12 Rules of Bar Etiquette: What Not to Say to Bartenders


– By Brittany Seki, Senior Editor –

Believe it or not, there is an unwritten etiquette bar patrons should follow if they want to get on a bartender’s good side (besides tipping well). And if you’re looking for a fun night of drinking, this should be a priority. A young lady once approached my bar looking timid and confused. “Excuse me,” she said. “This is my first time at a bar. So I’m not really sure how this works. Can you help?” After I immediately checked her ID (she was a 19-year-old visiting Toronto from the states, so that explained some things), I was ecstatic to help her with bar etiquette and to find the drink she would like. Most customers know the unspoken rule when ordering drinks. However, there are still many, many people who think they know how to place an order but just end up embarrassing themselves. As a 6-year bartending veteran, I’ve picked up some rules along the way and am happy to share them with you. Here are the top 12 common (and hilarious) things people say to a bartender, which really should be avoided.


What do you have?

“Okay. So. Um. What are you looking for, or what’s your go to?!” I most often respond this way, because it takes less time than listing every single cooler, liquor, beer and cocktail we have on the menu. And would someone of drinking age really not know what a bar has in stock? I think patrons have some clue. Most bars are fully equipped with your basic bar rail (gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila), beer (draft, cans or bottles) and maybe some extras like ingredients for specialty cocktails and coolers. If you really have no clue, search out a menu before ordering. Regardless, always approach bartenders with something in mind, and they can help you fill in the blanks. “Hi I’d like something sweet and refreshing, can you recommend a cocktail?” Or “I’m really into craft beer, what is your selection?” Being as specific as possible will allow your bartender to complete your order to your satisfaction and in less time than it takes to read you the menu.


a beer Can I have a beer?

If I’m in a good mood I’ll answer, “yes, what flavor?” However, if you ask for a beer, just “a beer,” you’re probably going to get a random domestic or the most expensive pint on draft. Again, be specific when you order. Every single bar I have ever gone to serves more than one beer. So save the bartender the trouble of asking you what kind you want. Bark out your go-to brew and the bartender will be happy to pour you the particular brand you want.


Do you have Long Island Ice Tea/Sex on the Beach?

Oh ladies. I know you’ve heard your favorite character on that TV show or movie ask for one, but (depending on the bar) just avoid these orders – especially when you really don’t know what’s in them. At a pub or a quick service bar these cocktails are most likely not on the menu. As for the Long Island Ice Tea … well, there are easier and cheaper ways to get drunk.


redvswhiteCan I have a Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc?

Yes, someone actually ordered a glass of wine from me this way. I couldn’t help but laugh while he stood there looking confused. Countless times I have poured someone a Cabernet Sauvignon, only to have him or her say “but I ordered white wine?” Patrons, know the difference between red and white wine. Or even if you don’t, simply ask the bartender. He or she will be happy to point you to the right bottle.


Can I have cranberry vodka?

You may be thinking, what’s wrong with this order? Well, most of the time I don’t have cranberry flavored vodka on my bar rail. Oh wait! You meant vodka with cranberry juice? I’ve experienced this interaction more times than not. Traditionally, you order your liquor of choice first, followed by the mix you want added. Regardless, a bartender loves a customer who orders this drink as a vodka cran, or vodka cranberry. It saves any confusion. I know it’s easily forgettable but take note if this is your drink of choice.


What’s your lowest calorie drink?

Water. My lowest calorie drink is water. If you’re trying to watch your weight and you’re counting calories, simply avoid alcohol. Most people don’t go to a bar to drink healthy, so count that as a cheat night. Common knowledge dictates “healthy” drinkers should consume clear liquors with water or soda, but if you’re committed to losing weight then simply avoid bars. Bartenders are not nutritionists and don’t tend to calorie count.


flairCan you do tricks and stuff?

I believe when someone asks this question he or she means flair bartending. There are very specific types of bars that hire flair bartenders to perform. Also, it is quite obvious there are performers making your drinks. So if you order a drink and the bartender doesn’t flip a bottle, chances are no “they don’t do tricks and stuff.” If a bartender practices flair, he’ll “wow” you once you’ve ordered a drink. But please, don’t ask him/her to do it.



What’s the cheapest drink on the menu?

I’ll use this answer again: water. The cheapest drink we have is tap water, because it’s free. Most people don’t go out for a night of drinking to save money. The difference in dollars between a mixed drink and beer really isn’t that significant, so just treat yourself and order what you want. When a patron asks this question, it also screams “I’m not going to tip you,” which definitely doesn’t make a bartender your BFF. Let’s avoid this question altogether, okay?


exactshotsReally? That doesn’t look like a 1 oz. shot!

Nothing is more offensive to bartenders than when you tell them they’re trying to rip you off. A bartender has no reason to short you a shot, so why make the accusation? It’s rude! Bartenders pride themselves in making drinks with the right amount of ingredients. They use shot glasses or pre-measured spouts, so it’s hard to mistakenly pour under an ounce. But if it doesn’t look like enough alcohol for you, simply order a double and save yourself from looking like a jerk.


iceNo ice, it’ll just get watered down!

To make the perfect cocktail is to build it with perfect measurements. This affects taste, and one of the most important ingredients used in measurements is ice. Bartenders are not trying to water down your drink, they are trying to build you the perfect cocktail. And if you feel it is getting watered down, well you’re taking too long to drink it. Don’t let your ice melt!


I’m 21, why would you ID me?

Liquor laws can make or break a bar. If you look 25 or 30 years old, a bartender is going to ID you depending on the venue. It doesn’t mean the bartender thinks you’re underage, so please stop taking offence to getting your ID checked. It’s standard procedure to protect the bartender’s own ass. The other day I asked for the ID of a woman born in 1968, and she was ecstatic (no but seriously, she looked to be in her late 20s!). Having a bartender ask for identification is a compliment, so take it as one!


Sorry, I don’t know what I want yet (after waiting in line).

One of a bartender’s priorities is to get through a line as efficiently as possible. So when customers have been waiting in line only to approach the bar clueless as to what to drink it can get the blood boiling. Not only are you holding up the line but you’re wasting the bartender’s time. Be courteous and don’t go up to order until you know what you want. Oh, and please stay off your cellphones when you’re about to place an order!


Brittany is a writer and editor, and has been bartending in Toronto, Ontario, Canada for 6 years.

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