What the Bartender Won’t Tell You

  • Olive Juice.”  Commonly used for dirty Martinis.  It’s not juice at all but rather a brine (aka, salt water).  In all but the most obsessive-compulsive, Victorian wannabe, hoity-toity bars that do things like make their own pickled cherries for instance, bar olives are cheap items bought in bulk from food service distributors like Sysco.  They typically are delivered in gallon jars and come 4 to a box.  When new, both olives and their brine pass for acceptable.  However, they get redistributed to condiment trays where they sit for hours/days while barbacks, bartenders and often unscrupulous customers like to dip their dirty hands.  To boot, in cost savings effort, all the trays (and their accumulated content) will often get dumped back into storage and refrigerated all night for the next evening’s service.  Imagine in the worst cases what might be lurking in there…
  • The sights and sounds of most European tourists instantly incite depression and rage.  This is due to the fact that many of them do not believe in tipping, play dumb, or plain just don’t know.  I don’t buy the ignorance bit much as it’s likely not their first time hearing about U.S. customs.  Furthermore, the gratuity issue is mentioned in just about every guide book on the planet.   Endless European customers either do not tip at all or will commit some awful faux-pas such as dumping $1.78 in coins after lingering for 2 hours and running up a $150 tab.  Industry-speak for these types of folks is “Eurotrash,” unfortunately.  What’s particularly sad is that these customers often ruin the perception in bartenders’ (and waiters’) minds about other Europeans who tip decently and are well respected – of which there are many.
  • Orders for hand-made frozen drinks, coffee and the like are despised.  They take an inordinate of time to prepare.  Time = money.  I can easily serve 3 other drinks in the time it takes me to make one of these examples.  If the bar is slow, no big deal – no issue.  I’m proud to show off my special drink skills.  Likewise, if you’re enjoying several drinks, food, etc., have run up a decent tab and you’d like to end with a coffee or special drink, it’s not an issue.  What becomes a problem, for example, is evening happy hour, the bar is 3 deep, 4 people occupy prime bar space, order 2 coffees, a black&white milkshake and 2 waters and sit there for an hour with refill after refill.  This is a lose-lose proposition for obvious reasons.  Go to Starbucks please.
  • We’re sick.  Unlike your day job with the drab fluorescently lit cube, standard-issue Blackberry, and corporate benefits, most bartenders who don’t have union gigs at high-end hotels cannot call in sick very easily.  Our shifts must be covered not by management but by us.  To boot, we don’t get paid when we don’t work.  As a result, short of a broken leg, most bartenders and waiters will come in sick even if they have something terrible like the Flu.  Obviously, we’ll load up on meds and do our best not to spread the wealth.
  • Fear of a gaggle of female customers.   In my nearly two decades of bartending in major cities, I can tell you that middle-aged men are the ideal customer from gratuity and maintenance perspectives.  Groups of women,  young/middle-aged/old whatever, are the worst especially when it comes time to pay the tab.  In countless instances, again at a busy time, a group of four 23 year olds will arrive, take 10 minutes to figure out what they’d like to drink despite menus and suggestions, order one at a time, then whip out 4 different credit cards and ask to close them all out individually!  In other cases, older sets will sit there for hours, scrutinize and question every item on the bill, argue over who’s paying and how, and finally tip you $1/drink despite cost, time, complexity and food.  The examples are endless.  In general, men don’t exhibit this behavior.  Obviously, there are exceptions.  But, as with other distinct groups, the stereotype has been established for good reason.
  • Maraschino Cherries.  These are prey to the same issues as the olives I mention above.  Maraschino cherries for the most part are/were Marasca cherries from Croatia brined/pickled in Marasca liqueur.  What you’re buying in supermarkets and getting at bars are Imitation Maraschino Cherries.  That is, they start as other varieties.  Sulfur Dioxide, Calcium Choride, Sodium Metabisulfite, and Red #40 are added for processing, preservation and coloring respectively.  Personally, I don’t touch this chemical-laden stuff.  There is an old bar tale of bar cherries taking days/weeks to digest.  I personally don’t believe that tale but it’s been repeated incessantly as a result of modern day industrial food service processing.  That said, like the olive story, there are places where you can buy natural/organic super delicious real-deal cherries if you poke around.
