Bar Insights: 19 Things Your Bartender Wants You to Know

The sober truth is that bartending is hard work. Here's how to raise the bar so your bartender can continue to provide excellent service.

Published July 19, 2023

You plop yourself down at the bar. You've been to this bar and others countless times. But if you're never find yourself behind the pine, there might be a few things you're not aware of.

From someone who has spent plenty of time at the bar working, I'll pull back the curtain on some of the lore, myths, and misconceptions that'll give you insight to the job and a few tips on how to be the best bar patron.

Know How Much to Tip Your Bartender

You should tip your bartender 20% unless everything went horribly, terribly wrong, and they insulted you. However, 15% is acceptable, 18% is great, and anything over 20% is absolutely wonderful. Another easy rule of thumb is a dollar per beer, two dollars per cocktail, and three if they had to do anything extravagant, such as make a mojito or Ramos gin fizz.

Bartending Is No Party

Working at a bar, be it a sports bar, Irish pub, upscale fine dining, or the neighborhood spot, isn't all fun and games. In fact, bartenders' lives are on the lines anytime they serve a guest. Not only are they responsible for making drinks correctly and quickly, in addition to managing tabs and money, but they have to keep a watchful eye on every guest that approaches their bar to make sure no one is overserved. No one multitasks quite like a bartender.

Order All Your Drinks Together

Order everything at the same time! If you're heading up to the bar and ordering for the table, do it all at once. If you're having a gin and tonic, your friend is having a cosmo, and your other friend is having a Guinness, don't wait for the bartender to return with your gin and tonic before ordering the cosmo or Guinness. In fact, let them know about the Guinness first so they can get that started while you order the rest of your drinks.

When you're ordering is also the time to specify any specific type of liquor (Tito's vodka, Bombay gin), not after you're handed the drink.

Your Glass Isn't a Trashcan

Your pint glass, highball glass, or any glass isn't the place to put trash. Go ahead and take a guess about who will have to reach in and dig out that chewed gum and used napkin.

Bartenders Are Humans Too

Whether they give you the wrong garnish with your vodka soda, hand you the wrong beer, or aren't as smiley as they usually are, remember, they're human. Imagine working a full day with your entire facial expression on display. But also, understand that their work mistakes are just as forgivable as yours. Kindness goes a very, very long way.

Compliments Aren't Tips

Being kind and patient is a great trait as a bar patron, but verbal compliments don't pay the bills. You don't need to tip a staggering amount, but 20% is a good place to start. Of course, go ahead and compliment their skills and let them know your drink is great, but cash is always king.

Get a Room, Please

You're in public. Please keep the PDA to a minimum. Holding hands and sharing a brief kiss here or there is totally cool. But otherwise, you're making the bartender uncomfortable, and you're making their guests uncomfortable. There's a good chance they'll cut you off and ask you to take it elsewhere.

Less Ice Doesn't Equal More Booze

Asking for less ice doesn't make the drink any stronger. You'll just get more mixer or nonalcoholic ingredients. Likewise, telling the bartender to make it strong also doesn't get you anywhere. If you want a strong drink, order a double.

The Bartender Isn't Hitting on You

Customer service is about being kind, patient, and polite. There's no flirting happening here that equates to anything more. Of course, some establishments may not shy away from a flirty service, but that's all part of the guest experience. It still doesn't mean that the bartender is into you. They have bills to pay.

Just Hand Over the ID

Just like overserving could result in losing their job, if someone doesn't have adequate ID or any ID at all, they can't be served. It's not you. It's needing to pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads.

Don't Expect a Bartender to Charge Your Phone

We've all been there, but there's a good chance that the bar doesn't have a convenient outlet. Even if they do, there's always a chance that your phone ends up covered in a drink if anything gets spilled while the bartender is hustling behind the bar. Don't be surprised if they direct you to the host stand.

Quick Tip

If the bartender does accommodate your need to charge your phone, throw them a few extra bucks in appreciation. But don't bribe them with money. Be cool.

Last Call Is Final

Last call isn't up to the bartenders, it's because of laws or licensing. Serving patrons past final call can result in fines, court appearances, or losing their liquor license. The more alcohol they serve, the more money they make, so a bartender telling you they can't serve you isn't because they don't want to.

When You're Cut Off, It's With Love

If you're cut off, it's because we can see you're headed down a risky road. Some may let you know they want you to drink some water and have some food before they'll discuss more drinks. Others may just put some water in front of you and let you know it's time to call it quits. Again, more drinks means more money, but the bartender is responsible for your well-being.

Take Pictures of Drinks - Not of Bartenders

Simple! You'd be weirded out if someone took pictures of you at work unannounced. Respect their privacy. Also, no touching, please! But go ahead and snap pictures of your drinks!

Hands Off the Garnishes

Those aren't free snacks while you sip your drinks. Garnishes are for the drinks, and the bartender absolutely doesn't want you putting your dirty fingers in there. Plus, they had to get here early to cut them up and make them ready. Just order a snack, yeah?

This Is Our Real Job

Bartender is a job. A real job. Full stop. Some career bartenders can make over six figures a year. Some are only in it while they figure out what they want next.

Whatever the reason, it is a real job with real consequences, real money, and real skills. Next time you're at a busy bar, take some time to watch how the staff is speed walking, shaking, and cleaning every single second.

Run a Tab

Your service will be quicker for you and everyone else if you say, "Sure! I'll keep my tab open."

Your Bartender Appreciates You

When you're hanging out at the bar when it's slow, the bartender appreciates you sitting there. It gives them a chance to flex their muscles to talk about what they know and help you decide on a drink. And if you're a regular, you're a star. You're a way to pass a slow shift by having an animated or easy conversation. And when the bar is slammed, your bartender knows that you'll have a little more patience than the other patrons. Your kindness will be rewarded.

Drinking Behind the Bar Is a Hard No

A majority of bars don't allow bartenders to have a single drop of alcohol while they're working. Some places may turn away and pretend it isn't happening while others just don't care, but it's hard to do your job well when you're buzzed. Instead of booze, you'll see your bartender pounding water, iced coffee, or their third energy drink that hour.

Garnished With Love

Another night out for you is just another day at work for a bartender. Think of your bartender like anyone else you interact with throughout the day at your job or theirs. So the next time you cozy up to the bar, consider yourself to be a little more in the know with the inner workings of a bar, and even how to make your bartender's shift a little easier and your service a little smoother.

Bar Insights: 19 Things Your Bartender Wants You to Know