The DOs and DON’Ts of Talking to Bartenders

Bartenders are more than happy to engage in conversation with a customer—it’s all part of a day’s work, along with shaking up cocktails, pouring out shots, pulling draught beers and generally making everyone’s day better. But it’s up to the customer to conversate properly and respectfully. Here are the “Dos” and “Don’ts” of talking to your bartender.

DO Ask Your Bartender for Recommendations, But DON’T Ask if a Drink Is “Any Good”

Asking your bartender for a recommendation is totally fine—even encouraged. But you need to be respectful as to how you go about it.

“We change the menu every three months, which means any drink on the menu has gone through months and sometimes years of testing,” says Luke Whearty, bartender at Operation Dagger in Singapore. “We wouldn’t put it on the menu if it wasn’t ‘any good’ and we didn’t believe in it.”

Instead of insulting a bartender by insinuating that they knowingly put a sub-par drink on their menu, communicate your taste preferences (favorite spirit, flavors, etc.), and let the bartender suggest an educated recommendation. 

DO Order Your Drink Before Talking to Friends

Of course you want to chat it up with your friends—maybe even some strangers—while you’re drinking at the bar. But before you do, please make sure your business is settled with the bartender.

“There are few things more satisfying than providing a guest with a drink that they actually want to drink,” says Kim Rosselle of San Francisco’s Trick Dog. “But when ordering a drink, please don’t turn to your friends, and therefore away from the bar. Turns out, when facing away from the bar, it’s kind of hard to hear you.”

Don’t Shove a Phone in Your Bartender’s Face 

A lot of bars are very dimly lit establishments, and after several hours in that environment, a bartender’s eyes become very sensitive. So don’t insist on showing the bartender the awesome Insta shot of a cocktail you recently had—and turn off the flash. “If you shove a phone in my face, or blind me with the light on your iPhone while you are taking a video of me, it just kinda sucks,” says Alejandro De La Parra of the Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Oregon. “I’d be glad to try and replicate a recipe, but leave the phone on the bar. Sure, take a video, but leave the light off.”

woman talking to bartender
New Age Cinema/Shutterstock

DON’T Ask for Free Drinks

Think about how many people walk into a bar on any given day. Consider that a bar is also a common place to celebrate a birthday. Add to that the fact that some people try to lie to score free drinks. You’re starting to get the idea.

“Don’t pretend it’s your friend’s birthday to try and get something for free. And, even if it is your friend’s birthday, maybe you should have emailed us in advance, as we would definitely be more inclined to provide a birthday surprise had you given us some notice,” says Whearty.

Taking your friend to his or her favorite bar on their birthday is a solid move, but there’s no need to rope the bartender into it with the intention of scoring free drinks.

DO Chat With Your Bartender, but DON’T Treat Them as Your Therapist

Bartenders are at the bar to do a job. You should be there to drink and have a good time—not to get a free hour-long therapy session. “Keep your head up, both figuratively and literally,” says Timo Janse, bartender and manager at Door 74 in Amsterdam. “When the going gets tough, put on a song you love, or change your attitude towards the situation.” Don’t mope over a Martini. Keep it light.

DON’T Ask Your Bartender to Flair Bartend

Fixing you a drink and creating a comfortable atmosphere is part of what being a bartender is all about. Putting on a show for you is not. “We are bartenders, not magicians. Plus, pulling a rabbit out of a hat in a bar isn’t very hygienic,” says Whearty.

Don't go asking a bartender what “tricks” he or she can do. If your bartender wants to put on a performance, he or she will. But no bartender is obligated to show you his or her best impression of Tom Cruise in Cocktail.

DO Use Your Words

If a drink that that was served to you isn’t up to par or is lacking something, communicate that to your bartender—don’t just help yourself. Most bartenders will be happy to accommodate you. “We can’t read minds (though sometimes it feels like we can). If you need something, or just don’t like your drink, let us know, and we’ll be happy to help,” says De La Parra. “Don’t start grabbing garnishes or stuff behind my bar in an effort to fix it yourself.”