Bartenders Watch Your Tinder Dates...and They Have Stories
"Jena, everyone is online! It's how people meet—I mean, my sister married a Tinder date." My girlfriend Naomi poured more Cabernet into my glass. "You are freaking blushing right now! What is it you've got against online dating, dude?”
My bartending career in New York has coincided with the rise of online dating. I remember when OkCupid was the hot new thing and every Monday night my bar-husband and I would witness a dozen or so awkward first encounters. We dubbed those shifts "Makeout Mondays" and, on more than one occasion, he would call me over to "help wash dishes" so we could eavesdrop on some truly heinous conversations. Once or twice, we actually ran interference and helped someone leave quickly and discreetly. Is it any wonder I'm so averse to it? I've watched it go horribly wrong.
I once witnessed a dude engage in three back-to-back internet dates in one brunch service—two of which took place at the same damn table! And I've had a couple meet and sip hot chocolates for four hours while engaging in absolutely mind numbing banter and then split the $7 check. I highly doubt there was a follow up to that wonderful night. And then there are folks like my friend who swears he banged his Tinder date in the bar bathroom on their first date.
Right about now, you are probably thinking, "Gee, every time I go on a date, is the bartender watching me?" The answer is yes. Yes, we're watching to see if you need another drink, maybe a water, or a snack? We're watching body language to make sure everyone is comfortable and safe. (Am I going to nunchuck someone who's making their date uncomfortable? Hell no, but I am going to make sure the uncomfortable party knows I've got their back and a cab company on speed dial.) And we’re also watching for our own, personal enjoyment.
A few years ago, I was waiting on an internet date that seemingly took over the entire bar. The chick was so loud and so rude that other customers shifted seats away from them to escape while her poor date mutely sipped his beer. She pounded Dark ‘N' Stormys and amped up the volume. She knocked over things in the bathroom and forgot to lock the door while using it—a regular walked in on her. After her date asked for the check, she folded her arms over it, holding her date and myself hostage. When he finally wrestled it away from her and paid, I noticed he had scrawled "Save Me Please" on the receipt.
As it turns out, passing notes to the bartender during not-so-great internet dates is somewhat of a common trend. My buddy works at a joint not too far from me. One night, after an internet date, a chick slid a note over to him with her payment: “Yes, I was on a Tinder date and yes, it was terrible. Thank you for being nice, he didn’t even buy me a drink.”
When I reached out to other industry pals for their internet tales, my friend who runs a rad spot out in Queens was the first to offer up his stories:
"I had an internet date come into the bar recently that was actually going pretty well, but the guy had made the mistake of telling his friends earlier where the date was going to be. In the middle of it, three of his drunk friends came in and blew up his spot. He was so mad and kept telling them to leave—they wouldn't. The girl he was on the date with wound up leaving and, as soon as she was gone, his 'friends' were talking shit about her! In the end, they didn't even stay for a drink, I felt so bad for him."
He wasn’t the only one with a tag-along tale: "I had one come in a couple of weeks ago where the guy showed up hammered," my friend Marissa texted me. She recently moved to Philly and started working at a beer bar. "I served the dude a low-ABV beer, but his date cut him off before he took a sip! They stayed anyway and he ended up having a friend join them at the table."
Throughout this recon process, I heard a lot of, "Regulars tell me they go on internet dates for free drinks." I also encountered, "I mean, if you just want to get laid, why not?" I know a guy who works by Lincoln Center; he told me every few days this personal trainer will bring in a different date and regale them with stories of his time in the gym. The dates all look at him like his shirt is already off and they're about to do the deed and, sure enough, he takes them home. Like clockwork.
"Every other Friday night, I used to wait on the same gentleman and a different date," said Charles, a friend and longtime neighborhood barman. "I appreciated him because he would always arrive at least half an hour early, sit at Table 6, and have a wine consult with me. By the time the date arrived, the wine was poured and I was bringing out cheese and charcuterie. His dates always seemed to enjoy themselves, but I never saw the same gal twice. If you're going to internet date, I say act like that guy."
