Being a bartender is like navigating a nightly mental health minefield. There’s the obvious stress that comes with preparing drinks under time pressure for a never-ending stream of customers.
But every night, we also process an untold number of idiotic statements and requests that drive us crazy, even though we politely nod in response to the customers who make them.
I wish I could blame the bad banter on people over-drinking, but frankly, a lot of the weird things that come out of people’s mouths are simply the result of having never worked in the service industry. If you could see things from the bartender’s perspective, you might think twice about asking for “a strong pour” or for your bartender to “surprise” you, for example.
There’s a lot you can say to be a better bar guest, but you can do a favor for bartenders everywhere by simply not saying certain things.
‘You should smile more.’
It’s rude, uncalled for, and 99.9% of the time, directed at women whose male colleagues are equally liable to be called out — not that you should call out any of us. Consider this: Smiling might literally be driving us to drink more after our shift.
Something to think about next time you feel like harassing your bartender to give you a smile.
It’s normal that a lot of bartenders assume a Resting Bartender Face, the focused facial expression we might land on when we’re trying to do the best job possible.
‘Do you know how to make an old fashioned?’
The thing is, an old fashioned is so simple and such a staple that the vast, vast majority of bartenders know how to make one.
Your greater concern should be if the bar has the means to make one. So rather than asking if the bartender knows “how” to make one, ask a variation on, “Do you make old fashioned here?” or “How do you make your old fashioned here?”
But if the bar clearly doesn’t carry bitters, sweetener, or oranges, maybe just don’t ask in the first place, and grab a beer and a shot instead.
On a similar note, ‘Do you make a good old fashioned?’
You can replace old fashioned here with any kind of classic cocktail, like a mojito, daiquiri or cosmo.
I don’t understand why people ask if we make a good version of any cocktail. Which is why I usually pause to collect myself before slowly, and with a hint of scorn, saying “… Yes.”
What other response could there be?
“No. I guess you should go to another bar,” perhaps.
‘Is this menu item good?’
As a corollary to that, asking if a menu item is “good” is also baffling.
Why would we put it on the menu if it weren’t “good”?
Do you think we want to serve you swill?
‘What’s your real job?’
For starters, you may consider bartending a “fake” job, but we’re not getting paid Monopoly money to do it — in fact, bartending is paid far better than my former “real” job as a newspaper reporter. And being automated out of bartending isn’t on the horizon — at least not the near horizon.
Even if for some of us it’s more of a transient role, plenty of us are also career bartenders, or learned more while bartending than in any other roles.
‘This drink is horrible.’
I guess there’s a chance we did indeed mess up your drink, but it’s far more likely that the drink was technically made correctly and your expectations simply didn’t meet reality.
The great thing is, there’s usually an easy fix or replacement cocktail we’ll have in mind if you use your words and tell us what you didn’t like.
‘Make it strong’ or ‘Don’t be shy with your pour.’
For starters, it’s the icky entitlement: If you want more booze in your drink, pay for a double.
I hate feeling like someone is trying to badger me into giving them more just because they applied some pressure, especially when other guests are within earshot.
It won’t work. In fact, it might even backfire when I feel less inclined to pour that shot all the way to the tension point of the jigger, or count a little more quickly than I usually do if I’m pouring without one.
-> Author, Emma Witman, is a bartender in Asheville, North Carolina.