  • Markups.  The markup on spirits is often 300% – 400%.  That’s quite a bit!  The markup on draft beer and and wine can approach 500% depending on numerous factors like dumping four pitchers in foam down the drain.  On fountain soda, it can easily be 1000%!  The house typically makes a lot more money on drinks than it does on food (varies but is often 50% – 150%).  It sounds absurd but it’s not if you stop to break it down.  In running a bar/restaurant, the costs are astronomical and numerous.  The biggest cost is labor – not your bartenders because we either don’t get paid anything or we get some sort of minimum wage which works out to zero net due to some complex formula incorporating anticipated gratuities.  The next biggest cost is often real estate – lease or mortgage.  Then you have dozens of ancillary costs like corporate rate utilities, food/beverage stock, corporate and payroll taxes, licenses, repair/upkeep, numerous insurance policies, violations, and of course, loss – due either to spoilage or theft.  If you haven’t accounted 10 – 25% or so for that last one, you’re extremely naive.   A business owner with half-a-brain will have someone (owner, GM, accountant or all three) sit down and figure out what all those costs are.  The business has to be able to make enough profit to overcome all those costs and provide the investor(s) a an ROI (return on income) however much that may be.  Many business fail because partly because they’ve failed to properly calculate these projections.  Getting of topic a bit, many businesses fail because of lack of sufficient operating capital particularly during slow periods.  Taking this all into account, these are the reasons why a beer your local watering hole might cost $6 while you can get one the same one at the bodega for $2, or $1 or less on a per case basis at a beer distributor.  Don’t hate the bar.  Think of it as paying rent for you to sit there, take in the sights, converse, be served, listen to the DJ and use the bathrooms.
  • No, we don’t remember you.  Almost every shift, some unremarkable customer will yell out my name and say “remember me? I was here last year!” I have no clue who you are dude.  But, most of the time, I’ll play along and placate you.  I’ll go along with your little mind-game cuz (1) I want you to be happy and (2) I’d like you to quickly divorce your wallet from it’s contents.  ‘Nuf said. On the flip side, if you’ve come in several times and have made yourself memorable by either tipping very well (or tipping very badly), we will remember you.
  • Asking how much drinks are before you order.  You do have a right to know how much things are before you buy them – agreed.  However, in a bar, right or wrong, asking for pricing on drinks paints you as someone who (1) can’t afford to be here (2) doesn’t have enough cash/credit on them and (3) is probably not going to tip well if at all.  You may not be able to read that sentiment on the bartender’s face and in most cases, you won’t get scolded but you’ve set yourself up.  In a busy club, you’ll simply get passed up and ignored for the next customer – not so much in a bar/restaurant.  If you’re concerned about being able to afford the drinks at a particular establishment, or if you’re just a cheap ass, it’s probably best to limit your drinking to your couch.  If not, do yourself a favor and ask for the drink menu instead of directly asking the bartender for half-a-dozen prices.  This way, your curiosity will be satisfied without arousing suspicion.

Things Never to Do at a Bar

Building on my Things Never to Say to a Bartender article, let’s take things to the next logical level with actions unbecoming of a customer.


  • Coming in with no cash (or not enough) and no credit card.  This sounds like a freaking joke but you’d be absolutely surprised by the frequency with which this happens. Idiots abound - particularly those with entitlement syndrome.  That old gag about having to do the dishes is utter bullshit.  If you consume and can’t pay, prepared to have a burly bear of bouncer keep you there while the Po-Po come to lock your dumbass up.  I’ve had several instances of customers with no cash trying to pay with a debit card without a MasterCard or VISA logo – it doesn’t work – sorry.  Don’t walk into an establishment without adequate funds.  Hit the ATM beforehand.  Anecdote: I have this seemingly 4-foot tall senior citizen, who lugs un-Godly amounts of personal stuff in Duane Reade bags around, wears an ornate head thingy, and generally looks/speaks like a Hobbit gypsy.  She’ll come in from time to time and demand “…ehhh wan taist of Jack Daniels please… I want to see if eet eez ok…” in her broken Romanian-Engrish or whatever it is.  I smile and say sorry and she’ll bounce around to every other bartender in the spot.  Kind of funny after you get used to it.  I think most places have these trolls.
