16 Things Your Bartender Really Wants You To Know

My name isn't "Sweetheart"
16 Things Your Bartender Really Wants You To Know

Ah, the life of a bartender. It’s a job that requires endless patience, a sharp memory, and a great sense of humor, not to mention serious crowd control skills. Slinging coffee drinks is hard enough; but when alcohol is involved? Every shift is an unpredictable rollercoaster ride. Whenever I’m crammed into a crowded bar like a thirsty sardine, watching people wave dollars in the air, I always wonder what it’s like for the person on the other side of the bar. What can customers do to make their job easier? What drinks do they secretly think are a ripoff? What is the final word on what constitutes a good tip? To quell my curiosity, I rounded up as many bartenders as I could find and asked them one question: what would you really like your customers to know? Here’s what they said, in their own words:

1. We see you. ”It’s my job to notice you; if you can’t catch my eye, it is not because I just didn’t see you. It is because I am busy serving other people. Make eye contact and smile. Don’t clear your throat at me, or yell ‘bartender!’ or ‘excuse me!’ Don’t wave money at me. I know you’re there and I’ll get to you as soon as I can.”

2. Don’t just start shouting out your drink order. “I’m ready to take your order when I say, ‘What can I get you?’ or something like that. Don’t yell out your order! Not even followed by ‘when you have a minute!’ Here’s why: I’m in the middle of keeping another customer’s list of drinks in my head while adding them up, keeping an eye on the room, looking to see who’s coming in the door, who’s coming up to the bar in what order, etc. So when someone starts yelling their drinks out, it knocks everything out of my head, much like when one is counting money and someone starts yelling out numbers. And when that happens, I’ll then need to go back and confirm what I was making, which just makes everyone in the room wait longer. Including you.”

3. If we don’t see you, it’s our fault, not yours. “You shouldn’t need to snap your fingers or yell to get my attention. If you’re waiting at the bar for more than 10 minutes without being acknowledged, your bartender is an asshole and you should try a different bar.”

4. Try to be prepared. “If you’ve been waiting to get to the bar, think about what you want to drink before you get to the front. Please don’t get there and then turn around and yell over to your friends to ask what they want.”

5. We’re not psychics when it comes to your drink order. “I am here to help you find the drink you want, absolutely, but I am not a mind reader. People just say, ‘What’s good?’ or ‘What do you suggest?’ but that’s way too vague. You have to give me some guidance on your personal tastes, or else we have to do the ‘Were you thinking beer, wine, or a cocktail?’ dance.”

6. For the love of God, please tip. “If you’re buying a beer or a simple mixed drink, a dollar per drink. For a real cocktail, or if you’re ordering lots of drinks at once, go 20%. Basically, tip based on how much time and effort I put into serving you, and I’ll like you.”

7. Don’t tell us to smile. “Yes, I’m a woman tending bar, but that doesn’t mean my name is ‘Sweetheart’ or that I owe you a plastered-on smile for the duration of my shift. Yes, I am in the customer service industry, so yes, I suppose I can appreciate why you think that’s any of your business but I KNOW that it is not. Sometimes I am having a rough day and I can’t get into it at work. Respect the fact that I am overlooking a bar and every once in a while I have other things to do than giggle at you.”

8. Unless you’re a regular, don’t ask for names. “I’m not crazy about customers asking my name. It’s one thing if someone has come in a lot, and we’ve spoken several times, and they want to be more friendly. I’m cool with that. In fact, I’ve met most of my best friends at the bar. I’m talking about the guy that comes in on a busy Saturday night and wants to know my name in our first interaction. They’re doing it under the guise of being friendly, but more often than not, they’re the ones that come up to the bar and yell out my name, while there’s ten people ahead of them, and I’ll involuntarily turn around. It’s super jarring to hear your name yelled and you turn around and it’s a stranger. I find it manipulative.”

9. Those fruity shots are a major ripoff. “Let me tell ya, your shot glass has one tear drop bit of alcohol in it. The rest is some sugary ‘fruit juice.’”

10. If you’re looking for a good deal, keep it simple. “A neat whiskey or beer or wine is the best value for your money.”

11. Be aware of the type of bar you’re at. “With all of the higher end speakeasy places with ‘mixologists’ being so popular, people tend to assume all bars do it like those places. But they’re staffed and set up differently than a sports bar or a neighborhood joint. Take a look around and notice what kind of bar it is. Sure, the bar I work at has the capability to make some of the more labor intensive drinks — margaritas, old fashions, martinis, etc. And when I’m not busy, I’m happy to make them. It’s not the drink that I hate making, it’s when someone is mindlessly ordering them without being aware that although we can do them, it slows everything down because it’s not really what we do. Does that mean you shouldn’t order them? No, you absolutely should. I’m just saying have the awareness that time is money for a bartender. And ask them if they have the time to make your old fashioned. And tip accordingly.”

12. If we have time, by all means, linger and chat. “As long as we’re not slammed, I love for you to stay and talk. It’s one of the best parts about being a bartender, sharing some conversation with virtual strangers. The Irish call it ‘craic,’ and it is a great joy of life. Also, if you treat me like a person you’re hanging out with, rather than a service person, chances are a comped drink is coming your way soon.”

13. Buying us a drink is nice, but cash is nicer. “I like the gesture of you offering to buy me a shot when you and your friends are doing them. That’s a classy move. But I’d much rather you tip well, because chances are I’m not really drinking that shot anyway. I can’t do my job drunk.”

14. Stop implying that we’re “too good” for this job. ”The most annoying thing that customers sometimes imply is that I am too ‘good’ to be working in the bar that I’m at. Often a misguided attempt to compliment my face or something of the like, it ends up as a hard back-handed compliment, insulting my intelligence, judgement, and life-decisions. It is rude, to say the least, to come into a place of business and insult its quality, even if you mean it as a compliment. I have chosen to spend my time here for a reason and by-frickin-golly it seems like you have, too.”

15. We hate having to cut you off, but we will. “If your friend is too drunk, please do the right thing and encourage him to slow down or go home. We really don’t like having to cut people off. And do NOT beg for more after I cut you off. That will not work.”

16. This job can be rough, but we love it. ”Bar tending is a learn-on-the-job situation because each scenario is different and each beloved barfly is like a drunk little snowflake, oozing with unique traits that get more pronounced with each beer or whiskey. I have have moments when I fuck up, there are times I wish I would have kicked people out of my bar and didn’t, and there are times I have crushed a situation like a boss. It certainly teaches me to think on my feet and sometimes it can be pretty flipping fun. So come on in, say hi, and get yourself a brew.”

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