advice. It’s not hard, and it makes life easier for both of us, so just listen to my words, because I know what I’m talking about. Trust me.

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