How to get a bartender’s attention and build a rapport for a better bar experience for you both.
While out drinking with friends and family—and I frequently enjoy relaxing and socializing over a beer or several—I have noticed there is a certain etiquette that often goes unobserved by people visiting bars, clubs or pubs. And that is how to behave towards the bartender.
The bartender is the busiest person in the building, especially during peak nights, and as such they are liable to get stressed and even a bit—dare I say it—sloppy. This means it is important to understand what makes them tick. In addition to the good karma of being kind to bartenders (who are, after all human), you can avoid a messed up order or bad service by learning simple bartender etiquette.
Getting Their Attention
Let’s start off by looking at how to attract the bartender’s attention at a busy bar, which I’ve found difficult over the years. Now, most bartenders have a general idea of who was first in line and so often it is best to just wait your turn patiently instead of pushing to the front.
However, when there is more than one bartender and the bar is really busy it is hard for them to keep track; this leads to a free for all for their attention. What I’ve found best to do is to try and catch their eye and smile (mind it’s not a creepy smile); a bartender is more likely to serve someone who looks friendly and is waiting patiently. If it’s very busy, it may also be prudent to have your method of payment in your hand already; this will show the bartender that your order will probably take less time than others.
I would definitely not get caught up in conversation with a friend because that can make you look disinterested. This, from my past experience, will move you down the pecking order and often leads to a missed opportunity to get served. On a side note, I cannot stress enough that snapping at a bartender is probably the rudest thing you could do to attract their attention.
Know Your Order
When you go up to the bar, know your order. There is nothing more annoying to a busy bartender than a guy ambling up to the bar with only a vague idea of what he wants. This just leads to time being wasted whilst the order is double checked and reordered. Don’t frustrate and exasperate the bartender.
Tipping is more than a good way to show the bartender that you appreciate their service. Whether they’ve gone out of their way for you, completed a complicated order to perfection, or just opened a few beers; tipping is not optional.
The general consensus on tipping is between 10% and 15% of your total order (you can just work on roughly $1.50 per drink if maths isn’t your forte). However, I would vary this depending on the things I mentioned above such as quality of service and difficulty of your order. Bear in mind though that tipping isn’t an act that should be broadcast to everyone at the bar, it should be done discreetly. It should also never be done to when accompanied with the line “Just because you have a nice smile”—that’s creepy and will prove counter-productive to the purpose of this article.
If you have been running a tab throughout the night then you’ll obviously pay for all of your drinks at the end. In this situation, just tip around 15% to 20% of the total charge. I would point out that each establishment will have its own policy on tabs, so be sure to ask when you arrive.
On another side note I’d like to point out to any British people reading this that bartenders in the UK don’t expect tips. It is rare to give them one but it is still appreciated, even if it’s in the form of “have one on me.”
Build a Rapport
I like to think that it is important to build a rapport with the bartender; this doesn’t mean you have to be best friends nor does it mean you have to tip him a huge amount (although that probably helps). For starters, it is important to remember your manners: please and thank you go a long way in a world where few people remember them.
When you’re at the bar and your drinks are being poured, don’t stand there like a lemon pretending to check your phone. Instead, try to strike up some small talk. It can be as simple as “It’s busy in here tonight. I hope you’re being paid enough,” to even talking about the weather (I’m British, it’s all we talk about!) Bartenders are people, too: they appreciate being treated like a person, not like a servant.
The more you engage with them, the more inclined they will be to carry out your order well and serve you quickly next time— this is especially important if you are, or intend to become, a regular. Ask for their opinion; bartenders are an untapped resource of information on all manner of things pertaining to alcohol. Ask what drink they would suggest for someone who wants something sweet and fruity, or whatever takes your fancy. They’ll generally be happy you’ve asked and delighted to help—although with the caveat that I’d not suggest doing this if the bar is busy.
And that is my guide to bartender etiquette, which has been developed from my own experiences and comprehensive research from bartenders. If you’ve got any other tips that you think I’ve missed, please leave them in the comments section. I’d be interested to see what other people think.
Image credit: francisco_osorio/Flickr