Let’s face it: we spend a lot of time in bars. Happy hours, sad hours, brunch, dinner, dates, celebrations of all shapes and sizes, you name it. And while booze is great, it also makes us all idiots. So, I (a bartender) am here to instill some common sensical mantras that’ll tighten up your form and make you look like less of a barbarian when you belly up to the bar.
Treat Me Like an Actual Human Being
In case you didn’t know, the guy behind the bar (me) is human, too. I enjoy being treated like a human by other humans, it’s a very nice feeling to which I’ve grown accustomed. The fact that I’m serving you now should not change that treatment. I’m not a Keurig, a vending machine, or any other button-driven inanimate object, which means I like having conversations. This is key to receiving great service, which is nice, isn’t it?
It begins in a place that may make you uncomfortable, but you’re an adult, so I think you can deal. I know you don’t like small talk – normally, I don’t like small talk – but here in the bar, we have a distinct advantage. The great equalizer and ultimate ice-breaker: alcohol. If at this point you’ve not generated some inkling of an opinion regarding booze, I’m not sure what you’re doing in a bar. I’m not saying you need to go out of your way to address every spirit on the wall or the nuanced tasting notes of sixteen draft beers, but all you need is something like, “Hey man, I'm [your name]. I’m feeling like whiskey today and wouldn't mind being a little adventurous. Any suggestions?”
Say that aloud to yourself. How long did it take? Exactly. With those few seconds, I’m going to remember you, your easy politeness, and I’d be damn glad to talk with you about whiskey for a couple minutes. See what I’m getting at? I’ll remember and want to serve you way more than the howling horde of humans waving their cards, hollering, leaning over the bar looking for something they haven’t decided on yet. Don’t be one of them.
Know Your Establishment
I bartended in a craft cocktail bar with a carefully curated menu, and there's a certain atmosphere and context developed by the type of establishment that it is. If you wanted a complicated drink, I'd make it for you no problem. But if, on the other hand, you're knocking back rounds at a place that smells like beer, has 30 taps, and 50 bottles/cans to choose from, the 20 year-old behind the bar is probably going to give the thousand mile stare when you slur out a misplaced desire for a Sazerac.
You've got to recognize and adapt to your environment – and in doing so, you'll have a chance to mature as a drinker. Knowing where you are, the context of where you are, and what you want within that context makes you look like you know what you’re doing, not like you’re 19 and using your older brother’s ID. It’s as simple as paying attention. Do you see a whole wall of whiskey bottles behind the bar? Order whiskey. Is the bar known for their cocktail program? Order a cocktail. Easy, right? And if you don't tend to like whatever the bar's specialty is, ask for a recommendation as per above – you might be surprised to settle on something you really enjoy.
This knowledge and decisiveness looks pretty good on dates too, so stay keen. Combine this with already having introduced yourself to me and I can be the best wingman you’ve ever had.
Know When to Quit. And When You Don't, Own up to It
Everyone reading this can look back on a couple cringe-worthy memories of social fouls committed whilst deep in their cups. I’m certainly not innocent. The most disconcerting fact is that something along the same lines will probably happen again. We’re imperfect beings, and when the sweet fuel of fermentation is added to the mix, you get a wild amount of behavioral variability.
Honestly, it’s alright. Yes, we tend to display an astonishing lack of self-awareness of and control our general social/physical faculties while inebriated. It's par for the course. But when you go overboard, learn from it and let it inform your behavior for the future.
This partly requires with knowing who you are as a person (a topic for a later date and possibly a psychologist). But if you’ve awoken the next day with a head-splitter and nagging guilt in hazily remembering Gronking a pint glass outside your go-to bar, pull it together and own up to your actions – a sincere apology goes a long way. Industry professionals are used to people doing all sorts of stupid things while drunk. What they’re not used to is the few who return, apologize, and truly show that they care and have a grasp on personal responsibility.
From there, reflect on not being a repeat offender. Things happen, but if you’ve become repetitious in your drunken social offenses, I can guarantee that your local bartenders aren’t the only ones in your life who are fed up with your antics.
Follow those, and you'll easily go from buffoon to barticulate simply by being a conscious human being and paying a little bit of attention – both of which translate well beyond the bar.