Rookie Bar Gaffes to Avoid

Watching the latest Game of Thrones season (I’m not going to expound on GoT. It’s just a TV show), my boyfriend pointed out how much Bran-as-Three-Eyed-Raven sounds like all of us after our first year of college. That I’ve been out in the world, I’ve learnt things about philosophy and hidden histories and now I can enlighten all you old people aura of smugness. We have all been guilty at one point or another of “schooling” an elder on the reality of things.

This reminds me of what it was like to be a craft bartender the first few months after training. Six weeks of memorizing drink recipes and scribbling tasting notes about spirits and all of a sudden I KNEW EVERYTHING, and I wanted to drop this wisdom in every bar I graced with my presence.

Ugh, the memories of trying to order a Bijou from some hotel pool bar, then trying to walk the flippant woman behind the stick through an inevitably wretched concoction. That was the start of a realization, that just because I made fancy-pants cocktails didn’t mean I could expect everyone else to make them for me, or be grateful for my definitely-not-annoying schooling.*

As time went on and I spent more time behind my own bar, I learned more about what it meant to be a good customer.  I’m all on the side of capital-H Hospitality, here, and definitely don’t think a guest at a bar should be eye-rolled or belittled, but if you’re in the industry, you should hold yourself to a higher standard than civilians. Here are some of the most annoying things bartenders do to one another, trying to show off how in-the-know they are. I state these in full knowledge that I may have perpetrated any number of them over the past five years. 

  1. Demanding to be WOWed. Oh, the painful memory of dropping my “craft bartender” status to a server and asking them to fetch me “something weird,” with zero direction in terms of flavor profile or booze preference. I do love a dealer’s choice option, but when the place is slammed and people are relying on muscle memory, making the bartender stop and think or look something up is the worst.
  2. Ordering off YOUR menu. Oh, your place of business makes this insanely good Penicillin riff with a half-ounce of OJ and touch of…? Whatever. Did you think that the bar director here made up a whole menu of drinks because they were waiting for you rewrite it for them? I’m not saying you always have to order from the menu. Sometimes you just want a dang daiquiri, and anyone can appreciate that. But walking a fellow bartender through the steps of someone else’s house speciality is just insulting. If you want to drink your own menu, drink at your own place.
  3. Making me babysit your drunk ass. Ok, most of us are in this job because we like booze. Some of us can handle it better than others. No judgment. And sure, those family meal shots can add up, but if you drop your industry cred then proceed to get sloppy, fall asleep, start yelling or in any way annoy my other guests, you’re getting shut down quicker than Taco Bell in a health dept inspection. No friends and family discounts for people who can’t handle themselves.
  4. Making me babysit you sober. One of my favorite parts of the job is all the cool and/or bizarre things I learn from people who come in and want to chat. Regulars are the bees’ knees. But if you do this job, you should be self-aware enough not to try to monopolize your bartender. Just because you’ve got the secret handshake down doesn’t mean I owe you more attention than anyone else at the bar.
  5. Expecting comps. This is a total no-brainer, but I have still encountered startled looks when an industry sibling who has worn out their welcome gets a bill with everything charged on it. I might buy you something if you’re awesome, or if you’re a regular, but expecting freebies is just unclassy.
  6. Trying to trip me up. So if a customer insists they know more about whiskey than I do, I might endure it quietly if I think it will make them be quiet. Sometimes they do! I like learning. But if another barkeep comes in and starts grilling me on recipe specs and obscure ingredients, clearly looking for an opening to drop some knowledge and boost their ego, that’s an express ticket to getting icy, perfunctory service the rest of the night, or possibly a double-down liquor nerd-out they may not win. Why take the chance?
  7. Bringing your most annoying friends. We’ve all got them, the friends who are sweet enough at home but absolutely cringe-inducing in a service situation. I have a cranky aunt I always have to secretly apologize for and covertly over-tip when we go out to eat, but that’s family. Your college buddy who insists I go to the back and get the “real” olive juice from the industrial sized bucket of olives instead of taking their gross-ass martini with the infinitely more hygienic Dirty Sue, or is regally indignant that a place that serves $14 Old Fashioneds doesn’t have Bud Light in a bottle is someone you meet at a dive bar, not a cocktail lounge you might want to return to. You know better.

We all can’t be on our best behavior all the time. But the sooner we learn how to be better Industry citizens, the better it is for all of us. In these troubled times, let this, at least, be sacred.

*But definitely annoying.


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