Rules to Drink By: 10 Etiquette Tips for the Bar

Categories: Bar Beat

lacarafebar.jpg
Photo by Ed Schipul
Eat, drink and be merrier with these tips.
We've all been there. We walk into a crowded bar on a Saturday night and immediately start to make a game plan. How can I get to the bar and order a drink without shoving, stepping on or cutting in front of anyone? Should I yell at the bartender? Should I wave my arms wildly to get noticed?

Or maybe being polite isn't even on your mind. Maybe you just want a drink no matter what you have to do to get it. I think we've all been there too.

In case you're not sure which route to take to keep the bartenders and other customers happy and also to get yo' bad self a drink, I've compiled a list of bar etiquette tips. With the help of local bartenders and patrons, I've come up with ten things that you must do (or not do) to make sure everyone has a good experience. And to make sure everyone is able to get sufficiently hammered, 'cause that's important too.

10. Know your surroundings
If you're looking to sit at the bar and have an intimate conversation with your friend, don't go to a popular bar on a Friday night. You'll be frustrated yelling over the din of orders coming at you, and other patrons will be frustrated that you're just sitting there, taking up space at the bar. And don't even think about hanging your giant purse on the back of a chair so others can't reach the bar without knocking it all over the place. It's certainly OK to sit at the bar for a little while, but share the space. Make sure you give others the opportunity to lean over and steal a garnish as well.

9. Don't steal garnishes
Yeah, I was totally kidding about leaning over and stealing garnishes. Don't do it! There's a reason they're behind the bar. No one wants your grubby hands all over their maraschino cherries and lime slices. Also, it can be disconcerting for a bartender to catch someone reaching over the counter out of the corner of her eye. If your drink doesn't have enough lime juice, just ask the bartender for some more. If you're hungry and want an olive to much on, politely request one. A bartender might not say anything if you help yourself, but he or she won't be happy with you.


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38 comments
Bill McCormick
Bill McCormick

Good list. A few more. Have your money ready. don't ask for "hook up's". No name dropping; example "I know the GM".

Michael Geisler
Michael Geisler

That's a good list, #3 is a little confusing, but #1 is the one everyone needs to know!!!

adriennebyard
adriennebyard

Do not ask me politely for olives to snack on, ever. Olives are a garnish - not a snack. It is incredibly annoying.

abby
abby

Let me ask an out of towner all-honest question, why do Houston bars not do buy backs? When I first moved here I was shocked that i could drink at a bar for four hours and never get one free drink. H-town is the only city I've ever been to that does not do this (aside if you are friends with the bartender). Why do you think that is? 

nhunter1
nhunter1

although this seems pretty obvious, it's no more obvious than several other items on this list: never take a drink off a server's tray, wait for the, to hand it to you. i only did this once.

ocelot4381
ocelot4381

Kaitlin. thanks for the PSA from me and a whole community. We work hard for what we make!

MyLifeAbroad
MyLifeAbroad

I think the "$1 every drink" rule depends on whether you are paying cash or start a tab. If you pay cash, at least a dollar of your change should be left each time. If you have a tab, then putting $5 in the tip jar on the first beer is preferable so that the bartender knows that you tip (since tips are usually added to the credit card receipt at the end) but don't lose the convenience of starting a tab by having to drop cash every trip to the bar.

snikead
snikead

how about ordering drinks for you and your 10 friends on a busy night? "I need a martini and a gin fizz and a manhattan...etc" if you're ordering more than 3 or 4 unique cocktails then your pals need to get up there with you.

jimbo1126
jimbo1126

Re: stealing garnishes, that goes for straws and napkins too. Especially straws. Any bartender knows exactly why you're taking that straw, and you're not putting it in your drink.

crumbdoctor
crumbdoctor

god I thought the shameless pimping of Anvil would end with Shillcut's departure. I guess not. Fuck Anvil

Bert Duplessis
Bert Duplessis

But above all tip well. Bar tenders and servers have to pay the rent and maybe even put kids through school. Not easy when you're getting paid $2.10 per hour.

