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Food & DrinkHow not to be a dick at your favorite bar, according to...

How not to be a dick at your favorite bar, according to bartenders

Bartenders wear many hats – they can be cheerleaders, therapists, educators and entertainers. One thing they don’t want to be? Your babysitter. For all of the amazing things bartenders do night after night (drink after drink!), brushing up on basic bar etiquette is the least we can do as guests.

We went straight to some of the world’s best bartenders and asked them: What’s the one thing that patrons do – even unknowingly – that really irks you? Their answers build the ultimate list of dos and don’ts for your next night out. And while some of their tips are absolute no-brainers (i.e. keep your shoes on, please!), others are more nuanced (have you been gendering your cocktails?). Plus, many of their suggestions might actually lead to a better drinking experience for you – win-win! Now, go forth and follow the Golden Rules of Bar Etiquette, according to bartenders.

Some quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Thirsty for more insider insight from the world’s best bartenders? You’re in the right place. Running throughout August 2021, Talk to the Bartender! is a weekly series that taps into the minds of drink pros around the globe. The conversation changes often, and we’ll chat with bartenders about everything from underrated cocktails and must-have bottles to top drinking cities.

Golden rules of bar etiquette

Treat my crew with respect

Photograph: Courtesy James Socci

1. Treat my crew with respect

‘General disrespect is pretty much the worst thing bar patrons can do. Every bar has its own culture, rules and quirks, and people can easily and accidentally step on toes or do something that’s a pet peeve of one of the staff. But if they’re acting kindly and showing me professional courtesy, that doesn’t bother me.’James Socci, bartender in Portland, Oregon

‘There are many pet peeves bartenders could have, but honestly, we love what we do and we will bend over backwards to ensure your experience is the best it can be. We don’t like to ask for much, but the Unwritten Rule across them all is straightforward: Just be polite.’—Henna Zinzuwadia, sommelier at Akoko in London

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Stop gendering cocktails and glassware

Photograph: Courtesy Fairmont Century Plaza

2. Stop gendering cocktails and glassware

‘Your silky Manhattan served in a Nick & Nora does not emasculate you. Throwing a fit about what glass your cocktail is served in does, however. Give me a hurricane glass garnished with a pineapple wedge, banana dolphin and a cocktail umbrella any day. ‘ —CJ Catalano, beverage manager at Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles

‘[It’s irksome when] men ask for “a manly glass” or when a guy thinks that he needs a rocks glass to protect his manliness – not being confident enough to “get away with” a martini glass. As if James Bond, quite the manly man, was afraid of drinking his martinis out of a classic high-footed glass? ‘ —Tess Posthumus, co-owner of Flying Dutchmen Cocktails  in Amsterdam

Put your trust in us

Photograph: Courtesy Keyatta Mincey-Parker

3. Put your trust in us

‘We want to show off our cocktails, our bar knowledge and our styles – but we can’t do those things when we take time and talk to you and suggest cocktails and tell you about the nice spirits or wines we got and the first thing we hear back is, “Is it sweet? That sounds complicated. Ugh, I don’t do brown spirits. I’ll just take a vodka-soda.” We want to be trusted with giving you the best experience possible.’—Keyatta Mincey-Parker, founder of A Sip of Paradise

Don’t use the menu as a coaster

Photograph: Courtesy Moe Aljaff

4. Don’t use the menu as a coaster

‘Deep down I want to rant and say, “Hey pal, that’s 300-gram prisma off-white paper with a slight texture and extra-pricy ink that I feel guilty about choosing every time because it costs more and it has rounded corners.” But alas, I just smile and offer them an extra coaster.’—Moe Aljaff, owner of Two Schmucks and Fat Schmuck in Barcelona

Follow the rules – especially Covid restrictions

Photograph: Courtesy Trish Brew

5. Follow the rules – especially Covid restrictions

‘At the moment, it’s not knowing the rules before heading out on the town. In Melbourne, you are not permitted to stand and drink and you must wear a mask when moving about the venue. The ones not abiding by the rules can probably work from home during another lockdown; bartenders cannot, so it’s important to keep everyone safe!’—Trish Brew, brand ambassador for Fever-Tree

Place your entire order up front

Photograph: Courtesy Jonathan Kahn

6. Place your entire order up front

‘Picture this: There’s an initial order of multiple drinks and probably a large queue building behind the group. The bartender completes the order and then hears those dreaded words: “Actually can we get one more?”’—Jonathan Kahn, beverage director at Time Out Market Chicago

Don’t ask if it’s good

Photograph: Jeff Marini

7. Don’t ask if it’s good

‘Of course it’s good – if I didn’t like it, it wouldn’t be on the menu. But let’s be real, “good” is subjective. How about you tell me what you like and what you’re in the mood for, and I’ll steer you toward something you will like. And for god’s sake, can we stop saying balanced? Balanced is also subjective. Balance for me means it’s slightly boozy, pretty tart, and a touch of sweetness, but not necessarily for your grandma from Iowa.’—Liz Pearce, lead mixologist of Aba in Chicago

Tell me what you want

Photograph: Shannon Sturgis

8. Tell me what you want

‘I think we have the only job in the world where people come up to us and tell us exactly what they don’t want rather than what they do want. We know you don’t want it sweet – we know that. Instead tell us what you do want: Refreshing? Fruity? Bitter? Boozy? Then we can go from there.’—Ivy Mix, owner of Leyenda and Fiasco! Wine + Spirits in New York and co-founder of Speed Rack