  • Blowing your nose in a bevnap and depositing it on the bar in the direction of the bartender. This should be self-explanatory but you’d be shocked at how often this happens.  This is absolutely disgusting.  Get up and throw it in the nearest trash can.
  • Sticking your grubby paws in the condiment tray.  Gross!  Don’t do it – ever!
  • Taking your shoes off.  Yes, it actually happens often.
  • Tipping in numerous coins. Keep your change.
  • Ignoring staff and/or bobbing to the beat with your headphones while being spoken to.  We wouldn’t do it to you. How on Earth is this acceptable behavior?  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve greeted people with “Hi there! How are you?  Can I get you anything?” – they sit there typing away on a phone and offer ZERO response.  
  • Walking away from the bar for a smoke or to go to the restroom without dropping a credit card or otherwise paying your tab.  This is grounds for immediate suspicion and you’re likely to get someone chasing after you even though in most cases, you have no bad intentions.  Look at it from the bartender’s perspective.  They’d be taking a massive risk.  
  • Crumbling the odd napkin, french fry, toothpick, etc. in to hundreds of little pieces strewn on the bar.  Some folks, strangely, have fidgety fingers and feel the need to endlessly tear things apart.  I don’t get it.  This is a nasty habit that I’m constantly cleaning up after.
  • Staring at staff incessantly.  I’ve covered this in other articles.  We get that you’re infatuated with certain folks.  Quit making it obvious.  It won’t get you anywhere.
  • Grabbing, poking, caressing, or otherwise touching the staff.  Big big NO NO! Don’t do it!  Unfortunately, lots of folks are under the impression that this is the best way to get the bartender’s attention – wrong.  It’s the best way to put them on the defensive and piss them off.  Patiently wait with a needy look, wave nicely, and/or have cash in hand.  I assure you’ll be taken care of in due time.  Among many other incidents, I once had a somewhat initially pleasant regular descend into absolute batshit craziness.  The night he was finally 86′d, this epic flaming, self-indulgent queen offended and drove out a half-dozen customers.  He ran up and own the aisles screaming about how we stole from the place, got up on bar and dry humped it, threatened to kill me (err… bitch slap me), and finally reached across the bar and grabbed me.  I didn’t take it well.
  • Whistling or snapping your fingers for attention.  Almost as bad as reaching out and touching someone, ala Ma Bell.  This will instantly land you in DouchebagVille with the bartender.  Instead, sit patiently, cash or credit card in hand, with a polite needy look.  Tip well and be courteous.  This will convey to the barkeep that you’re not a problem customer, but a very much desired guest.  As I’ve mentioned other posts repeatedly, this will buy you immeasurable and invaluable brownie-points going forward.
  • You’ve not engaged the bartender/barmaid (don’t call her that) in conversation other than a salutation, drink order, and thanks.  However, you’re determined to take said hotness home with you as you’re in desperate need of some indoor sports.  You’re gonna make damned sure he/she remembers and calls you by writing some ridiculous note accompanied by your phone number on the credit card receipt.  Yikes! Creepy.  Make an effort and chat/flirt first ay?  
  • Placing trash, used wipes, half-eaten fruit rinds, etc. in the trough or drink prep area.  This is again, totally gross.  Don’t do it please.  The rubber mats you see in the trough and drink prep station are not trash cans.  Use your head.
  • Spreading your wings” or otherwise inappropriately taking up space for 17 people.  Yep, we’ve got those guys too and yes they’re almost always guys who litterally spread their wings to occupy 3 spaces and/or place their gym duffle bag on one seat and bubble jacket on the other while they sit in the middle.  Then, they proceed to get pissed off when heaven forbid another customer rolls up on “their” area.  It’s not “your” area dude.  Think of it as an airline seat – you’re entitle to one if you’re a patron.  Put your shit away and get a grip.  Stay home and be the king of your own couch not the neighborhood bar.
