Bartenders can be great friends to people who enjoy going out, even if you choose not to drink alcohol. Nowadays, many bars offer tasty non-alcoholic drinks, so you can have fun without booze. (Here’s a list of the best bar in every state.)
Bartenders play many roles beyond just serving drinks. They are craftspeople who create artisanal cocktails, with some even fancying themselves “cocktail chefs.” They act as listeners, offering a sympathetic ear to customers, though the sincerity varies. Bartenders can also be advisors, guiding customers on which drinks to order and sometimes even providing wisdom on life’s problems. At the very least, a good bartender will offer recommendations on the perfect cocktail for the occasion.
Bartenders often look out for their customers’ well-being. They will call a rideshare service for intoxicated patrons to ensure they get home safely after overindulging. Skilled bartenders can diffuse heated arguments or potential bar fights using practiced diplomacy. They keep a watchful eye on inexperienced young drinkers who don’t know their limits, protecting them from being taken advantage of by thieves or predators.
Drawing from years of firsthand experience frequenting bars, the editors at 24/7 Tempo have compiled a list of 18 things you should avoid doing when at a bar. Most of the tips center around maintaining a polite rapport with the bartender. (As a parallel, these are 21 things you should never order in a restaurant.)
Most of these are just common sense or plain good manners – but unfortunately, along with its undeniably pleasant effects, one of the problems with alcohol is that it sometimes tends to make people forget, or stop caring about, the common niceties. With that in mind, although the list that follows is full of specifics, it all mostly comes down to just one simple rule: When you’re out at a bar, don’t be a jerk.
Skimp on the tip
Bartenders work hard, and make their income mostly from gratuities. Be generous, and tip 20% or more on the amount you spend, whether it’s just one drink or an evening’s worth of carousing. (If you experience genuinely bad service – not just delays due to a rush of customers – you can always complain to the management. That’s a more efficient tactic than not tipping – a gesture whose meaning will likely be lost on a bad bartender anyway.)
Shout or snap your fingers at the bartender
The bartender sees you. There are probably just a few dozen other people who got seen first. Snapping your fingers or yelling to the bartender (waving money in the air is even worse) isn’t just rude – it’s almost guaranteed to put you at the back of the line.
Hit on the bartender
Bars are often staffed by young, attractive people, and the good ones make every customer feel special, and may grace you with flirtatious smiles and (if there’s a slow moment) a little conversation. That doesn’t mean they want to go home with you. Really. Trust us on this.
Tell the bartender to “surprise me”
While some bartenders might relish the challenge of improvising a cocktail for a willing customer, most of them are too busy making regular drinks to stop in the middle of it all and get creative.
Change your drink order after the first few seconds
A good bartender at a busy bar often starts making your drink within seconds of your order. Unless you can beat them to the punch, don’t change your mind – “Um, actually, I think I’d like a Cosmo instead of a Margarita” – once you’ve made your choice.
Eat the bar snacks
Really fancy bars might offer you a small serving of nuts, wasabi peas, or suchlike, and that’s probably fine. But a communal bowl of pretzels or peanuts – rarer in these post-pandemic times than they used to be but still around sometimes – that who knows how many others have dug their who-knows-how-clean fingers into? No thanks.
Ask for a free round
If you’re nice and have bought a few drinks, or if you’re a regular, bartenders will sometimes offer you one on the house (either with or without the house’s approval). That’s great – but the bartender doesn’t “owe” you a free one.
Ask the bartender to make your drink stronger
Most bars have standard measures for the alcohol in their drinks, or at least a bartender who knows how a drink should taste. If you ask for more booze, expect the answer “Oh, you wanted a double?” and be prepared to pay for it.
Insult the bartending profession
Bartending is a part-time job for many people, but increasingly it’s becoming a full-time profession. Either way, there’s nothing demeaning about it, so don’t ask “What’s your real job?” or say “How come a [writer, teacher, etc.] like you is working here?”
Order a complicated drink at a crowded bar
This one’s obvious. Many bars now offer multi-faceted signature cocktails, and those are fine to order because the bar probably has the makings already set up. But ordering a drink that takes multiple kinds of liquor (like a Long Island Iced Tea) or that requires extra steps (like muddling the mint for a Mojito or Mint Julep) is just thoughtless – to the bartender and to the other customers – if the house is crowded.
Ask to change in ingredient in a house specialty
Speaking of those signature cocktails, someone has taken the trouble to invent an unusual potion, probably putting as much thought into the recipe as the chef does with his creations, so think twice before you say “Could I have that with vodka instead of mezcal?”
Talk about religion, politics, or race
This is a good rule just about anywhere outside your living room. Engaging the bartender or those around you – even if they’re your friends – on these potentially incendiary topics will rarely end well (especially if your tongue has been loosened by a drink or two). There’s a whole world of other topics to talk about out there. Sports are always good. How about them Yankees?
Hit on another customer who isn’t receptive
Okay, people often go to bars to meet other people and maybe to hook up, and flirtation is fun – but if it becomes pretty clear that the object of your intentions isn’t interested, don’t be a creep.
Make out with your date (or a willing stranger)
There’s a time and a place for everything, and a bar full of people isn’t the appropriate spot for enthusiastic foreplay. Get the proverbial room.
Get overly familiar with the bartender
He’s not your “pal,” “buddy,” or “amigo.” She’s not your “honey,” “babe,” or “sweetie.”
Ask to transfer your bar tab to your table
Pay up before you head into the dinner room for dinner – and don’t forget to tip. It may be more convenient for you to just pay one check for the evening, but the bartender will have worked for you for nothing if you do. (In some restaurants, especially on the high end, it’s actually policy to transfer the bar tab; if that’s the case, give the bartender some cash before you decamp, as tips on a food check rarely migrate bar-ward.)
Stand in the service area
We get it. The bar is three or four drinkers deep, and there’s that nice place of nearly vacant real estate down at the end – the one where the servers come to pick up drinks. Stay away. Blocking the service area is like double-parking on a narrow street, and it won’t win you any friends with the bar staff.
Linger on the barstool for too long over one drink
You’ve been lucky enough to find a place to sit and have enjoyed your drink – but you don’t want to give up your perch, so you’re nursing it in tiny sips, maybe asking for a glass of water on the side. Meanwhile, the room is filling up with folks who’d like a seat themselves. Don’t be selfish. It won’t kill you to stand for a while.