You May Serve Our Drinks, But You Ain't God: Ten Etiquette Tips for Bartenders

Tip #1: Dress like a dapper gentleman.
Tip #1: Dress like a dapper gentleman.
Photo from the U.S. National Archives

Last week, I gave you a list of 10 etiquette tips for patrons of a bar.

This week, in fairness, I'm turning the tables.

Sure, there are some really annoying customers out there, but sometimes bartenders need a little reminder about how to behave as well. Yes, you work hard for your money (I know -- I've bartended before), but so do we, and unless we're drinking with Gordon Ramsay, we expect to be treated fairly. Some bartenders just don't get it, and perhaps those select few are in the wrong industry. It's time to shape up or ship out.

And because I know many of you will get your panties in a bind about the thankless job of bartending, feel free to give me a piece of your mind in the comments. Just don't give me a piece of lime that's been sitting out all day. Thanks.

10. Don't openly judge the drink I just ordered. Some nights I just want a vodka and club soda. I know, I know, vodka is largely reviled in the bartending industry. You think it's flavorless and therefore useless. I get that. It's not great. But every now and then, I want something simple and low-cal that tastes like I'm drinking booze. I want it to burn on the way down, and I want to feel shitty the next morning. So don't make a face when I order a vodka and club soda or a michelada or something from the well. Don't tell me that what I ordered is nasty or not high quality. Just make it for me and accept my generous tip for stooping so low.

9. Don't make a scene of giving free drinks to friends When I was bartending, I loved to have friends come see me on slow nights. It can be fun to show off for them or just have someone to chat with to kill time. But if there are other people at the bar within earshot, don't loudly proclaim that your friend is getting her drinks on the house. No one wants to feel that someone else is getting preferential treatment. It's totally fine to give a buddy a drink, but do it with subtlety. Same goes for that hot customer who you've been flirting with all night. If you want to buy him a drink, then by all means, do so! There's just no need to be showy about it.

8. Clean the freaking bar I know you're busy. I know that it's more important to keep the wait short than to immediately wash every dirty glass that comes back to the bar. But for God's sake, don't let the used glasses, cocktail napkins, straws and squeezed lime carcasses pile up where customers can see them. Dirty dishes need to be cleared as soon as possible. They don't need to be washed the second they're returned (unless you're running out of glasses, duh), but they should never be allowed to sit on tables or on the bar. If you can't keep up with the used glasses, maybe it's time to hire a barback.


"OMG, I know, right?! Here, let me show you a pic of my cat, Bootsie!"
"OMG, I know, right?! Here, let me show you a pic of my cat, Bootsie!"
Photo by Petras Gagilas

7. Don't insert yourself into my conversation unprompted I did it too when I was working behind the bar. A customer asks her friend if she's seen the latest episode of Dexter, and her friend says no, so I'm like, "I saw it! What was your favorite part! I liked the part where he wrapped that dude in cellophane and stabbed him!" And then the customers smile politely and make a half turn away from the bar in their seats so as not to engage the weird bartender. Fail. Most people come to a bar to hang out with their friends, not to entertain you. If they engage you in conversation, by all means, tell them about your dog and his awesome new trick. Otherwise, make drinks and leave people alone.

6. Know what you've got behind the bar If I order an Amaretto Sour (I'm not going to, but just for argument's sake), and you tell me you don't have any Amaretto, but I can clearly see it sitting on the shelf, I'm going to think you're either rude or dumb. Maybe both. If I tell you that I want a light, citrusy, hoppy beer, please know which of your brews would best satisfy that request. If you serve food, it's a great idea to know what drinks would pair well with it. This is Bartending 101, but I feel it's worth repeating from time to time.

5. Don't talk about customers in front of other customers If you say something bitchy to me about the tipping habits of the fellow who just walked away, I'm going to have some sympathy, sure, but I'm probably also going to assume that you talk about all of your customers behind their backs. And then I'm going to start wondering what you'll say about me when I leave and if I've done anything to piss you off. And I'm not going to enjoy myself. Similarly, don't talk to waiters or other bartenders about annoying customers within earshot of other patrons. It sounds like you're gossiping, and we'd rather not know your behind-the-scenes drama.


4. Don't say you can't make something unless you really don't have the ingredients If you don't want to make Ramos Gin Fizzes, don't keep eggs in stock. If you don't want to make Mojitos, don't have mint. But if I can clearly see that you have a Southside on the menu, don't tell me you can't make me a Mojito. And don't tell me that you can't make a Bloody Mary if it's after 5 p.m. If you still have the mix, you can make one. I realize that some drinks are time consuming or disgust you or are pretty much only good for getting people drunk. But don't try to be the arbiter of good taste, 'cause it's just not going to happen. And if you're too lazy to shake a cocktail for the appropriate amount of time, go work at a beer bar.

3. Have a good attitude I am so sick of stuffy bartenders in stuffy hipster "mixology" bars acting like they're the shit because they have control over my alcohol consumption and because they know how to make a rapid infusion with a whipped cream dispenser. That's super cool, and I'm really proud of you, but there's no need to be a pompous prick. You respect me, and I'll respect you. You can be talented and serious about your job and still be friendly and engaging. If you'd rather not stoop so low as to talk to the poor, wretched alcoholics circling your bar and asking for Red Bull cocktails, first of all, I can't really blame you, because Red Bull should never be in a cocktail. But second, you're in the wrong business.

2. Don't get drunk while on the job I don't care if you work at a club where people are constantly buying you drinks. I work in an office where people are constantly sending us drink samples, but I don't get drunk on the job because I'm at work. When you're serving people behind the bar, you're at work, too. Be responsible. I know from experience that it can suck to be sober at a bar on a Saturday night when all your friends are there whooping it up, but it comes with the job. If you're not sober, how can you tell when someone else needs to be cut off? How can you even make a decent cocktail? How are you going to get home? If someone asks to buy you a drink, tell her you're not allowed to drink while working or that you have to stay sharp so you can keep making her awesome cocktails. And then, when you get home, help yourself to all the whiskey in your pantry.

Photo by Dinner Series

1. Don't shake a Manhattan I don't care what any other bartender or cocktail book has told you. Don't fucking shake my Manhattan. Shaking a drink causes the ice cubes to break up and dilute the liquor. It also aerates the drink, and you don't want air bubbles in a heavy, smooth drink like a Manhattan. Plus, when vermouth comes into contact with air, it starts to oxidize. It won't oxidize completely just from the process of shaking it, but it won't taste the same. So don't do it. Here's a rule: If you can see through the drink, stir it. If it's opaque, shake it. End of story.

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >