Bar Etiquette: 21 Rules to Drinking with Dignity

Today I’m going to stray from my normal content of medical school, music and movies. Because on my summer break, I’ve been spending far more time in bars than I have in front of my computer. Every time I’m at the communal watering hole with some friends, I’m reminded of the how socially inept and unaware some patrons are on how to conduct themselves at a bar.

In college, I bartended at both a small, higher class bar and a giant shot-and-a-beer pub. Even on my summer break, I’ve picked up a couple shifts for cash. My time on the other side of the bar provided many insights into how things work. You ever wonder why you’ve been standing at the bar waiting so long that your buzz wears off to get your next drink while the guy next to you was served as soon as he walked up? Good chance you upset the bartender and the other guy has established rapport through being a smart, well-mannered patron.

Read below to find out how to be the guy who gets served instantly, receives discounted drinks, and is greeted with a smile and a handshake every time he steps into the bar.


1. Use the Manners Momma Taught You

First and foremost, be a likable person. This should be common knowledge but you’d be amazed at how many jackasses treat their bartender like a guy who scrubs toilets at a gas station. Exchange, “get me two Bud Lights” for “may I have two Bud Lights”. Ask, don’t demand. Say “thank you” every time you interact with your server. Smile once in a while.

2. Make it Personal

If you go to the same bar regularly, make an effort to get to know the bartenders. However, if you only go on Friday or Saturday nights when the place is shoulder-to-shoulder packed, go in and grab a drink or two a couple times earlier in the day when the place is empty, sit at the bar, introduce yourself with a firm handshake, ask them about their lives, and tip well. They’ll remember your face when choosing who to serve first amongst a dozen other people trying to get a drink on Friday night at 1 in the morning.

3. Tip Well

Nothing will put you on the “serve this person last” list like being a bad tipper. I shouldn’t have to go into details here, but use some sense. Giving a dollar for a bartender simply opening two $2 beer bottles is okay. Giving $1 for a $12 cocktail that required four minutes of muddling and mixing is cheap. Corollary: If the bartender is rude, don’t be afraid to stiff them (note: being busy and taking a while to serve you does NOT make them rude). No one deserves free money if they’re a total jerk.

4. Don’t Treat Your Bartender Like a Stripper

Whatever you do, no matter how busy the bar may be, DO NOT WAVE YOUR MONEY IN THE AIR. DO NOT SNAP YOUR FINGERS. DO NOT WAVE. When dealing with a busy bar, you slightly lean on the bar, hold your money in a calm, still manner to indicate that you wish to purchase a drink, make eye contact with the server, and wait. You are not special. You chose to go to a crowded bar to get a drink. The bartenders are running around non-stop, doing the best they can to serve everyone in a timely manner. If you want to be served faster than others, see points 1, 2, and 3.

5. Avoid the Elaborate Cocktails

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more irritating than bartending, running around without a break for hours, while dozens of people try to flag you down for drinks, only to have some inconsiderate person order the “Tantric Sex at Sunset while eating a Watermelon on the beach, with a lime” while there ten others waiting to get a drink. In a crowded bar, you will order beer, shots, or a simple, two-component mixed drink like a Jamo-ging, Vodka tonic, rum & coke, etc. If you order a complicated drink that takes the bartender several minutes to make, not only will you annoy the bartender and put them further behind, you will ensure that everyone else waiting for a drink has to wait even longer.

6. Know Your Drink

Say you’ve been waiting ten minutes to get drink, the bartender finally comes to you ready for your order, and you stumble through, “ummm… hmmm.. what should I get”. The bartender has every right to walk straight away from you and serve the next person. Order quickly, simply, and clearly. Don’t waste peoples’ time.

7. Buy Rounds, Not a Single Drink for Yourself

Say you go to the bar with four friends, two want a Budweiser, one wants a Miller, and the fourth wants a Vodka tonic. Walk up to the bar, say to your friends, “I’ll get the first round”, buy all four drinks with one payment, and hand them to your friends on the premise that one orders the seconds round, another the third, and so on. Again, this is simply common sense. If each of you orders your $3.50 drink separately, the bartender has to process four transactions instead of one, which is simply a pain and a waste of time.

8. Cash is King

Hitting a common theme here; be smart and save time. If you order a few drinks and your total comes to $15, hand the bartender your $20 and tell them to keep the change for the sake of simplicity. It makes for a quick, simple, and efficient transaction. Drink, pay, go.

9. Never Ask a Bartender to “Make it Strong”

Asking to “make it strong” or asking for another shot in your drink is pretty much like asking for a free round. You wouldn’t go up to the bar and ask for a free beer, would you? Unless you’re good friends with the bartender, they have no reason to do this for you. You either have to pay for a double, or they’ll say sure and pour the same, proper amount that everyone else gets.

10. Don’t Hover After Getting Your Drink

If you’re in a crowded bar while people are waiting to be served, don’t act like a big shot and pop a squat at the barstool taking up valuable bar real estate and get annoyed when people try to squeeze between you and your friends to order a drink.. Do the right thing, get your drink, vacate the area, and let other people move forward.

