Veteran bartenders have seen it all when it comes to rude or simply clueless patrons. And while asking questions and making conversation is generally welcome at most bars, especially on slower nights, there is a certain etiquette to keep in mind the next time you belly up for a Martini or two.
To help you avoid making the same mistakes they’ve seen countless times, top bartenders weighed in with some of the most egregious faux pas they’ve encountered behind the bar — and how to make sure you’re not the one making them.
Listen to Your Bartender, Not Your Ego
When it comes to ordering drinks, communication is key — so don’t be afraid to ask your bartender some questions before settling on your order. “If I had to choose a top mistake that a customer could make when ordering it would be listening to their ego and desire to sound confident rather than looking over the menu and ordering something that intrigues them,” says Marshall Minaya, beverage director at Valerie NYC. Instead, be clear about the flavors, spirits, and textures you enjoy and dislike. This will help barbacks understand your preferences and serve you better.
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
Nerd Out — With Caution
Most bartenders love to geek out about an exciting new spirit or method they’ve recently learned about. But while they’d love to chat with you for hours about Negroni riffs, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. “When the bar is four deep and your bartender is mixing at maximum speed, it’s not the time to ask if we prefer a Sazerac with Pernod or Herbsaint,” says Harry McNamara, bar manager at the Catskills’ Urban Cowboy Lodge.
Don’t Say the “S-Word”
While there are plenty of requests bartenders are tired of hearing, at the top of the list is, “Not too sweet.” At top establishments, bartenders are highly trained to make delicious and balanced tipples. “Nearly all cocktails require some sort of sweet component to balance the other flavors of the cocktail,” says Harrison Snow, co-owner of NYC’s Lullaby. Though plenty of consumers prefer more savory drinks, asking a bartender to change the specs of a house drink they spent hours developing may not be the best way of going about it. “If you’re looking for something low in sugar due to a dietary constraint, you’re better off articulating that to your bartender and collaborating with them on something different — or perhaps ordering a neat pour of something, a whiskey highball, or glass of wine,” Snow says.
Stay In Your Lane
While there’s nothing wrong with classic bartender-patron chitchat, it’s imperative that consumers remember that they’re in someone’s place of work, and to act accordingly. Bartenders widely agree that vaping, changing, and asking personal questions at the bar is unacceptable. “One egregious mistake is when customers assume things about my life, such as smoking cigarettes because I’m a bartender,” says Dianne Lowry, beverage director of Macchina.
Another no-no? Using the garnish jar as your personal snack bowl. “Those cherries and fresh cut fruit look delicious, and they are. But if you stick your fingers in there, I will instantly throw out the whole jar,” says McNamara. “You’re creating waste, you’re wasting your mixologist’s valuable prep time, and you look like a jerk.”
Don’t Take Cocktails Too Seriously
Whether you’re a beverage connoisseur or a cocktail novice, it’s important to remember that above all, drinking at a bar should be a fun, relaxing activity, meaning there’s no reason to stress about a drink order. “I believe a lot of people regard cocktails as a foreign language that they are constantly trying to understand. Because of this, they often don’t trust their impulses and are conditioned to believe that if they don’t like something, they’re wrong for not liking it,” Snow says. “You shouldn’t need to be an expert on cocktails to thoroughly enjoy the cocktail you’re drinking.”