Food & Drink

The Unspoken Rules of Talking to a Stranger at a Bar (Without Being a Creep)

Mark Yocca / Supercall

Your parents always told you not to talk to strangers, but you’re a grown-up now. And how else are you going to meet new people? While we’re certainly not suggesting you start sidling up to people on the street or striking up a conversation with someone on the bus (stranger danger can be real), talking to someone you’ve never met before at a bar is a different story. But that kind of interaction does come with its own set of rules. Whether you’re trying to meet a potential mate or just looking to pass the time while solo sipping on a stool, here are the unspoken rules of talking to a stranger at a bar.

Don’t interrupt them if they’re talking to someone else or reading

A person reading a book at a bar might as well have a sign on their back that says, “Don’t talk to me, dummy. I’m reading.” And yet, so many people think that book in someone’s hands is just a prop to be used as a conversation starter. It isn’t. It’s a book. For reading. So leave them alone. And we shouldn’t have to explain why you shouldn’t interrupt people who are talking in order to insert yourself into their conversation, but if you think that’s acceptable social behavior then you’re too far gone to help.

Find a natural in, don’t force it

If you’re racking your brain to come up with a conversation topic and all you can drum up is a bad joke you once heard about a horse in a doctor’s office, give it up. Let the conversation come naturally. Say something about the bar. Make a comment about whatever game is on the television. Ask your future friend about their drink. Start small.

Never talk politics

You probably know this one already but it’s worth repeating. If you’re just looking for a light chat, don’t bring up politics. If the subject comes up down the line after you and your stranger pal have gotten to know each other a bit, so be it. But never open with anything political or governmental. Yes, even if you’re in Washington, D.C. In fact, especially if you’re in Washington, D.C. Those people think about it enough. Let them drink away the day and think about something more pleasant, like whether or not ghosts are real or if it’s a good thing we’re going to have a Star Wars movie every year for the rest of our lives.

Make sure you introduce yourself before it’s way too late

If you’ve been talking for longer than half an hour and still haven’t traded names, it’s too late. You’re just going to be “that person” to each other. It’s just too awkward to introduce yourself after you’ve already exchanged life stories. Get it out of the way after a couple of minutes. Will you instantly forget that person’s name? Absolutely. But at least you did it.

Keep some buffer space

If you start talking to someone and it seems like it’s going well, go ahead and move a stool or two closer. But don’t get right up next to them. No one likes a close talker. Pretend you’re two insecure straight guys at the movies together and leave that buffer seat.

Don’t assume this is going to turn into a whole thing

Just because you’re having a decent conversation with someone doesn’t mean you’re BFFs and this is the rest of your night. You don’t know what they are looking for in the evening, so don’t go cancelling your plans or monopolizing their time just because they also happen to think goat cheese is overrated. Play it by ear and be casual. It’s like jazz, baby.

Put your phone away

You’re never going to sustain any sort of decent conversation with anyone if you continue to respond to every alert you get. Yes, you might miss an Instagram like and you also might miss a depressing CNN notification. Take a break from the cyber world. Let the bar be your Facebook Messenger.