Getting the attention of the bartender at your favourite watering hole can be a daunting task, especially after work or on the busy weekends when everyone’s out for a drink or three. To make it a little easier, we sat down with a couple of bartenders who have been slinging drinks for years to get the best tips. Here’s what they suggested.
Whether you’re setting foot into a new bar, or you’re out with coworkers and friends, getting served can be tricky if you’re competing with dozens of other patrons. We’ll be blunt: There’s nothing you can do to skip the line, nor should you actually want to do that. But there are some things you can do to get prompt service, show your appreciation, and make the bartender more willing to come back when you approach the bar again. If you’re already a regular at your favourite establishment, you’ve already learned the ropes. For the rest of us, here’s what you need to know, straight from two friends of the site: Michael and “Diane,” a bartender who preferred to stay anonymous.
First, What Not to Do
Before we dive into the things you can do to make sure you get good, repeat attention at the bar, let’s talk about a few behaviours you should avoid. Some of them are obvious, like not being an outright jerk, but that subtle sense of entitlement that a lot of people get because they’re the ones opening their wallet and they expect the person behind the counter to be their servant for the evening doesn’t help either. Leave it at the door, take a few deep breaths, and avoid these:
- Keep your hands, money, menu, or anything else out of the air. Both of our bartenders chimed in on this separately. Snapping your fingers, waving your hands (unless you are legit behind a dozen people and can’t be seen unless you do), waving the menu in the air, whistling, yelling, or repeating “EXCUSE ME” when you’re in clear sight of the bar is going to get you ignored. Keep your money on the bar until someone’s there to take it — waving bills in the air like your bartender is a stripper makes you look desperate, not wealthy.
- Don’t wait behind solid objects and expect to be seen. You think this would be clear, but Michael explained too many people stand behind the taps or sit behind a high part of the counter and then get frustrated when they’re not noticed. He reminds us, “I simply can’t see through solid objects.”
- Don’t give the bartender a nickname, and don’t call her “barkeep.” You’re not on a first-name basis with the person pouring your drinks, and they’re not your buddy. Unless they give you their name — and you bet if you’re a good customer they will — don’t presume to call them by something you just made up, or call them “barkeep.” Unless you’re sipping mead at a Renaissance Festival, Michael reminds us, “We hate that word. This is a bar, not an inn.”
- Don’t stand at the waitstaff service station. The service station is, well, for wait staff in the restaurant, or cocktail servers in the bar. They’re designed for people who have punched in orders (or for employees to punch in orders) and to grab drinks and go. Don’t stand there — you’re in literally everyone’s way.
Once you’ve mastered the fine art of not doing any of these (seriously, it’s not difficult) you’re ready to move on. After we were through talking about some of the things you just shouldn’t do, our bartenders explained there are some other behaviours that will help you get seen, noticed, and taken care of.
Be Patient (a Little Friendliness Doesn’t Hurt Either)
First of all, be patient, especially if the place is busy. It’s easy to think that the bartender is serving everyone at the bar but you, but odds are they’re already working their way to you, as long as you’re actually at the bar. Michael says:
Really, I’m trying to get to everyone…plus the service station, plus keep an eye on what’s happening on the floor for potential fights or arguments, trying to figure out a way to ask the inappropriate couple dry humping in front of the lavatories to stop, and get way caught up long enough to take a break. We’ve got a lot going on at once!
Oh, and also, I swear that I’m not serving the women first. Maybe the ones you’re watching know something about politely getting attention that you don’t. Really, I’m a professional, I’m trying to get to juggle everyone at once.
Finally, be courteous. Even if you’ve been waiting a while, don’t huff and puff and say “finally, can I get a…” A little courteousness goes a long ways, as does a little understanding. When you finally do get the attention you want, treasure it and make the bartender want to come back to you again later. If you act like a jerk when you finally do get a bartender’s attention, you probably won’t see them again very quickly. On the other hand, Diane explains that a little kindness goes a long way:
I am much likely to pour a stronger drink, or give leftover milkshakes (alcoholic or not), leftover daiquiris, or a basket of free fries to the people that make my shift more enjoyable.
While you shouldn’t expect anything by being a decent human being, good people look out for each other, especially when one of them is having a rough time and the other shows a little kindness and respect in turn.
