Get the straight scoop from the mouths of real mixologists
BY MARKHAM HEID & CASSIE SHORTSLEEVE
Ever order a gin and tonic, but think your bartender only heard ‘tonic’? Or maybe you’ve wondered if there’s a guaranteed way to get your drink quicker. We went behind the bar for secrets from insiders on how they pour your booze, what bugs them most, and how much you should really tip.
1. Ice Is Their Best Friend
You probably like your cocktails cold. But most bartenders seem a little too generous with the extra ice cubes. Does that mean they’re trying to skimp on liquor?
Probably not, explains Scott Young, author and founder of TheBartendingMasters.com. Young estimates he’s served roughly 900,000 drinks in his lifetime, and he says the ice in your glass doesn’t affect how much alcohol you’re served.
“Most bars have predetermined liquor amounts for each drink. So whether you start with a lot of ice or a little, the same quantity of alcohol is going in your glass.” That said, bartenders are taught that ice is their best friend. The more of it in your glass, the longer it will take for your drink to become watered down, and the faster you’ll finish it, Young explains.
That means you’ll be ready for a new one—or you’ll swallow your evening’s allotment and make way for a new drink—in less time.
2. They Underserve You on Purpose
You may not be crazy if you think your drink is a little weak. Hayley*, a bartender in the Boston area, says she dials down the alcohol in cocktails if it feels “necessary.”
So what counts as necessary? “Slurred speech and poor motor skills are indicators that the guest has consumed too much and shouldn’t be served,” says April Wachtel, a mixologist and founder/CEO of Swig + Swallow, a cocktail batching and delivery service.
In most states, if you leave a bar intoxicated and hit someone with your car, that person can sue the bartender, the establishment, or both, Wachtel says.
But it isn’t always easy determining who’s drunk
“You don’t want to be wrong and deny service to someone who just had a bad day, is loud, or has an unusual pattern of speech,” says Wachtel.
So some bartenders stall until they’re absolutely sure. Wachtel has seen staffers steer patrons away from highproof cocktails, dilute stronger drinks, and fill others’ glasses while deciding whether or not to keep serving a possibly plastered guest.
3. They Want You to Look Them in the Eyes
Waving and shouting will only leave you looking like a jackass who can’t get service, shows a study of bartender behavior from Germany.
If you want to get a server’s attention, stand as close to the bar as possible, square your shoulders at the bartender, and lock your eyes onto his.
This lets him know you’re ready to order, the research suggests. He probably has a lineup in his head based on when patrons stepped to the bar, and following these steps will add you to his mental queue, the study authors say.
4. Some Can Drink on the Job—So Buy Them a Shot
It depends on the country, the state, the city, and the municipality, Young says. “The laws vary everywhere.”
But whether or not it’s legal, a bartender will always appreciate—and reward—your offer to buy him a drink. Just make it a shot.
“Not many bartenders are going to be comfortable sipping a beer or a cocktail while they’re working,” Young says. But a shot provides a nice little buzz without pulling him away from his duties.
5. They Tell Other Bars If You Behave Badly
Know that watering hole where you had six too many, or the sports bar where you and your buddy bailed on the bill? Chances are, both joints have put you on a communal shit list.
“When we’re bartending, we’re working—not drinking,” Hayley says. “If you choose to come back, it’s our decision to serve you or not. But we don’t just remember you. We tell other bars in town about you, too.”
6. They Don’t Love Credit Cards
Not many bartenders will complain if you pay with plastic, Young says, “but they definitely don’t appreciate having to run a credit card if you’re only paying for one round.”
That’s doubly true if the bar is crowded, he adds. Because it takes time to enter a credit card into the bar’s computer, you should really only use a card if you’re paying a large tab or buying multiple rounds, he says.
7. They Know the Secret to Flirting
Want to buy a drink for the cute girl at the end of the bar? Whether she’s alone or with friends, you’ll want to make a game out of your offer, says Young—who has seen plenty of flirting fails.
Do this: Ask the bartender for a wine glass and a straw, and tell the woman and her friend you’ll buy them all a round if they can figure out two different ways to pick up the wineglass using only the straw.
“You’re offering them a challenge, and at the same time focusing their attention on the game—not on whether or not to shoot you down,” Young explains.
If your girl is alone, write a riddle on a napkin and have the bartender deliver it with the promise that you’ll buy her a drink if she can solve it. “Just be sure you buy her and her friends the drinks you offered either way,” Young recommends.
8. They’d Like a Bigger Tip, Please
Young says a 20 percent tip is standard and expected for good service. But if you’re having a cheap can or a happyhour draft, you should really be leaving at least $2 per beer—regardless of its price.
“Bartenders work on tips,” Young stresses. And a buck tip per beer isn’t going to pay the rent.’
Cash tipping is especially appreciated—even if you’re paying your tab with a credit card, Young says. If you want the best service, don’t wait until the end of the night to reward your bartender.
“If you know you’re going to be drinking for a while, drop $20 on the bar when you start your tab,” Young suggests. “That way, I know upfront that you’re going to take care of me, and so I’ll take great care of you.”
*This source asked to remain anonymous for this story.