For the most part, bartending is an enjoyable gig. Sure, there are moments of intense activity, referred to as “being in the weeds,” of filling seemingly countless drink orders while new customers jostle to get your attention. Bartenders also have to handle obnoxious drunks. As a general rule, though, the job is a fast-paced way to make pretty good money while being able to interact with a variety of people. All of that being said, there are customer behaviors that irritate bartenders.
The website alcohol.org surveyed just over 260 past and present bartenders and asked them what customers do that bothers them. Some of the behaviors that bartenders aren’t thrilled about are unsurprising. For example, the survey reveals that “asking for a free drink ranked as the most aggravating thing patrons could do.”
It should be obvious that asking for a free drink is a breach of bar etiquette. Sadly, though, it’s apparently not obvious to many customers. I remember moments of suppressing my true feelings while laughingly turning down requests for free drinks. You see, in most bars (in all the bars I worked), bartenders take inventory at the end of their shift. Bar owners want to make sure that the alcohol missing from the bottles matches the shift’s receipts. In other words, free drinks ain’t free. Someone has to pay for them, and unless the bar owner is really generous, it’s most likely going to be the bartender who pays for it. You’re not asking for a free drink; you’re asking for the bartender to buy you a drink.
Some of the other breaches of etiquette that irritate bartenders include whistling to get their attention and asking them to surprise you when ordering a drink. Surprise you? If you ask me that, I’m going to make you the most expensive drink I can concoct.
To me, though, the most interesting thing about the survey is the list of drinks that will get you judged by the bartender if you order them. Note that I wrote “interesting” and not “surprising.”
In the early 2000s, I tended bar at a brewpub. While standing behind the row of taps connected to delicious house-brewed beer, it never ceased to amaze me that some customers would step up and order a light beer. Did I judge them? Yes. I judged them for their ignorance of beer and poor decision-making skills.
Look, if you want to drink a “beer” that tastes like the water squeezed out of cooked rice, that’s your right as an American. However, why in the world would you come to a bar that specializes in flavorful beer with a robust ABV and order what amounts to a beer brewed for children? Ordering it in a bar filled with adult beer earns you scorn.
I’m not alone in my judgment, because the survey reveals that 29 percent of bartenders will have a negative opinion of you if you order a light beer. That percentage reflects the feeling of bartenders in restaurant bars. I guarantee you that if you order a light beer in a brewpub, that percentage is much higher.
Ordering an appletini is the drink that will cause the largest percentage of bartenders to judge you, with 49 percent saying they “thought less of patrons who asked them to put together an appletini.” Other drinks high on the judgmental scale are Sex on the Beach, Irish Car Bomb (why would you do that to either your beer or your whiskey?), and the most frat boy of all frat boy drinks, the Jagerbomb.
If you don’t want your bartender to scorn you, learn which behaviors to avoid and which drinks to never order. Trust me, being on the bartender’s good side has benefits. A little more scotch in your glass, greater personal attention, and the chance that the bartender will be willing to risk paying to give you a “free” drink. Oh, and make sure you tip well.
Here’s the complete list:
- Frozen cocktail
- Sex on the Beach
- Irish Car Bomb
- Light beer
- Long Island Iced Tea
- Kahlua and coffee
- White Russian
- Moscow Mule
- Old Fashioned
- Craft beer
This post has been updated to include the complete list.