11. Don’t Argue a Check

If you ordered seven Patron shots and you’re shocked that your tab is $70, eat the damn bill. You should understand that drinks are priced by the bar, and it isn’t their job to warn you how much each and every drink costs. If you’re concerned that ordering a round of top-shelf liquor might be out of your price range, simply ask beforehand or make it simple and stick to something in your budget. Also, if for some reason your tab is wrong, like you ordered three beers and somehow four extra drinks showed up on your tab, simply address the matter politely without being a jerk. Bartenders are human and it’s easy to make a mistake, which is usually cleared up with no problem.

12. Order from Your Server

If you are seated at a table and you have an appointed server coming around to take your drink orders, don’t circumvent the process and run to the bar to order another round. You are stiffing your server out of money. On the other hand, if you are at the bar getting a few drinks while waiting for a table, do not ask for the bartender to transfer the bill to the table, square up with them and start a new tab at the table. It sucks to serve someone drinks, only for them to give the tip to someone else.

13. Your Bartender Probably Does Not Want to Sleep With You

You are not special, and they are only flirting back to keep you ordering and spending money so that they can receive a higher tip. Even if they are being nice and flirty, they are more than likely playing you. If you hit on a female bartender, know that they get it often, and unless you do it smoothly and you have some charm (“aye sweetheart what time do you get off” is not smooth), you moved yourself onto the harrowed “serve this person last” list. And if you go too far, don’t be surprised when the bouncer humiliates you and drags you out by your shirt collar. Don’t be a weirdo.

14. Do Not Black Out and Morph Into a Dinosaur

One time last year, my friend took way too many shots and thought he was a dinosaur or something. He creeped around the bar holding his hands like a T-Rex hissing and growling at everyone with a maniacal look on his face. In this crowded bar, he actually got on all fours and started crawling around the ground like a weird dinosaur-cat hybrid. He did not break character for 20 minutes. Everyone was staring, some laughing hysterically, some terrified. The bartenders didn’t know whether to kick him or or let him continue for the sake of comedy. I have never seen a more embarrassing black out in my life, and I’ve also never laughed harder at a bar. So yeah, watch your liquor and don’t black out and assume the form of a prehistoric predator. Big no-no. Plus, these days if you do something dumb, you can guarantee that someone is recording it. Keep your wits about you.

15. Leave Your Ego at Home

If you walked into a crowded bar by your own choosing and your shoulder gets brushed, “YOU WANNA GO, BRO?” ain’t the proper response. Unless you have some Jedi powers to create a 5-foot force field around yourself, deal with the crowd. Go to the bar to have a good time, not to get into a fight. Getting into a fight when you’re a high school to earn your stripes or something may be dismissed as youthful stupidity, but if you’re an adult you should never get into a physical altercation unless there is immediate danger to you or a loved one. Grow up. Don’t roll out with negative guys who like to start fights. And if some girl wants you to punch a dude to defend her honor because he accidentally spilled a little beer on her pants, leave her. Seriously. Both of these types of people are poisonous. You can get arrested, spend the night in the slammer, pay thousands of dollars in legal fees, and ensure that you never get a good job because you have a felonious assault charge on your record. You can also get seriously injured. Just don’t do it.

16. Introduce People

Say you’re a popular dude rolling out to a bar you frequent, with a friend from out of town tagging along for the night. Sure, it’s easy to see people you know and want to talk to them, but be sure to introduce your friend. Don’t exclude others from conversation. Be sure to involve everyone and make introductions so that no one feels awkward.

17. Include Everyone

Here’s a rule everyone needs to follow: If you are in a group of three people and you sit down at the bar, the person in the middle either backs his seat up to make a bit of a triangle, or stands between the two seats. Sitting in a row of three people in the bar ensures that one person on either end is left out of conversation or leaning over just to hear whats going on. Remember that three people requires a triangle; avoid the straight row.

18. Bring Your Empties to the Bar

Self-explanatory. It’s just the polite thing to do and saves the staff mess + running around to pick up empty glasses.

19. Know When to Quit

I’m all for having a good time and talking to a cute girl at the bar. I 100% support people who don’t hide behind their Tinder profile to meet girls. However, when I started bartending, my eyes were really opened to how pathetic and creepy some guys can be. Be mature, be smooth and be logical. You should also have the sense to understand when a girl isn’t interested and when it’s time to move on. Nothing makes you look like more an amateur than persistently hitting on girl who is giving you zero signs to keep going.

20. Know Your Bar

If you walk into the local irish sports pub and ask for a glass of wine, you will receive Barefoot brand wine at $7 per plastic cup. In contrast, if you walk into a high class whiskey bar and order a Coors Lite, it isn’t the worst offense in the world, but you brand yourself as someone who doesn’t belong.

21. Don’t Puke. Period.

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