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Learning the Rules of Etiquette in a Bar Patron Career

Aug 17, 2007
Barkeeps: clip and save this handy list to post somewhere in your establishment. Help keep the rabble under control.


Fail to have your money ready. In fact, call it Rule #1: Have everything together. We're waiting on you, and everyone else is waiting on us. Therefore, by the scientific principle established as the Transitive Property of Equality, everyone is waiting on you. Not only will following this rule get you served quicker in a bar, it's a good general rule to adopt in life and is especially helpful in Central American border crossing scenarios.

Whistle. A whistle is how you tell a bartender "Please throw me out now." It's a special secret signal.

Wave money. Oh, you have a dollar; I'll be right over! Hopefully I won't break an ankle in my fevered rush to get you your Coors Lite. But at least you're not breaking the next rule.

Yell out the bartender's first name. There's something deeply psychologically disturbing about hearing your name yelled out, turning around, and then seeing a complete stranger. That's one of the reasons strippers always use stage names. Bartender's do too; mine is Pixie.

Tell me to make it strong or put a lot of liquor in it. Oh, you're one of those rare drinkers that like their drink strong! When you say this, you're assuming that I make weak drinks, which is insulting. You're also assuming that I'll stiffen this one up for my new best buddy, you. Last, I, being the bartender, will decide how I am going to make the drinks, thank you very much.

Give the ever-expanding drink order. You ask for a Bud; I go get it. I come back and now you want a Margarita; OK, no problem. I come back, and now you just remembered you want a shot of Tequila, too. You really could have told us this all at once. See Rule #1.

Pull the redirect. Usually seen after the money wave or the whistle, this is when the gentlemen passes his turn to the lady behind him. Chances are that she's not ready, and your weak attempt at chivalry just cost you your turn. Be seeing you in thirty minutes.

Try the confused, lost look. This is usually accompanied by the question "What kind of beer do you have?" while looking at all the beers we have lined up on the back wall. You did know you were in a bar and not Denny's where you get a menu, right? And you didn't just appear here, did you? Refer to Rule #1.

Order too many high-maintenance shooters. Example: "Lemme get an Alabama Slammer, a Red Snapper, two Long Island Iced Teas, a Buttery Nipple and a Lemon Drop." Usually followed by a minor tip. People, these shooters are fine all by themselves, but there are multiple steps involved with each one. This translates to a time sink. You may get them this time, but you'll probably be waited on last the next time we see your face, especially with a packed bar. Here's a clue as to whether or not you're high maintenance; if the two bartenders are working and they see you, and they flip a coin and the loser comes over to take your order, pretty good chance you're a high maintenance orderer.

Assume we know you're in the band. We know, we know, you're gonna be really famous, but you're not there quite yet, tiger. Just tell us you're in the band and which band you're in. And by the way, if you are in a band and get free or reduced drink prices as part of the deal, feel free to tip, as most bartenders are also in bands! It's not like we don't know how the work is. Oh, and our bartender bands will smoke your band.

Assume we know you period. Unless you're honestly here every day, we don't remember you. You are one of a thousand faces for us, and when you point at an empty glass or a beer bottle that's invariably facing away from us, your attempt at a shortcut backfires, so just tell us what you want.

Apologize for not tipping. Acknowledging that you don't tip is not the same as not tipping. Oh, and don't say "I'll get you next time." We know all about how you work.

Assume all soft drinks are free. Are they free at McDonald's? Are they free at Wal-Mart? Are they free anywhere? I blame M.A.D.D. for this myth.

Put pennies and nickels in the tip jar. We don't want that in our pockets any more than you do. We don't have anything smaller than quarters. After all, have you ever ordered a drink that cost $3.17?

Be "The Microbrew Aficionado". Usually this is a pseudo-hippy who can't tip a quarter but can't bring himself to drink common beer and who has to sample some new berry-wheat-harvest-ale that he heard about at Burning Man. "Do you have the new Vernal-Equinox Special Welcome-Fest?" "Does Anyone?" Here's your Bud; go.

Be "The Daddy Warbucks" Dressed in classic day-trader's wear, this loud, boisterous guy smokes cigars and orders martinis and generally exudes an air of money. Until the tip. Generally, don't pretend to be more successful than you are.

Finally, under no circumstances should you ever whine to a bartender when asked to see your ID. Our jobs depend on them, and when we spot a fake or expired ID, don't argue; we've seen and heard it all a million times before, and it will get you absolutely nowhere. If you "don't have one" or "forgot it," forget it; you don't belong out in the town in the first place. That's the law we have to abide by, plain and simple. Bring your ID. Remember Rule #1, from a minute ago?
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Freelance writer for over eleven years.

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