We often read or hear about the lack of civility in our lives and it seems that we have been at odds as a species about just what constitutes acceptable behavior. I'm not writing this to discuss whether life is less or more civil now, but rather to suggest that the environs of a bar demand a code of civility that needs to be stricter than the ones we hold ourselves to outside of its doors. That code should define itself in a more controlled matrix to ensure that the milieu for the enjoyment of spirits remains a place of convivial conversation and respectful discourse. It is important to be mindful of just how one is to conduct themselves in general, particularly when alcohol is added into the mix.
Allow me to share a few of my principles of good bar etiquette:
Be ready to convey your order or to ask for more time, especially if the bar is very busy.
Communication with your bartender is important, and the relationship that you have with them will be enhanced immediately if you let them know when you are ready to order. You would never flag down a bartender only to stammer or to not know just what it is that you want. If the bartender comes over and you don't know what you want, or you simply need a moment to decide, communicate that. Good bartenders work with their eyes up and are always scanning the bar for new arrivals or for those who need them for another round, the check, etc., so it shouldn't take long to get their attention.
Know the rules of engagement.
Keep in mind, it is never well received should you choose to point at the bartender, click your fingers, or make exaggerated waving gestures to get attention. If the bartender doesn't see you within a reasonable amount of time and you have taken into consideration just how busy the bar is and you feel neglected or ignored, simply ask for the check (if you have one) and drink elsewhere. It's not worth your money or your aggravation to suffer bad service. Drinking at a bar should be relaxing, not a contest of wills or a test of your patience.
Please don't hold a seat for anyone in a crowded bar unless that person is within close proximity of the establishment or actually in it.
Just because you arrived at a particular time doesn't mean you've earned the right to hold barstools, especially when there are others who are there at the bar who may want to sit too. It's disrespectful to your fellow imbibers. It's also important to keep in mind that the bartender makes money from people who are actually sitting at the bar, and that time lost can't be regained.
Own your space, but don't "camp out."
Keep your items like coats, purses, and laptops in front of you and don't hang your things over any stools you aren't using. Just because the bar might seem empty at that moment doesn't mean it won't fill-up while you are there. Use common sense and you'll be appreciated by everyone.
Bar napkins, straws, stir-stix, etc., are there for a purpose, and that doesn't include tearing them up into little pieces and littering the bar.
This happens more often than one would think and it just shows a lack of caring for the people serving you. Also, if you have a cold, as many people have had during this already long winter, don't blow your nose with a beverage napkin and leave it or piles of them on the bar. It's one of those things that people don't do purposely, but it is unsanitary and compromises the health of the bartender and everyone at the bar. Simply put them in your pocket or somewhere where you can dispose of them later.
Never, ever mention the T-Word.
Tipping is a somewhat complicated subject and the mention of it at anytime is a big no-no. Yes, bartenders rely on tips; and yes, you should tip unless the service is insulting or god-awful, but statements like, "I'll take care of you" or "I'm a good tipper" I have found generally produce the opposite result. If you want to appear to be a rube, by all means, go ahead and mention it, but don't expect a pleasant response. There is an implied contract between bartender and customer that doesn't need amplification. It is a gift, and an acknowledgement of good service, and it should always be discreet. It is a private transaction and requires a level of sophistication that ensures that privacy.
Never ask for a free drink or say something like, "Is this one on you?"
If the bartender decides for whatever reason to buy you a drink, it is up to their discretion and also it is up to the "house rules" to dictate what, if anything can be bought. Some houses don't allow for buybacks, so you should never put that out to your bartender. In some houses or areas of the country, there are rules such as a free round per every so many rounds. That isn't an industry standard and therefore should not be expected. You have to ask yourself, why you would ever mention it. Are you short of cash? Is the place too expensive? If so, it's time to go, not time to "work the bartender."
Your seat at the bar.
