Food & Drink

What You Can and Can’t Ask for at the Bar, According to Bartenders

You hear it all the time: “The customer is always right.” And generally this holds true—but only until it doesn’t. Sometimes customers cross a line and make ridiculous requests of bartenders that end up making everyone uncomfortable. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to ask if it’s appropriate, it probably isn’t. But here’s the thing: Bartenders are some of the most hospitable workers there are, and are usually OK with accommodating most customer requests as long as it’s legal and within reason. To find out exactly what is and isn’t appropriate, we had bartenders from around the country give their take on the most common customer requests. Here’s what they say is reasonable and what makes them cringe every time.

Can you ask to charge your phone behind the bar?

“Only if you're a regular or if you give the bar a shoutout on Instagram.” —Sean Henry, owner, Jettison, Dallas TX

“Yes, but you have to be prepared that the bartender might not have a charger for you to use or have room behind their bar. During a busy time, be mindful that there are spills, glasses breaking, water spraying, etc., so we may say no for the fact that we don’t want to be responsible if your phone gets damaged. It’s not that we don't want to accommodate you, but we are just thinking of the worst case scenario.” —Julieta Campos, head bartender, The Whistler, Chicago, IL

Can you order an esoteric, off-menu cocktail?

“I have no problem doing special request for guests at the bar. All I ask for is patience if the bar is slammed. I will gladly make you a Ramos Gin Fizz. Just let me clear service well tickets.” —Julianna Arquilla, beverage director, The Betty, Chicago, IL

“Always welcome. Just no stupid stuff like a Margarita with two packs of Sweet & Low and such.” —George Kaiho, bar manager, Jettison, Dallas, TX

Should you engage with the bartender personally?

"Nothing satisfies me more as a bartender than my patrons engaging me in conversation regarding their adult beverages. From 'I generally like this. What do you have that’s similar?' to 'Make me your favorite cocktail,' I appreciate and welcome it all. I opted for this profession rather than sitting in a cubicle because there's two things I really enjoy: talking to people and mixing drinks." —Joshie Berger, bartender at Watermark Bar, New York, NY

“Don’t ask for my number. I'm at my place of work—respect that.” — Caroline Blundell, manager, Plan Check Santa Monica, Santa Monica, CA

Can you instruct the bartender on how exactly you like your drink to be made?

“If you want your drink made a certain way, I’m all ears. We want you to enjoy your experience and get exactly what you want to enjoy your night.” —Julieta Campos

“Yes, if you write it down. At least it’s better than, ‘You made this drink one time and it was so good! I don’t know what was in it but can you make it?’” —George Kaiho

“Only for a Martini.” —Sean Henry

Can you ask for more alcohol in your drink?

“How you phrase your question is everything. If a guest comes up to my bar and asks me to add more alcohol to their drink, I would feel as though my craft and skill were in question and would respond, ‘Yes, but that’s considered a double and I would have to charge you for it.’ But after receiving the drink, if they ask, ‘Can I add an extra shot to this?” I would assume the guest just prefers a stronger drink and I would say, ‘No problem,’ and just top off the drink. There’s also no harm at that point in me mentioning in a friendly manner that next time I can always make the drink a double if they prefer.” —Laura Faraone, bartender, Left Bank, New York, NY

“Don’t ask for the bartender to ‘make your drink stronger.’ Do you go to the bank and ask the teller to take out an extra $10? No. We will happily pour you a double and charge you for it.” — Caroline Blundell

If you don’t like your drink, can you send it back?

“If you don't like a drink, don't be afraid to send it back! I'd rather you be happy than sip something that you hate. I promise I won't be butt-hurt. I'd rather find out what you didn't like and make you the perfect cocktail.” —Juliana Arquilla

“It happens and it's OK. I prefer people tell me sooner than later. It’s best if I know what’s wrong with it or if there was a misunderstanding. I want people to enjoy my cocktails and get what they wanted. Though I will judge you if you do stuff like order a mezcal drink and send it back because you didn’t like the smoky flavor.” —George Kaiho

Can you ask for a call spirit at a house price?

“In my first year as a bartender, I had a guy sitting at the bar that asked me, ‘Maybe you can give me a Blue Label but ring it in as a house whisky?’ Afterwards I told him, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t stay for long.’” —David Atwood, bartender, Industry Kitchen, New York, NY

Can you ask for recipe substitutions, like a different liqueur?

“Only if you don't complain at the results.” —Sean Henry

“If it makes sense or it is an interesting combination, sure! Except the thing is, usually most requests neither make sense nor are interesting.” —George Kaiho

“Yes, definitely ask. We are completely understanding that people have preferences to certain spirits or have allergies. Most of the time, we are more than happy to do it. You just have to be aware that the bartender might not be able to accommodate the request depending on what they have behind the bar, or the bartender feels uncomfortable with the substitution because they know it will yield very different results. We want to provide you with a great experience and want you to trust us when we say that your suggested spirit or ingredient swap might not provide a satisfying drink for you.” —Julieta Campos

Can you ask to change the television channel or the music?

TV: Yes, but don’t say, ‘Can you put the game on?’ because I have no idea which ‘game’ you are talking about. Also, please don’t expect us to have all the special channels. Music: Only for special occasions. Music is a part of the atmosphere and vibe. You don’t go to a nightclub and expect a quartet or jazz bar. What’s worse is the people that start to play their own songs loudly on their cell phones.” —George Kaiho

Can you ask for a to-go cup? (Really, people ask this.)

“Patrons often ask, ‘Can I have a to-go cup for my drink?’ in which case I have to tell them that it's not allowed. They say, ‘Oh come on, but I'm not done with it! Can I talk to the manager?’ to which I respond, ‘I am the manager.’” —Nicole Narey, bar manager, The Cedar Tavern at Eberly, Austin, TX