  • Paying in dozens of coins or a handful of crumpled bills.  This is really rude to do not just to bartenders but to anyone in retail.  
  • Frottage.  Questioning many friends over the years and recounting horrible service industry stories, it seems no one has ever heard of this phrase.  What it really is in the bar/club sense is non-consensual rubbing.  Yes folks, you read correctly.  There are a handful of groping, fetish-loving men there.  Yes, they’re all men and the victims are always unsuspecting women.  This is positively dark, disgusting, enraging behavior but it does happen once in a while.  The busier the bar, the more easily it can be concealed for obvious reasons.  I’ve had to have more several douchebags tossed over the years for committing this atrocity.  The funny thing is, the victims never ever even notice what’s happening! Even their friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, husbands have no clue!  Here’s how it works.  Creep will order a drink and tip handsomely to distract the bartender.  Subsequently, he’ll put a leg up on the brass railing, bar stool and “casually” but regularly rub up on the chick next to him.  It can also be a finger, hand, shoulder or whatever.  Living in NYC, I’ve see this pretty regularly in packed subway cars as well. 
  • Catching an attitude when asked for ID.  I’m over 40.  I look young’ish.  I still from time to time get carded.  This is almost always the case when hitting a busy club.  I don’t unleash my best Oh-God-360, snap my mouth, murmur some curse words, or otherwise throw a titty tantrum.  Just give up the goods when asked without fuss.  The bar security, servers, and bartenders are just doing their jobs.  They’re doing everything they can to avoid getting summoned by the Po-Po and/or losing their liquor license.  None of us want to server underage drinkers.  It’s not worth it in the slightest.   I’ve seen 23 year olds get all  nasty and spout out stupidity like “don’t I look old enough?” or “I’m 23 dude!” You’re an ass clown is what you are.  Whip out your license pronto and lose the attitude.  You’re making my job harder and costing everyone money and dry mouth.
  • Ordering from between chatting couples or chasing the bartender from one end of the bar to the other. I get it – you need your booze injection.  So do dozens of others.  It’s a busy bar.  Sit your ass down at or nudge your way into a semi-free spot at the bar and wait patiently with a look of need and/or cash in hand.  Give a friendly smile or nod.  We’re conditioned to notice folks like you and serve to order.  Don’t piss off other customers by forcing your way into their faces.  It’s downright rude.  Don’t shout your order from 10 feet away from the bar – you’ll get ignored.  
  • Your credit card is declined but you’re sure as hell going to make sure the bartender runs it 7 more times because something is wrong with his computer.  In busy establishments in major cities, you’ll almost always be asked to give up the plastic to hold a tab open upon ordering.  Subsequently, the bartender will also pre-authorize a certain amount on your card to make sure you have adequate funds – whether you wind up paying in cash or cc.  If your card is declined for whatever reason, I will try to be as gracious as possible about it, especially if you’re with a guest.  I’ll say something like “…would you happen to have another card by any chance?”  Far too many people get all insulted and fly into a rage.  When I ask you for another card, it’s really nice code for “your card was declined.”  No amount of re-running will make it not declined.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with our computers.  They talk to Visa, MC, and Amex nearly instantly.  Take a hint.  My next couple of retorts will be increasingly accusatory and sharp if you do not.   I’m doing my best not to say the “decline” word or otherwise embarrass you.  Whip out another card, hit he ATM, or otherwise fund your purchase. 

Thinks Never To Say to a Bartender

Where to begin?  As a customer, your goal is to enjoy your outing at the local watering hole right? You’d like to be treated well, laugh, drink, eat maybe, and maybe be remembered as a good guy/gal upon your next visit aye?  With that in mind, let’s take a look at things say that will piss off your bartender and figure out how to avoid them to ensure you’re not mistreated by an enraged server.

