Tips for Bar Etiquette – According to DC Bartenders

Bartender at the defunct Thomas Foolery

A former bartender recently reached out to Barred in DC saying he had quit the industry for a desk job “because of the way people were talking/treating me. Hurling insults, slurs, etc… All these experiences took a great toll on my mental [health] and I had to quit.” He also said that as places began to reopen fully during the pandemic “people seemed ruder, more irritated…[m]ost places just started to throw bodies [of brand new] bartenders” and that didn’t help. Often bartenders were working 12+ hour shifts 3 nights in a row on weekends.

He suggested that I publish a post of bartender tips for etiquette at bars. Below reflect (as edited) his thoughts, the thoughts of his former colleagues, and other bartenders in the industry who reached out to me. This is focused on bars and drink ordering-Laura Hayes-the former Washington City Paper food writer- had a good piece about both restaurants and bars and how to be a better customer.

Many of these seem obvious but you would be surprised.

General

  1. Be kind above all.
  2. Say please and thank you.
  3. Treat the establishment like you are going to a good friend’s house who is hosting.
  4. Be patient/understanding/compassionate when supplies/staff are short due to pandemic and current events.
  5. Realize that you are in public and the staff will take note of ill-mannered guests.

Pre-Ordering

  1. Read the menu (if there is one available) before ordering or asking about recommendations.
  2. Wait for the bartender to look directly at you/make eye contact/say something to you before you start speaking/ordering. If they are clearly engaged in another activity, don’t yell at them. Yelling at your bartender when they’re not even facing you is quite rude.
  3. Snapping your fingers to get bartender attention is not appreciated.
  4. If you’re looking at your phone while standing at the bar waiting, you may not be considered “next in line” and bartender may not ask you for your order.
  5. If the place is slammed, and you’re a regular and know the bartenders’ name, don’t abuse your privilege by yelling out their name (other guests will then try to jump in using their name) or using the name drop to get the bartenders’ attention to strangers.
  6. Don’t wait in line for ten minutes and then take ten minutes to make up your mind on what you want to drink.

Ordering

  1. Don’t expect bartenders to know the price of every drink possible off the top of their head.
  2. Have broadly basic idea of what you want – bartenders don’t generally mind helping narrow down if you have a couple choices, but in most establishments (that aren’t nice cocktail or wine bars) and particularly when spots are busy, bartenders prefer not to have a long drawn-out conversation about every single drink menu item.
  3. Know where you are when ordering; for example, you can try to order a specific varietal of wine at a dive bar, but recognize at most l they’ll have a very limited selection (red or white), and don’t complain/make a fuss if they don’t.
  4. If you make a special request (e.g, make your spicy Margarita extra spicy), tell the bartender that you won’t be sending the drink back no matter what.

Tipping

  1. Tipping on comp items: at a minimum, tip on the normal price of the drink. Several bartenders said generally tip 1/2 drink price or add a flat number to full bar tab.
  2. If a drink is discounted due to HH/other special/Groupon, tip like you would if the drink was full price.
  3. Tipping a buck for a beer or $2 for a nice cocktail if you’re just ordering one is OK/non-terrible behavior/bare minimum but always tip 20% minimum if you’re doing a tab or multiple rounds.
  4. If you camp out at the bar but aren’t ordering to match your time, tip extra (even if the bar is empty).

Afterwards

  1. Be aware of last call/closing time and respect that staff want to go home. Sitting there deep in conversation with one last sip in your drink while the lights have been on and music off for 20 minutes is rude.
  2. If there’s a bar back, bring your empties to them, not the bartender.
  3. Stay out of the corners/exits/service stations of the bar space when ordering/drinking/hanging out.
  4. When bar seating is close to full, saving seats for longer than 5-10 minutes is taking money out bartenders’ pockets. And definitely don’t put your bag/purse/etc in a seat at a full bar even when you’re not saving the seat for others.
  5. Refrain from asking the bartender their name and introducing yourself unless you’ve been there awhile or you’ve been served by them multiple times. Bartenders realize most are being polite but it can be triggering “Bad Yelp Review” vibes.

Not really ettiquette, but several bartenders who contributed said that aside from customers, bad culture in management really had a detrimental impact on their work experiences.

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