5 Classic Beer Garden Mistakes We’re All Making

Don’t worry. We’re not trying to accuse anyone of serious “beer garden fails.” That would kind of go entirely against the spirit of the beer garden, where things are intentionally laid back, because everywhere else—we’re looking at you, DMV—is an unapologetic pain in the ass.

That said, there are a few mistakes we’re making that, when corrected, could actually enhance our beer-garden experience—anything from what we’re ordering to how, and actually why.

There’s still plenty of time to correct any of these mistakes, since, and thank god, the season of the beer garden is longer than any calendar or meteorological season—basically as long as compulsorily lederhosen-clad servers can handle itchy fabric and outdoor temps. But as long as the beer keeps flowing, let’s make sure we get the most out of it by avoiding these five classic beer garden mistakes.

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Not Eating.

That yummy food will help you stay upright.

Not eating while imbibing is a mistake anywhere you do it. You’re likely to get drunker faster, lose your footing, and head home—or into blackout oblivion—earlier than everyone else. Not eating at a beer garden is a double mistake; not only will eating (even snacking) keep you fortified for the next round of moderately-sized steins (see below), you’ll also get to consume some pretty tasty food. Much like a good pub menu, beer garden menus are geared toward simple, but sublime, gustatory pleasure. If you’re at a German beer garden, that means things like giant Bavarian pretzels with mustard and cheese, all manner of “wurst” on buns, and schnitzel pounded and fried to your pleasure. Considering beer is typically very food friendly, it’s a waste—and a precursor to “wasted”—to skimp on grub at the garden.

Ordering the Large.

Real German dudes, with smaller steins.
Real German dudes, with smaller steins.

Yeah, it’s fun. In fact, half the reason we go to a beer garden in the first place is the thrill of ordering a giant stein of beer, and then holding the stein with our tiny little hands like adorable beer-guzzling gnomes. It’s all meant in good fun, and should be done at least once. But if you’re a beer-garden regular, you know by now: the large stein is a fail waiting to happen. Unless you’ve been double dog-dared, you’re probably not chugging that mega stein. You’re sipping it, quite possibly even taking gulps here and there. But you’re also at a beer garden, a social place that’s specifically built for interaction. You’re going to be chatting, and especially if you’re beer garden’s outdoors that big, beautiful stein of beer is gonna get real warm, real fast. As much fun as it was to order, and as thrilling as those first few sips are, there’s nothing sadder than finishing the last eight to 10 ounces of warm Hefeweizen simply out of principle.

Going with Blah Beer.

Try something fun. A special glass means special beer.
Try something fun. A special glass means special beer.

Whatever size you order, why are you ordering a Coors Light? If it’s dietary, or if Coors Light is the only thing you’ll ever drink and we can ply it from your cold, dead hands etc., fine. Fair enough. But if you’re playing it safe with a blah beer, or something you’ve seen everywhere, in every bar, forever, you’re wasting a good opportunity. Beer gardens aren’t just spacious in size; they’re spacious in tap lists, and while it might not always be the ideal tap list, most beer gardens will tend to have at least a few standouts worth sampling. Most beer gardens are German, so it’s never a bad idea, and almost always a good idea, to go for a German beer. If it’s the kind of beer garden that rotates in some interesting seasonal beers, try one of those (within your comfort zone, of course; no need to go the Jalapeño Grapefruit Triple IPA road; in fact, definitely don’t, see below). This is another reason to order the smaller stein. If you’re buying huge, you’re gonna play it safe and, eventually, warm. A smaller fail is a better fail, and you’ll have learned a little something new.

Coming to drink.

Yeah, drink. But don't drink.
Yeah, drink. But don’t drink.

This is a classic beer garden mistake. On one hand, beer gardens are designed exactly so you can come to drink—and drink all day if you like. But a beer garden is a different animal than say, a dive bar or a craft cocktail den. You’re in a big wide space, there might be an oompah band, you’re hopefully outside. Maybe someone even brought some UNO cards. (Or, yes, you’re all Pokemon hunting.) Either way, beer gardens imply a certain sociability and interaction. You’ll see babies in strollers and probably meet at least one runaway toddler who wants to taste your Dunkel lager. You’re not really here to get wasted, you know? Especially in the hot, hot sun. So avoid anything too high ABV. If you’re IPA or bust, maybe check to see if the beer garden tap list includes a sessionable IPA. Or maybe, temporarily, allay your hops lust with a more balanced pale ale. At the very least, don’t start the day with a round of shots. You’ll be passed out by the time the oompah band gets to your table.

Not showing up early for an event.

Look at how happy they are! They found a seat together!
Look at how happy they are! They found a seat together!

If friends of yours haven’t had a birthday party at a beer garden yet, don’t worry, they will. And then you will learn the careful artistry of trying to secure a whole table in what’s essentially a glorified cafeteria filled with intoxicated adults. If you’re the organizer or the birthday-haver, do your due diligence: show up at least a half-hour early with a friend or two (there’s power in numbers) so you can stake out the crowd. If you see a table full of what looks like one contiguous group, don’t wait for them. You’ll want to spot a table made up of a few pockets of friends, spotty groups that aren’t really allied in the defense of their beer-garden table. When one group gets up, claim that empty spot with your buddies and promptly order beers. Ideally, you should be doing this at tables where a bunch of glasses are getting lower. Never, ever sit down next to a competing birthday group. Things can get ugly, like 8th grade cafeteria-style ugly, real fast. Except here, people are a lot drunker.