While tipping is discretionary, you have to realize that sometimes you have to take better care of your bartender. Scenario: you or you and your companions have been sitting on stools for a long time. People have come and gone, and you have remained. Be mindful of the time spent in that stool and especially if you haven't consumed anything in a while. The stool has its price, and that is something you should be aware of. I once had someone come into a bar where I was working and was aghast that he had to purchase something when we were jammed and there was a high demand to sit at the bar. A barstool is not a park bench, nor is it a couch in your apartment. Enough said I think.
Be engaging and generous with your spirit.
Many times people come to a bar to get a bit of peace and like to have a drink in solitude. But, if you are feeling gregarious and want to connect with people, do so. Try to "read" them so that you don't overstep your bounds. Most people at bars will be somewhat convivial and will respond to your entreaties for conversation, so dive in and be gracious and hopefully charming. Bars are one of the rare places in life where one can meet new people in a chance encounter. It is to me, the greatest reason for not only entering a bar, but for having bars period. I have had some great chance meetings with some amazing people and have also been witness to the same from behind the stick. Just remember to listen as well as talk, and to know when its time to back off if need be. Space in a bar has to be respected, and not respecting each other's space is unacceptable. If someone doesn't want to be bothered past a certain point, acquiesce to that and move on.
Buying a round.
I think that buying drinks for others is a nice gesture, but only when it is acceptable to the recipients. If someone you just met doesn't want that chilled shot of Patron, then they don't want it. The best buy is getting them another one of the same cocktail, glass or wine, or spirit that they have been drinking. They might have been there for some time, or they might be at their limit, so be respectful of that by simply asking them if you may buy them a round. Buying a round doesn't mean someone owes you anything, because it is a gift from you that is not expected to be paid back. That being said, caveat emptor to the recipients of such gifts because not everyone subscribes to my beliefs regarding this practice of buying drinks. Many "buyers" think it comes with some obligation from you to engage them and that engagement may be limitless in their minds.
Let's have a shot.
Speaking of shots, we all know that there is only one purpose to requesting them and that is to speed up the effects of alcohol. I subscribe to the philosophy that doing shots should be a journey that should be short and sweet. If you are at home, go for it if you must, but out in public it isn't pretty to be inebriated past a certain point, and shots will wreak havoc on your decorum and your liver. Be careful with them, and respect their power.
Never use profanity.
It is always classless, (and this comes from someone who can curse) and never looks good on anyone. If you use profanity with a bartender, you will generally get the eject button and most likely won't be welcomed back. Anger is always something to be avoided in drinking, and when you feel that coming on, it's time to take a breath and put down the drink. Anger and drinking never pair well together, and oftentimes lead to disaster. Anything that triggers your anger should be well-known to you and should be avoided while sipping your martini. Keep in mind that while in a public place meant for happy gatherings and socializing, nobody is obligated to hear out your deeper issues.
Being cut off.
Finally, if for some reason you have been cut off by the bartender, just accept it, drink water and sober up -- or go home. Good bartenders should have your and their customers' best interest at heart and will have tact and diplomacy that won't needlessly humiliate you for getting in that socially challenged state. Just go with the flow and accept the cessation of alcohol service. Think of it, even in that state, as a service provided by one who should know best, the bartender. In the moment it may seem difficult, but as the sugar high relaxes, you will be grateful and realize that, yes you too can over-imbibe. No harm, no foul right?
From the time we became legally eligible to drink, we realized that part of being an adult meant that one had to know one's limits and that part and parcel of making one's way in life is knowing how to drink well and to be a class act. To enjoy alcohol is a privilege that comes with responsibility. Monitor yourself, and always stay mindful of your responsibilities. Knowing how to drink and how to be a lady or a gentleman will help guide you through life and may in fact teach you something about yourself in the practice. No one said it would be easy, but we are all in this mess together, so respect yourself and others at the drinking establishments that welcome you as a member.
I'll see you when I see you.