Stand Where You Can Be Seen (or Where the Bartender Has to Go)
We mentioned above that you should stand where you can be seen — and obviously not on the other side of a solid object. There’s more to that story though, as Michael explains:
Look for the soda gun. That’s where my well is. That’s where I make everything. That’s where I stop moving. That’s a good place to ask my name and then order a drink. If there are multiple bartenders, or you’re at a long bar, try to figure out where their well sections overlap, and stand there. Now you have twice the odds of getting someone’s attention.
If the bar atmosphere comfortable enough for you have your money on the bar in front of you, forearms on the bar, try to make the eye contact casual while being deliberate about it. A slight raise of the hand in the absolute direction while we’re looking at you will get attention. Like in the James Bond movies. (Seriously, Daniel Craig knows what’s up.)
In short, park yourself where your bartender needs to be at some point, and you’ll never be ignored. You’ll also be more likely to get your drink quickly, and, if you’re amicable, strike up a conversation with the bartender that will result in a better evening for everyone.
If you’re out on a weekend and the bar is packed, you might have a tougher time here. If you’re standing like two or three people deep from the counter, the bartender can’t get to you, so don’t just stand there waiting. Make an effort to nudge your way in and get a place at the counter. Stand facing the bar, looking at the shelf or the taps. If you’re standing with your back to the bar, chatting with friends, or staring at your phone, the bartender is less likely to approach you because they assume you’re busy — and there’s likely someone else actively looking at them waiting for their attention.
Be Ready When The Bartender Approaches
OK, so the bartender leans in towards you and asks “What are you drinking?” Now’s your chance, don’t blow it.
Did you look blankly at the shelf, or flip over the drink menu, start to read, and say “uhhhhhh?” You blew it.
Be ready when the bartender approaches you, especially at a busy bar. Spend the time you have waiting to think about what you’re going to order, or peruse the cocktail menu if there is one. When your bartender arrives, the best thing you can do is be ready with your drink, and the drink of your friend, date, colleague, or whomever you’re there with. Holding that drink menu in your hand, or leaving it flipped over on the counter, can also signal to the bartender that you’re ready to go and you know what you want. Michael notes:
This is very important. Know what you want or at least have a relevant question when you do get our attention. Don’t stop us and then look at the menu.
Really, know what you want to drink. If ordering for a group, at least know the first two or three drinks. The indecisive ones better get their butts in gear though, I’ve got a serious cigarette break coming up.
Diane agreed, and pointed out that this extends to parties, and even tables when she has to attend them:
A closed menu will get my attention because then I know that the customer is most likely ready to order. If I have to work tables, stacked or grouped dishes will get my attention, because it is quick and easy to pre-bus a table and do a quick check on the guest. Also if a guest is just having a drink, an empty glass at the end of the table will make me think they want another and to go over and offer.
Oh also, if people send me on multiple trips to get them drinks, fries, or whatever I will get annoyed and avoid them for a while. Only if they are asking one at a time, or if one person asks for something and I ask if anyone else needs something and they don’t speak up until I have left and returned, though.
Ideally you’re going to the bar because you want a drink, so you probably know what you’re in the mood for. If you’re not sure how to order at a bar, now’s a good time to learn how to drink like an adult, or choose a wine to drink. None of this means you have to walk in knowing what you want already, but you should have at least some idea of what you’d like to sip. Plus, if you’re going to spend time waiting for the bartender, you can at least use it productively.
Tip Well, Especially On the First Drink
Finally, good tips are appreciated. Australia doesn’t have as much of a tipping culture as America, so tipping will go a long way to get attention. Both of our bartenders echoed this tip — tip well in general, but a decent tip on your first drink says a lot. Michael pointed out that a decent — but not ridiculous — tip on your first drink will remind the bartender where you are, and remind them who you are when you reappear at the bar. Diane went a bit further, and also reminded us that if you tip poorly, no one remembers like a bartender:
We are a money driven society, so obviously when someone leaves me a generous tip I am also going to remember them and be excited to see them again the next time I get to wait on them.
On the other hand, if I give people excellent service and they tip poorly I will remember. Tips are my paycheck, I am not going to waste my time on needy customers who tip poorly when I could be serving others that will actually tip me. If I am not busy I will give them the best service I can, but I focus my attention appropriately.
Of course, none of these will make sure the bartender drops everything each time you step up to the bar. If there are a dozen people at the bar, all there before you, try not to be a terrible person: wait your turn, be patient, and be kind. However, keeping these tips in mind will make sure that the bartender will slide over when you need them, you’ll get what you ordered more quickly, and everyone involved — you, the bartender, and that delicious drink in front of you — have a great night.