How To Order Drinks At The Bar Without Embarrassing Yourself

How To Order Drinks At The Bar Without Embarrassing Yourself

I once ordered a martini at a networking event. “How do you want it?” the bartender asked. I had no idea what he meant but I didn’t want to look dumb. “Uh, shaken?” I replied (because that’s what James Bond says). The bartender smirked. “No, I mean, do you want vodka or gin?” I felt like a damn fool. Here’s how to order booze without embarrassing yourself.

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Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

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The old standby applies here: don’t be afraid to ask questions. As an old colleague once said, “you might feel dumb asking questions, but you look dumber when you don’t get it because you failed to ask”. In my situation, a simple “What do you mean? I’ve never ordered a martini before” would have sufficed.

Unless they’re incredibly busy, most bartenders, like any experts, will be happy to share their expertise. Otherwise, they will probably have a menu and you can just read and point.

If you’re still worried about looking dumb, though, Thrillist for Yahoo has a list of a few of the dumbest questions you shouldn’t ask a bartender. Learn the answers in advance, and you won’t have to worry about it. Here are a few on their list:

  • Why isn’t my glass full? If it’s wine, it’s not going to be full. As they put it, “Because the only place you’re going to see a full glass of wine is in the hands of Tyrion Lannister.”
  • What’s good here? “This implies that other than their specialty rum punch bowls, everything else tastes like a snifter of mediocrity,” Thrillist says. You might be better off just asking what their most popular drink is or what they’d recommend. Some bartenders might just make you whatever is easiest, but it’s a fair enough question.
  • What’s cheap? Drinks can be really expensive, so this is a valid concern, but if you don’t want to embarrass yourself, a better question might be “do you have any specials?”

Wine can be complicated to order, too, and if price is your biggest concern, here’s what‘s Gwendolyn Osborn told us:

“Hold up the menu and say you’re ‘looking for a bottle similar to this one’ and point to the price rather than the wine. Sneaky, right? The sommelier should pick up on that signal and recommend wines in that price range. Note the word ‘should.’”

That said, there’s nothing wrong with mentioning a price range, either.

Learn Some Bar Lingo

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You shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, but it doesn’t hurt to learn some basic bar vocabulary, either. That way, when your bartender or waiter asks if you want your drink “on the rocks” you know he or she isn’t actually asking if you want gravel in your booze. has a whole list of common bartending lingo, including:

  • On the Rocks: With ice. Straight up is without ice.
  • Neat: A drink served at room temperature without ice. “If someone asks for a whiskey neat, they are asking for a shot straight out of the bottle.”
  • Dirty: If you want a lot of olive juice in your martini, ask for a really dirty one. “Adding olive juice to a martini which makes it a Dirty Martini. The more olive juice, the dirtier the martini.”
  • Well Drink: When you order a well drink, you’re basically telling the bartender you have no preference of what brand of alcohol you want, so just give you the cheapest option. “A well drink is a drink where neither the brand of the liquor or brand of the mix is mentioned.”

It doesn’t hurt to do a little research, either. If you know you’re going to a bar or restaurant in advance, you can check out their wine, beer, or cocktail list online so you know what you’re getting into and you’re more comfortable when you get there. Vinepair is a fun resource to learn about different kinds of spirits, Beer Advocate has a whole section on Beer 101 and check out Wine Folly for a beginner’s guide to drinking wine.

Stick to the Basics

There’s a lot of information to take in when you research, though. There are a number of different types of beers to choose from, depending on how they’re fermented, at what temperature they’re brewed and so on. Same with wine. Wine types vary depending on the grape, region and method.

It’s all very interesting, but in this post, we’re just trying to get you through ordering a drink. So here are a few basics to ask for.

  • Ciders: Ciders are fermented with yeast like beer but made with fruit like wine. They’re good if you don’t like the taste of beer or wine and they’re typically pretty sweet. Strongbow and Somersby are two popular options most bars will likely have in stock.
  • IPAs: India Pale Ales typically have a more “hoppy” taste because they’re made with more hops. If you’re not used to them, they will probably taste pretty intense and bitter to you, and a lot of people say it’s an acquired taste. They have become popular with the craft beer trend, so wherever you go, chances are, they have some decent IPAs you can order. Feral War Hog IPA and Gage Roads Sleeping Giant are two popular brands.
  • Wheat Beer: Wheat beers are easier to drink and typically don’t have a strong “beer taste”. Hefeweizens and witbiers are subtypes of wheat beers and they get their names from small differences in how they’re brewed. Popular brands include Blue Moon and White Rabbit.
  • Merlot: It’s one of the most popular red wines for a reason. It’s easy to drink. As Vinepair points out, Merlots are often described as “juicy with flavours of chocolate and cherry”.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: A lot of wine snobs balk at Merlot because it’s too basic. They prefer Cabernet instead because it has a more aggressive, aged flavour. If you’re not a wine person, it might be an acquired taste.
  • CC and dry, or gin and tonic: This is pretty standard. You’ll get Canadian Club (or other whiskey) with dry ginger ale or gin with tonic water. The formula is basically liquor plus fizzy drink. You can swap this out with pretty much any alcohol. If you want a specific brand of alcohol, make sure to let them know, otherwise, they will assume you want the well. Beyond dry, you could also order your booze with soda or tonic water. The Kitchn explains the differences here.
  • Martini: If you’re going to order a martini, be prepared to let the bartender know if you what gin or vodka. Traditionally, they’re made with gin. They might also ask you if you want it dry. Dry just means they add less vermouth, which makes the drink a little more bitter. Want more vermouth? Ask for it “wet”. They might ask if you want it shaken in a cocktail shaker or just stirred. According to Business Insider, stirred usually results in a smoother drink. That covers the basics, but they have more martini-ordering tips here.

If you order a mixed drink with alcohol, they might ask what brand you want. Vinepair has a fun, interactive chart of the most popular liquors in the world, broken up by whiskey, vodka, rum, liqueur, tequila and cognac. You can also just ask the bartender or a friend for any recommendations, or when in doubt, just say you’re fine with the well, which is usually the cheapest brand.

Of course, no matter what drink you order, drink snobs are always quick to tell you shouldn’t have ordered that and suggest an alternative. You can politely nod and smile or take them up on it and try something new — you never know what you might like.

Ask for a Taste

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The easiest way to avoid embarrassing yourself is to admit you have no idea what you’re doing and just ask for a sample. You can’t really do this with liquor, but most establishments will give you a sample of wine or beer.

This might be harder to do if the bar is packed, but if there’s a beer you want to try and your bartender doesn’t seem crazy busy, you might as well ask for a taste before you commit. Many restaurants will let you taste something from the wine list, too. Just tell them, “I don’t know what I like. May I try the X?” Most places will accommodate.

And remember: there are worse things than alcohol to be ignorant about. If you get anxious or embarrassed at the bar, however, don’t try to be James Bond: keep it simple, and if it comes down to it, just ask.

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