I had to admit, the description did sound charming.
"I mention my regular table as a sort of juxtaposition to another night: A man came in and chose a table, said he was waiting on his date," Charles said. "A woman came in and sat at the table next to him. A few minutes go by, another man enters and sits with the woman; a woman enters and joins the man at the table next to them. It was early and it was a quiet night, so I had a pretty easy time observing the floor. Both couples were immediately awkward. They ordered drinks but no food and spent the next forty five minutes nearly paralyzed. Between my eavesdropping and recon from the regulars who had a better vantage point, I was able to figure out that each person was sitting with the wrong date.”
"Did you say anything?” I asked.
"No, that's not my job," he chuckled. "They eventually figured it out and had a game of musical chairs. One couple decided to leave and start over at another bar, the other took it as a sign and called it quits."
I could relate. One time I watched a guy come into the bar and awkwardly introduce himself to a blonde drinking by herself. After huffing and puffing his way up to get a Vodka Soda he loudly exclaimed, “This place is hard to find, huh?" To be fair to the guy, the particular establishment I used to work in didn't have the best signage. The blonde looked confused, he looked at his phone, he looked at her, he looked at his phone, and then excused himself and walked to the back of the room, where his dark haired rockabilly date was sitting with her Boulevardier.
During our exchange, Charles and I had been getting rather loud so I wasn’t surprised when someone at the other end of the bar said, "You guys are talking internet dating in bars?" Pretty soon it was a whole room discussion.
"We call them Tinder Tuesdays," one guy who worked at an extremely popular bar a few blocks away yelled. "Everyone is awkward as balls but if you order a second drink, I think there's hope for your future.” He continued, “And there’s the same nerdier-than-nerdy guy who comes in every week. He brings in his dates for brunch."
A collective groan rippled through the room.
"I know, brunch dates. Ugh. Anyway, every week I hear this dude find ways of glorifying his completely non-pretentious, milk toast life. I always find excuses to do side work near his seat. Last week, I heard him telling his date 'Well, I actually now live in the house I grew up in.' Like it's the manse from Downtown Abbey or something! 'We've done renovation and construction and I finished off the basement.' Which is a very genius and fancy way of saying, ‘I live in my parent's basement.'"
His friend leaned over the bar, "I was waiting on these two chicks who were on a Tinder date—one looked like that tattooed actress on Orange Is The New Black. She was stunning. I had a hard time not staring at her, she was just that pretty,” she took a swig of her beer and went on. “Her date was a basic blonde who kept getting up to use the restroom. The conversation seemed pretty lame but they kept ordering drinks, so I thought they were hitting it off. I chatted with them a bit. Then, during one bathroom break, the tattooed hottie flagged me over to tell me that she was only staying on the date to talk to me and asked me to sneak down to the bathrooms with her! I was stunned!" So maybe there is something to finding love through internet dating...just not always with your actual date.
In middle school, my friend met a dude in a chatroom on AOL and they chatted for years. They met in person in high school and now they're married. Did I mention they were from two totally different countries? I'd say it's a fluke, but I know a certain head brewer who met his wife in a similar fashion. What are the odds? Maybe I'm just the curmudgeon hanging on to my flip phone over here waiting for dial-up to work.
We don't have to talk to another human to get breakfast or booze or even get our laundry delivered, so why should we have to have a face-to-face conversation to ask someone out on a date? I could, quite literally, order a dude with the ease of ordering a pizza. But then there’s the risk of creating a profile and running into countless customers, industry friends and exes, all with the tap of a finger. For now, I think the only experience I want with online dates is the kind where I ask them what they're drinking.
To the rest of you crazy kids bold enough to put yourself out there and swipe, I say good luck! More power to you! And more entertainment for those of us behind the bar.