I work in a bar. I work in two! Before these bars, I worked in other bars, some very very bar-y, and some were drinks counters for cultural institutions. I’m good at my job. I’ve been doing it for near on ten years.
The internet is full of articles, memes, videos, and helpful rants about why you, as a bar patron, are wrong. Why your bartender loathes you and is correct to do so. These content-churns provide industry folks some catharsis after a long day of what I’m about to describe.
But, ultimately, they can serve to make The Bar seem like some sort of mysterious club where you are subject to endless judgment and constantly are fucking up. My friends get anxiety attacks because they’ve read too many snarky articles about which drinks will make the bartender judge them and they freeze up when it comes time to order. Or they just don’t go out at all.
In interest of the general public and general bartender, here are some things that you, as a paying customer, can reasonably expect. These rules do not apply to fine dining or family restaurants. Those are different beasts. Each bar is different, but most of these suggestions apply in their own way across the board.
Why does my bartender hate me?
Your bartender does NOT hate you.
If you go into a spot with a chip on your shoulder you’ll have a bad time. Your bartender may, in fact, hate EVERYONE—but trust us, it ain’t just you. You’re not that special.
BUT REMEMBER: It’s our job.
Parts of every job are annoying. Different ‘tenders and servers have different favorite parts of their job. But it’s not your job to make our job less annoying; part of being a professional is doing the annoying parts while containing said annoyance.
Not everyone does this well, just as you probably don’t do every part of your job at 100% every day. Sometimes the annoyance shows. But it comes with the territory for us. We knew what we were getting into.
What am I allowed to do at a bar?
You can (probably) sit wherever you want.
Unless there is a sign stating otherwise, you can sit at whatever seats are free. If this is a bar with a family section, obviously don’t take your kids into the 21+ section. If you can, take a clean table. But if the place is packed, feel free to sit yourself at any abandoned spot, and your server or tender will clear any glasses/checks/napkins for you.
You can reasonably expect acknowledgment.
Sometimes a spot is busy and orders can’t be taken right away. But an acknowledgment that you’re here, and will be attended to soon, is reasonable. Some places this is a whole spiel (“Welcome to___! Our specials are___”) and some it’s a nod and a grunt.
You can ask for whatever sort of drink you want without your bartender making you feel like an asshole.
We all have our pet peeves, but if a bartender can’t/won’t make a drink, or it’s “not that sort of bar,” they’ll say so politely. They’ll be out of the ingredients. For example, where I work, we don’t have 151 or Blue Curacao, so we can’t make AMFs. Or if mint is out of season, we can’t make Mojitos.
You can ask questions about the drinks.
Because you’re curious, because you want to learn about cocktails, because you’re bored. This goes over way better on slower nights. You won’t get much if we’re busy. Some spots you won’t get answers at all—so this is also a good way to learn about the culture of the spot you’re in.
You can ask if there is/about the food.
Kitchen closes when it closes, but can’t hurt to ask.
You can reasonably expect your social questions to be acknowledged.
Social interaction is the part of the job that we both enjoy and despise most, but it isn’t your job to figure out what sort of day we’re having. So if you say “how was your weekend?” a general “fine” may be all you get. That said, you shouldn’t be getting blanked at the bar.
You can reasonably expect to be treated the same as everyone else, no matter what you’re wearing.
There are exceptions for:
- Club nights
- Halloween parties
- Spots with dress codes
- Themed dances
Everyone makes snap judgments about folks based on clothes, but that shouldn’t be reflected in the service unless your clothes are caked in shit and falling off your body (health hazard) or white supremacist garb (GTFO.)
You can ask if you can bring your dog/cat/child/robot/motorcycle/chickens into the bar.
Most places will say no. But you can ask.
You can ask the bartender to call you a cab.
Please do this instead of driving. These days, most spots may not have landlines, and a bartender will use their phone or yours, but please don’t drive, whatever you do.
You can ask for water.
Jesus Christ On A Moped In Spain, please, if you need water and don’t already have it, ask for water.
You can ask where the restroom is.
This is one people get weird about. Also, the answer to “do you have a restroom” is always yes.
Otherwise, the wood floors would be rotted out with human urine, and we’d have to close.
You can ask where other spots and bars and stuff are, as long as you’ve bought at least one item.
New to town? On vacation? Feel free to ask me where stuff is! It’s an easy way to be social that requires very little emotional labor and can make everyone feel good. Just buy something first!
You can ask to show the game/election/monster movie marathon.
Obviously, this applies to bars with televisions. If we say we don’t get the television station, believe us: We’d way rather be able to accommodate you than have a ten minute argument, or have you climb up there and try to adjust our settings.
You can ask who the band is/will be.
Obviously applies to venues/bars with music. Chances are I do not know or care (bartenders are rarely the bookers) but you can ask.
You can ask for your check at any time.
It’s not rude, especially in casual environments, to ask for your check right away, or mid-meal, or mid-drink. Unless asked, we’ll often hang back on dropping the check so as to not be trying to rush you out of there, or interrupt your clandestine affair, or whatever. Your request generally goes over best if you pay said check shortly after getting it. The speed of payment should directly correlate to how impatiently you gestured for it.
Am I doing it right?
So you’ve done all these things at one time or another and felt like you were maybe an asshole?
You weren’t! You were fine! Feel better?
I was just having a bad day, or distracted, or have resting dick face. Don’t be nervous. We want you to have a good time at least as much as you want to have one. So drink up, have fun, and tip well.
What am I not allowed to do at a bar?
The preceding rules do not apply if:
- You have been 86ed. You know what you did.
- You have sexually harassed someone. This behavior includes but is not limited to: grabbing, attempting to kiss, whistling at, or commenting on the body parts of staff members or fellow customers. If this hasn’t gotten you 86ed, count your lucky stars and start behaving.
- You keep asking staff members out on dates even after being turned down. This is the exact same thing as the one right above it. Stop.
- You don’t remember leaving this establishment the last two times you were there and/or are visibly intoxicated when you enter. In this case, your bartender’s slow service is probably doing you a favor, dude.
- You are casing the place out with plans to buy the block, close the businesses, and put up condos. We know. The Seattle Freeze sure is rough.
Also published on Medium.