  • I’m just waiting for someone…” as you proceed to occupy your stool, the adjoining stool for yet to arrive pseudo-date while you ask for water and the bar is 2 people deep. Your bartender does not give a crap that you’re waiting for Mr/Mrs XYZ or whomever.  There is zero need to throw this out there – ever.  It’s useless information.  Your server just cares that you order something and don’t take up valuable space.  
  • You should smile more” A-hole! You know what you just caused?  You just caused me not not smile until you’re gone.  Never, ever say this to anyone let alone a bartender.  It’s just plain stupid and unoriginal.  This is usually uttered by someone who is interested in undressing you.  You just blew any remote chance you may have had at all.  If you want someone’s not smiling, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re upset.  It may mean nothing at all.  No one I know of walks around with a perma-smile.  Perma mouth-agape, yes but not perma-smile.  If you want to get that barkeep to smile, how about you be courteous, charming, funny or witty?
  • It’s my birthday” or “It’s my friend’s birthday” Never, ever utter these words to the bartender. You’re not getting any free drinks period.
  • What should I order?” Internal answer: I have no fucking idea!!!  Externally, we may smile and hand offer you a “would you like to take a look at the drink menu?” or “do you like drinks which are dry, sweet, fruity, creamy, etc?” to try and narrow down the plethora of options or “our house specialties are…”  In reality, when the bar is really busy, this is absolutely troublesome and you’ve instantly made the bartender irate.  In clubs I’ve worked at, this type of behavior would result in you being ignored for a good long while.  In a bar/restaurant, that reaction often doesn’t fly.  I may tell you I’ll be right back while you ponder the display of booze on the back bar, the taps and the menu.  Consider also that a drink that one person likes, another my find disgusting.  Give us a ballpark idea of what you’d like, ask for a drink menu straight away, or study the beverages on display before you approach the barkeep. 
  • I’d like you to bear my children.  What time do you get off?” or “You’re hot! What’s your number?” or “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” or “Have you been tested for STD’s recently?” etc.  How about some foreplay first eh?  You get the picture.  You think these are jokes but we get various versions of these questions repeatedly.   Read my Macking with the Staff article.
  • What’s your number/email address?” Milder category of the preceding…
  • Facebook Friend Request.- In the beginning, God created…whoops – wrong blog! Um… in the beginning of FB, it was all about hooking up with random hotties.  Now that every Tom, Dick, Jane, your Grandma, and your Dad are on FB, an etiquette has evolved.  Most people are no longer random FB Friend Collectors (I hope).  If you’re a customer, regular or not, what business do you have sending a Friend Request where you’ve never hung out with this employee, you don’t have his/her number and otherwise have no relationship other than the fact that you’re a patron??? All this proves in most cases is that you’ve gone through the trouble of finding out the barkeep’s last name, have stalked them online a bit and that equals creepy! Ewwww!
  • I’d like that with little/no ice” Umm…. no.  Don’t be surprised if you get a half-filled high-ball or rocks glass.  Quit the bullshit.  This is a common tactic of a certain class of individual who shall remain nameless and is always trying to get something for free.  This person is simply trying to get over on newbie bartenders who are clueless.  The reason they keep doing it is because it works in many places and there is an endless stream of said newbie bartenders who will give away the house because they’re inexperienced and clueless.   My standard response to this type of request is to offer a shot and a chaser separately to avoid any drama which is sure to come from just about everyone ordering in this fashion.  Or, as mentioned, I’ll provide a half-filled glass.  When/if the customer complains, I’ll ask if they’d like a double which almost always shuts them up.
  • Make it strong!”  Errr…. if you’ve read my other articles, you’ll know how I feel about this one.  This request goes hand in hand with the little/no ice request.  These are mouthed by cheapskates and freeloaders and handled in a similar fashion.  As a customer, if you mouth this phrase, you’ve instantly painted yourself into a corner of the bartender’s brain and not a good one.  It’s a placed reserved for the worst customers imaginable outside of non-tipping Eurotrash – the ghetto crowd.  I speak of “ghetto” as a mindset and pattern of behavior not where you live nor your skin color.  “Ghetto” folks come from all over unfortunately.  They often want something for nothing or feel they’re entitled to special treatment.   Anyway, I will typically respond “yes, abolutely sir/maam!” and make the drink exactly as I would otherwise and tell them it’s nice and strong.  Otherwise, I may use extra ice and fill the drink a bit less than I normally would resulting in a higher concentration of booze.  Another trick if you can get away with it is to pour a slight of amount of booze directly down the straw to appease the guest with the first sip.  If not, the asking for a double or extra shot dialogue is in order.
