3 Ways to Keep Your Bartender Happy

No matter what your evening plans are, here are the things your bartender wishes you knew.

From a very early age, I found myself working in restaurants. Thanks to two step-parents who waited tables, I was refilling waters and rolling silverware a little earlier than a lot of my peers. I officially started waiting tables in my teens. My first job was at a Golden Corral. Before the covid-19 lockdown in spring of 2020 shut everything down, I’d spent three incredible years working for innovative Austin chef Callie Speer at Holy Roller, a punk-rock girl-power themed brunch spot that was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”

I’ve accrued more than 15 years of experience in the hotel, restaurant, and bar industry. In that time, I’ve worked the Sunday morning church crowd all the way to last call; I’ve hustled through late-night gigs, worked weddings, and tended to festival crowds. 

So yes, I’ve seen all kinds of bad behavior. I’ve seen every kind of drunk, stopped folks from trying to get on or over the bar, and busted up a few very steamy public makeout sessions. Once during my long stay as a hotel server and bartender, a group of rebellious guests decided to make it rain nightstand Bibles down the rotunda and onto the tables below. 

Certainly I don’t need to tell you not to rain holy scripture down on an unsuspecting server and a lobby full of tourists. But here are some basics that can turn you from a guest into a beloved regular in the eyes of the folks who make and serve your drinks.

Respect The Flow

Every service industry worker has a flow. If you’re watching, you might notice a particular order in which they like to make certain drinks. A newly tapped keg, for instance, might be extra foamy, meaning your beer needs a moment to settle. Maybe this gives the bartender time to pour simple cocktails. But an egg-white cocktail? That’s going to take some effort and timing.

Usually the more complex and savory the cocktail, the more complicated it is to make. Your bartender will greatly appreciate you waiting while they help other customers with less time-consuming cocktails. When it comes to the order drinks are prepared, there’s always a method to the madness.

The best way to queue up another round for yourself is to make eye contact with your bartender. They’ll likely be eyeing the bartop regularly to check drink levels — no need to go all Real Housewives and shout or shake your glass to get their attention. 

Time Your Visit Appropriately

Are you visiting a bar with a group of coworkers or catching up with an old friend? Do you want to get out of the house and do some people watching or are you and your honey headed out for date night? Check your vibe with the time you’d like to visit the bar.

If you’re gathering with a group, happy hours are ideal. The drink and food selections on the happy hour menu are suited for volume and usually involve less preparation or cleanup. Happy hours are more likely to be properly staffed for large parties, too, meaning you’re set up to get the best service. Take advantage of promotional drinks and discounted tapas, girl! You’re worth it.

Planning to go on a date or catch up with an old pal? Mealtimes are ideal. Dinner means taking your time with your cocktails, dishes, and conversation. Servers and bartenders are prepared for longer seating times, and are likely to have more time to walk you through menu items and preparation techniques. 

Guests who are flying solo may be looking to sit for a while and enjoy a good book or have lengthy chats with the bartender about Japanese whiskeys. If this is you, choose an off-hour or slower weeknight to make a visit to your neighborhood spot.

Not sure what your local drink well’s business looks like? Use Google search to check out average traffic times! Simply search for the business and click the desired location (options will appear under the map). Then scroll down until you see a section of bar graphs titled “Popular times”.

Split The Tab From The Start

There’s nothing worse than watching a bunch of drunk people trying to sort the bill while you’re just trying to close your register. It’s uncomfortable for everyone involved. Do everyone a big favor and split the tab at the beginning. 

Look, I’ve seen some very complicated tabs in my day. But just because everyone needs to pay separately, except the birthday girl, split her drinks and dessert and… You get it. Figure all of that out ahead of time and tell your bartender or server first thing. Most bars either hold cards and pre-authorize for tabs. Always do that — even if you’re planning on paying cash at the end.

Talking about the tab up front also gives you a chance to check for any service charges. Some restaurants are opting to attach a 20% service fee to help them provide benefits and ensure that their employees earn a livable wage.

And Finally, Tipping

Many industries across the world are still walking on wobbly knees with regards to bouncing back after covid-19 shut downs. For the service industry, it was a really frightening time. Lots of people like me saw our places of employment close for good. Bar and restaurant attendance is slowly bouncing back, and so are the folks who keep the “keep the coffee on” by taking care of us when we do out to eat or drink.

For me personally, if there’s no service fee, 20% is a standard tip. My standard tip is 25%, and exceeding my expectations usually results in a tip somewhere between 30-50%. A good service industry experience comes from a multi-tasking mixture of providing hospitality, nourishment, and experience. Regardless of industry, the best way to show someone you appreciate their hard work is to pay them well for it.

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