Don’t ask for a drink from another bar

Photograph: Courtesy Moneygun

9. Don’t ask for a drink from another bar

‘I still get asked to make the Art of Choke from Violet Hour’s [in Chicago] opening menu all the time. Every bartender has a different palette, and every bar has different ingredients. Just describe what you want and let us take it from there.’—Donavan Mitchem, beverage director of Moneygun in Chicago

10. We’d rather talk than surprise you

‘Let’s discuss the elephant in the room that every bartender hates: the dreaded “surprise me with a drink” request. Unless you’re a regular and the bartender knows your particular likes and dislikes, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Any bartender worth their salt will immediately follow this request with an interview to determine what boundaries they need to work within. Work with your bartender when they ask you these questions, they are just trying to determine the best cocktail they know in their repertoire to make for you.’—Carlos Navas, beverage director of Batch Hospitality Group in Miami


Be mindful with substitutions

Photograph: Stephen Kang

11. Be mindful with substitutions

‘I’ve never been a bartender, but I hear that it is particularly irksome when patrons substitute or remove essential ingredients from a drink because it’s unfamiliar to them. I think what the average patron doesn’t understand is that a lot of time and attention goes into crafting the perfect drink. So removing one ingredient can throw the entire thing off balance.’—Camille Wilson, founder of The Cocktail Snob

‘Specialty cocktails are designed the way they are with balance in mind. I would much rather gather details about what you are looking for and make you something custom than make substitutions.’—Matt Harding, beverage director at Time Out Market Boston

... And respect our measurements

Photograph: Courtesy LPM Restaurant & Bar

12. … And respect our measurements

‘There is probably one thing that bothers me slightly, which is when a guest asks to change the measurements of a cocktail that has been created with the perfect balance of flavours. People need to understand that putting more or less of something in a cocktail, that was made exactly this way for a reason, is going to result in a totally different drink. And most of the time, patrons will end up complaining that this wasn’t what they requested.’—Tibor Krascsenics, global bar manager for LPM Restaurant & Bar in Dubai

Leave the ice in the glass

Photograph: Courtesy Jeet Verma

13. Leave the ice in the glass

‘It’s always irked me when guests ask for the ice to be removed after the drink has been served. I am sure every bartender in the world would agree with me: It changes the recipe, look and overall experience of the cocktail. It’s like dressing up a bride and then asking her to change her makeup.’—Jeet Verma, head of the bar at Masti in Dubai

Don’t mansplain my job

Photograph: Courtesy Helen Kim

14. Don’t mansplain my job

‘It is very common for guests to try and teach bartenders something – especially with female minorities in the industry. It happens to me all the time, whether they want to teach me about the whiskey or cocktail that they are ordering. It often isn’t done in a conversational manner, and that is what bothers me. I know I look young, but I have been doing this for over 20 years and I really don’t need someone to explain to me what makes a good martini or what makes a good quality American whiskey. It’s completely different if we are having a conversation with a guest and teaching each other things, but we don’t need a guest to train us on spirits.’—Helen Kim, founder of Liquid Culture in Miami

Keep your hands to yourself

Photograph: Jessica Desforges

15. Keep your hands to yourself

‘It’s the bartender’s job to take care of guests. Bartenders should be professional enough to handle anything with a smile on their face and a joke up their sleeve. That being said, please don’t touch what’s not yours. This includes my tools, bitters bottles, garnishes or anything else that is on the bar top that is part of my mise. Please and thank you!’—Sam Treadway, co-owner and bar manager of Backbar in Boston

... And your shoes on

Photograph: David T White

16. … And your shoes on

‘I’ve got a weird tic: barefeet. Walking around with your shoes off at midnight like you’re wading through sand on Waikiki Beach. Put your shoes on, gang!’—Sabrina Medcalf, general manager of The Duke in Sydney

If you ask, please listen

Photograph: Courtesy Jemima McDonald

17. If you ask, please listen

‘One huge pet peeve of mine is when a patron asks you for information about something – be it a product, your opinion, a recommendation – and then talks over you or clearly stops listening to your answer. It’s a fine art, deciphering how much interaction each patron wants and expects from us, but if you ask for our input, please have the social decency to listen to our answer.’—Jemima McDonald, bartender at Earl’s Juke Joint and The Grifter Brewing Co. in Sydney

18. Don’t ask for free stuff

‘When a guest says “Hook me up.” It is presumptuous, rude and assumes we are ripping you off normally. Total BS for a customer to pull that.’—Evan Turner, sommelier Krasi and Committee in Boston

Keep your napkin out of your drink

Photograph: Courtesy Marta Ess

19. Keep your napkin out of your drink

‘Please don’t crumple up paper napkins and put them in your spent, melting glasses. Just leave the dry junk on the bartop where we can whisk it away. We’d rather not fish soggy, stuck, questionable paper out of glasses that have touched your lovely mouths.’—Marta Ess, bartender at Dear Friend in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Head out after you’ve closed out

Photograph: Kailley Lindman

20. Head out after you’ve closed out

‘Whether it is early in the evening or after the last guests have left the bar for the evening, when the check drops, it is time to pay and leave gracefully so that we may reset and be prepared to welcome you in another time. Once the check is dropped, it is time to go.’—Julia Momose, partner and creative director of Kumiko in Chicago


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