  • I’m friends with the owner” Argh!!! This is always bullshit and almost always another case of someone trying to get over.  You will be identified and treated as such. If you were the owner’s brother, sister, cousin twice removed, lawyer, etc, you would never drop names and have grand expectations.  You would shut the hell up and show up with said owner(s), have their numbers, and generally go about your business unobtrusively.  
  • Do you guys do buybacks?” or “Is that one free?” Ugh! Previously covered but worth mentioning again about a thousand times.  This is the mother of all bar faux-pas.
  • Can I have a coffee?”  This may seem innocuous to you but in the evening while the bar is busy, this is a massive annoyance as the bartender sometimes has to run around for a while to obtain a setup, sugar caddy, cream, spoon, and maybe not so fresh coffee all for the grand sum of a dollar or two for the house and perhaps $.50 cents to a dollar tip.  Furthermore, you’re occupying space that could legitimately be used by our favorite type of clientele, the alcoholic – preferably a Suit with a corporate AMEX and a dozen of his buddies.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with ordering coffee – I exaggerate a tad.  The daytime lends itself to juch java consumption as does a cooling off period after several rounds of drinks.  But when it’s busy at night, this is a major PITA.
  • I’d like a milkshake”  This falls into the same domain as the coffee but worse.  This is probably the most annoying order you can give to a bartender.  It’s messy, non-alcoholic [read: bars like people who drink booze], and most importantly takes a LONG time to make which equals loss of income.
  • Are there any seats anywhere?” or “We’d like to have some drinks but can’t find any seats”  This is beyond aggravating.  The bar is 3 deep.  We have 3 orders for 8 people in our heads, menus in arms, cash in fists, and are carrying on 2 other conversations.  Bar stools/seating are the customers’ domain.  You must fend for yourself.  If you’re exceptionally hot, we’ll drop everything you’re doing, kick out the old dude eating dessert at the far end of the bar and kindly seat you ourselves.  
  • Can you ask that chick over there if she has a boyfriend or would like a drink?” Yikes.  Creep.  No self esteem.  Get your pathetic ass up, put the iPhone down and go talk to her.
  • Can I get a glass of water?” as you run into the bathroom fresh off your skateboard, fully jacketed, huffing and puffing, on your wat out the door with zero intention of actually buying anything or ordering anything else.  
  • My friend is gonna pay for these drinks.  He’s coming in a few minutes.”  Umm… NO!  You will pay or  drop a credit card to hold the tab.  Chicks pull this one regularly.
  • We’re just waiting for a table” As you and your party of 7 occupy 1/3 of the bar ordering nothing.  If it’s not busy, fine – no problem.  The restaurant is happy to have you.  But as soon as the bar fills up, you’re costing everyone money.  Please wait in the waiting area or order something for all or most of your party while you await a table.
  • Can we transfer our check to a table?” Jesus no! In most restaurant-bars I’ve worked in, the bar is extremely busy.  As a result, it’s damned near impossible to track down parties that have moved to a table.  Furthermore, the barkeep looks at the situation as a complete loss of gratuity.  Again if it’s slow and the tab is relatively small, fine.  We’re here to accommodate.

  • “Have you seen the movie ‘Cocktail’ with Tom Cruise?” Holy shit! You douchebag.  Do you honestly think that (1) I haven’t (2) that I care and (3) that you’re the first moron to bring up that retarded reference?  I don’t care about a fictional flair bartender who used nothing but props.  Think of something more interesting and original to talk about, if you’re even capable of delving deep enough in your douchebag intelligista arsenal to do so.