That’s What She Said- 6 Lessons in Bar Etiquette



As I established in my last column, How to Drink Like a Writer, I do some work as a bartender to help pay my bills while I’m waiting for the publishing world to realize that I am the Next Great American Writer who will make them piles of money. Truth be told, I rather enjoy bartending. My days are free for writing, I like mixing drinks, and I enjoy getting to talk to the variety of people that visit the bar where I work. Granted, there usually isn’t much time for chit chat when I bartend on the weekends but during the week I get to meet some interesting people which I consider to be useful for writing. Exposing oneself to a variety of people and situations can only enhance one’s writing. I have noticed, however, that there are several things that a not insignificant amount of bar patrons do incorrectly and I would like to put that to a stop right now. If you who are reading this are a writer, too, then chances are you spend a fair amount of time at drinking establishments. Trust me, I understand that writer’s block is a bitch. Or maybe you just want to get outside and interact with other human beings after locking yourself in your office for days on end as you write. I get that.

How I feel after spending a couple of days writing in my office.

Keep in mind that although the bright lights outside your house are confusing, you are still required to act at least somewhat like an adult when interacting with other people. Here are a few things I’ve noticed that people do at bars and to put it nicely, you need to cut that shit out right now.


Lesson 1: Getting the Bartender’s Attention

If you have ever waved money in the bartender’s face, tapped your credit card on the bar, or repeatedly slammed your hand on the bar to get a bartender’s attention, you’re doing it wrong. We are aware of your presence and we are going to serve you. That is, after all, how we make our money. Even if we have high falutin’ ideals about money, we still enjoy having money for things like food and rent. But even with that being said, I have refused to serve people who behave like that when attempting to get my attention. I’m a bartender, not a trained monkey, and it might be worth it to consider that you’re being rude and demeaning to someone serving you.

Go ahead. Drink it.

Lesson 2: If You Have to Say You’re Special, You Probably Aren’t.

In every bar, there are legitimately special people, regulars whom we love and who spent a lot of money and in return, we like to take care of them. I also find that the truly special regulars never demand anything. If they order from a new bartender, they don’t get aggravated that this person whom they have never met doesn’t have their favorite drink committed to memory and they don’t demand “extras.”

Then there are the people who think they’re special. When I first started bartending, I had the following conversation with a customer:

Me: Hey, what can I get for you?

Customer: Two.

Me: Two what?

Customer: Yeah, I’m just used to saying how many drinks I want, not what I want to drink.

Sorry, princess, your special drinks were not part of the training.


Then a few weeks later, I had this conversation with a different customer:

Customer: Can I get an extra large shot of Jaeger?

Me: Do you want a double?

Customer: No, just a tall single.

Me: I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to do anything other than exact pours.

Customer: Can I talk to another bartender? Just so you know, I’m a regular and I tip a lot.

Me: I’m the only bartender working right now.

Customer: Ugh, fine, just an “exact shot” of Jameson.


If you have to tell me you’re special, you probably aren’t.

Lesson 3: Know What You’re Ordering

In general, it’s a good idea to know what you want to drink before you order from the bartender. Now this isn’t to say that you can’t ask the bartender for recommendations. I have people do that all the time and it’s kind of fun, especially when I get to expose someone to a new drink they love. The irritation comes in when a situation like this arises:

Customer: Do you know how to make a Keoke Coffee?

Me: Not off the top of my head but if you tell me what’s in it I can.

Customer: Um, can’t you just Google it or something?

Folks, have at least an idea of what it is you’re ordering. Bartenders can commit a lot of drinks to memory but there are so many crazy variations that if you want something specific, at least be able to say what’s in it (for the record, a Keoke Coffee has brandy, coffee liqueur, crème de cacao, and coffee mixed together and topped with whipped cream).

You can Google it if you don’t believe me.

Lesson 4: Don’t Order a Bloody Mary After 1pm

A Bloody Mary is one of the few alcoholic drinks that is appropriate to consume with breakfast. Not that you can’t order something else, but you might get some funny looks if you drink single malt scotch at brunch.

Unless you’re at my house.

That being said, it’s a bit weird to drink a Bloody Mary during any other time of the day. I don’t usually mind if the bar isn’t too busy but if it’s 11pm on a Friday night and the line for the bar is four or five people deep, don’t order a breakfast drink with seven or eight ingredients. I even know bartenders who will refuse to make Bloody Marys at night. Most will, but if it’s super busy then we might hate you. Just a little bit.


Lesson 5: Don’t Behave Like a Five-Year-Old

Bar staff members expect a certain level of drunken shenanigans. After all, we are serving alcohol. But it does seem sometimes like people leave their homes and are confused by the bright lights and other people that exist in the world and forget how to behave in public. I’ve seen people start to strip, guys trying to urinate off of the balcony, people trying to dance on tables and chairs, girls arriving without shoes (and bars are notorious for broken glass), and food fights—and that’s just from last Friday. If you are old enough to frequent a bar then you are, in theory, an adult. Please behave like one. The last time I saw someone partaking in any of the above behaviors was when I used to work as a nanny.

Pictured: certain bar patrons around 1am.

Lesson 5: Tip Your Freaking Bartender

One night, a good friend of mine was bartending and a gentleman ran up a pretty sizeable bar tab. A $250 bar tab to be exact. When it came time to pay, my bartender friend ran this customer’s card and gave him the credit card slip to sign. Naturally, after waiting on this customer all night, my friend was expecting a pretty good tip on this tab. Instead, the customer wrote “Sorry, I’m not a millionaire” on the tip line and tipped him absolutely nothing.

Pretty much just like this.


I don’t understand people who behave like this. If you don’t have the money to tip, maybe drink less and set aside some money for those who serve you or don’t go out at all. Bartenders are like waiters; we’re usually paid less than minimum wage and are dependant on tips for our income. We can’t very well take your bullshit excuse you scribbled on your credit card slip and show it to the electric company in lieu of paying our bill.

That being said, do I expect people to tip me when I’m just opening a bottle of beer and handing it over? Not really, no. I need tips but realistically, all I did was pop off a bottle cap. But as a general rule, the more complicated the drink, the higher the tip should be. I know I tend to overtip but my policy tends to be $1 per drink for basic drinks like beer but if I’m ordering mixed drinks or something more expensive like scotch, I’ll get into tipping a percentage off my total bill.

If you like the bar and plan to be back, tip well. That’s a great way to ensure you’ll get great service when you return and then you could very well end up as one of the truly special regulars, one who doesn’t need to inform the bartender of how awesome you are.

Peyton Manning, please let me wait on you!


Written by: Emily Regan

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