Jane Says
Jane Says

this place looks familiar! La Carafe

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

Why should bartenders at a neighborhood bar not be prepared to make a cocktail? I'm tired of this lowering of the bar.

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

Ugh. 5 pages to scroll through? Seems Village Voice needs to generate tons of impressions for their advertisers.

KING
KING

What about waving or tapping your credit card on the bar? As a patron, this annoys the hell out of me when I see it. Not sure if it's just me being irritable or if bartenders (or other patrons) even care, but this bugs the hell out of me.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

"Always tip at least $1 per drink. Even if the bartender just cracked open a beer for you. You still owe him a $1 tip"

Not always true, if I am passed over numerous times because I don't have boobs, the bartender get a deuce , not a tip....

smkyle
smkyle

I've lived in Tampa, Boston and Miami and I've never even heard of a "buy back".

adriennebyard
adriennebyard

@abby Because running a bar is a business. If you order something, you buy it. Would you expect to go to a restaurant and get free food after eating for two hours? If a bar expects to buy their patrons a round just because they've ordered a lot, this means that the cost of that round will just find itself on other people's checks. You can't run a successful business by buying people stuff because they are enjoying themselves and spending money.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@crumbdoctor The advice about where it's OK to order a bartender's choice (Anvil being one of the places) came from an industry professional. You don't have to like Anvil, but the fact of the matter is they make a good cocktail and raised the standard in Houston. Even Anvil's competitors will acknowledge that.

adriennebyard
adriennebyard

@Kylejack It's not "lowering the bar" as much as it's "maintaining a vibe" imo. Bars that don't serve cocktails aren't as precious, and they're usually much lower key. I like the difference.

beaudog
beaudog

@Kylejack It's at the bar's discretion on whether or not they want to move from a traditional dive bar to a classier one for a very good reason. You can certainly incorporate hand-crafted cocktails into your bar, and when the clientele changes from barflies (who come in every single day) to a group more discerning of their drink, you better hope to God they have the disposable income and the desire to come in with the same tempo and frequency as the guy who comes in daily and orders his shot/beer, or else you just ran off your loyal customer base for a flighty group who claim no home.

Classing up a bar and "raising the bar" is a tricky lady.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@KING I haven't heard that one before, but good to know! I can totally see how that would be annoying for both patrons and bartenders.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@texmex01 If you're at bars where the bartenders only care about boobs, you're drinking at the wrong joints, dude!


But I dunno...I polled bartenders and patrons, and they all said $1 tip no matter what. But obviously, it's up to your discretion.

ocelot4381
ocelot4381

Apparently they have an axe to grind, your point was correct. If I want my Dos XX and a rumple, I can go anywhere, if I want a craft cocktail, 18th or Anvil are my go to's.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@beaudog @Kylejack A bar can accommodate both. Grand Prize is a good example. I don't think it should be so unusual to find a bartender who can make a few classics, but it often is.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

Just an observation from various places around town over the years, but I do try and tip accordingly unless the person behind the bar is a total ass...

jamesbtowle
jamesbtowle

@StumpBeefgnaw @crumbdoctor @adriennebyard WOW...and that's why I want to know what bar you tend so I can ovoid it thank you this is TEXAS not NYC....you don't buy me a drink..you don't offer me a snack....bye bye please return to your home.....oh and that TIP I was going to leave....forget that too. 


beaudog
beaudog

@Kylejack @beaudog GP is a great example of being able to handle both. But at the same time, I don't want my favorite dive bars to change their stripes (Catbirds, Shiloh). And speaking as a veteran bartender, I agree that bartenders can become chained by their bar's "standards". But then again, mint/basil/cucumbers cost money and many places just don't attract people who buy drinks made with such ingredients.

Houston has a wonderful bar scene and it keeps getting better. There's a bar for every walk of life.


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