13 Things Your Bartender Wishes You Knew

It's not all shots and handshakes: Bartenders share the things they wish you knew and understood.

Drink It Up

Raise a glass as bartenders debunk common job myths, share the rules of engagement and reveal their top tips for a better night out, from scoring top-notch service to discovering your new favorite tipple.

Illustrations courtesy of CopyPress

Bartending Is Not a Non-Stop Party

Contrary to popular belief, bartenders are not party animals. While they do taste drinks to ensure quality, bartenders aren’t getting drunk on the job. Bartending requires stamina and focus over the course of a 10- to 12-hour shift, so you’re more likely to see your bartender chugging water than shots. And think twice about buying them a drink: Many places forbid it or require a manager’s approval. “As with all absolute rules, there are always exceptions. For me it’s about identifying moments that are real special, real memory-makers, and that’s when it might make sense to share in a drink with the bartender,” explains Will Elliot, bar director at Brooklyn’s Maison Premiere.

Garnishes Aren’t Free Snacks

“If a guest wants a snack of garnishes served with their cocktail, I would quickly recommend an appetizer,” recommends Aleshia Tucker, mixologist at The Hive and The Bee’s Knees in Augusta, Georgia. Asking for an extra olive or lemon wedge is fine, but garnishes like stuffed olives, house-made pickles and fruit skewers take time to prep, so requesting extras not only annoys servers, it slows service as staff scramble to re-stock.

Bartending Is a Real Job

Don’t assume that bartending is a side hustle. “A lot of people think they're paying you a compliment by suggesting that you must also be an actor/writer/musician, because you couldn't possibly just be a bartender,” says Katipai Richardson Wilson, owner of Brooklyn bar Dirty Precious. Bartending is a legitimate profession that many talented, passionate people choose to pursue full-time, and one that requires as much dedication and hard work as a nine-to-five desk job.

You Need Your ID

Whether you’re heading out for a pint at your usual watering hole or meeting friends at that new, buzzy bar downtown, bring your ID. “I'm forever shocked when people don't have it on them. Even if you are clearly of age, most states require you to have it on you. Don't put your bar and the bartender in that position or make them feel bad,” advises Brooke Toscano of Pouring Ribbons in New York City.

Tip like a Pro

Many cocktails involve careful, laborious assembly, so plan to tip as you would for a meal. Laura Newman, a bartender at Dave’s Pub in Birmingham, Alabama, recommends tipping your bartender more than $1 per drink if it’s a cocktail; when she’s on the other side of the bar, she tips $3 per drink or 20%, whichever is higher.

Your Empty Glass Isn’t a Trash Can

If you blow your nose and then shove the tissue into the glass, the bartender is the one who has to fish it out. That’s not just rude, it’s extremely unsanitary. For Steven Tsoukalas of The Prime Rib at Maryland Live Casino, this rule also applies to “beverage napkins, matches, coasters or — and may God have mercy on this guy, because I won't — used chewing tobacco.”

No Touching

Grabbing your bartender or server is never okay under any circumstance. And though it might be tempting to help yourself to another lemon wheel or brandied cherry, don’t touch the bar’s garnish caddy, either. “We have no clue where your hands have been or what you've been in contact with. Whatever you touch gets thrown away,” explains Brooke Toscano of Pouring Ribbons. If you need another lime wedge, just ask.

Your Seat Isn’t Guaranteed

If you need to step outside for a smoke or dash to the bathroom, give your bartender notice and nicely request help saving your spot; most bartenders will attempt to watch your drink, and some high-end spots even put a small reserved sign at your place. Putting a coaster over your glass is generally an accepted practice that signals to the bartender (and other bar-goers) that you’re not yet done with your drink, but one bartender polled takes it as a sign that you’ve finished and cleaned up after yourself. Your best bet to stave off seat vultures is to signal to the bartender that you’ll be right back (provided it’s not too busy) and leave your sweater or jacket behind.

Know When You’re Cut Off

A bartender’s job is to help you have a good time while ensuring your safety — and the safety of others. When you surpass your limit, you put the bartender in the awkward position of cutting you off. If your bartender offers you water or food, reminds you of how much you’ve had to drink, or orders you a cab home (always take it!), take it as a discreet message that your night is over. Resisting could get you kicked out or even banned.

You’re the Best Part of Their Job

For many bartenders, guests are the reason to endure 12-hour shifts on their feet. “I’ve met all sorts of people with incredible stories, and sometimes I think how lucky I am that I get paid to hear them. As adults, it can be hard to meet new people and make friends — and that’s my job,” enthuses Lana Gailani of Denver’s Avanti.

Last Call Means Last Call

No amount of pleading, sweet-talking, tantrum-throwing or bribing will sway a bartender to serve you another beverage after last call. “Once that announcement is made, that is your final invitation to the party. After that glorious, merciful (from our perspective, at least) final call for alcohol is made, the combined might of the entire Allied forces couldn't liberate more booze from behind my bar,” says Steven Tsoukalas of The Prime Rib at Maryland Live Casino.

Try “Smizing”

Bartenders do their best to be fair during service and keep tabs on who walks up when, but when a bar is slammed, there are more don’ts than do’s to follow. Don’t snap, whistle or yell at them; slam your hands down on the bar; wave money or a credit card; gesture obscenely; grab them; or stand in the service bar. Do make eye contact, give them a sympathetic smile or empathetic look, and above all, be ready with your order. “Know what you want; when the bartender turns to you and makes eye contact, the last thing you want to do is stutter and not know what you want. Most likely the bartender will skip you and move on to the next guest that [is] prepared,” explains Saul Parada, a long-time bartender who manages Watts & Ward in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Your Bartender Can Be Your Friend

It always pays to be polite: Acknowledge your server with eye contact or a smile, and always say please and thank you. “Try to treat your bartender like a potential friend; you will have a completely different and overwhelmingly positive experience,” suggests Carson Oliver, beverage director at The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn. “You would be surprised at how much a truly genuine smile and ‘thank you’ can mean to a bartender [who is] 10 hours into a shift and everyone else in the bar has treated them like a robot.”