OPINION: A bartender’s perspective. Or how not to get served in a bar.

Nick Winewriter talks about his large collection of shot glasses at his Pine Run home in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, June 22, 2023. Winewriter was a bartender in Washington, D.C., for nearly four decades. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.

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Posted March 12, 2024 | By Nick Wineriter

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, one of the year’s busiest days for bartenders, I wanted to offer a little friendly advice from someone who was behind the bar for nearly four decades at top-tier establishments in Washington, D.C.

Now retired in Ocala, I am a freelance writer and decided one day to sketch out this perspective on how not to get the best service when you visit a bar—any bar.

Walk into a crowded lounge or tavern and yell, “Hey, chief! How about a gin and tonic?” and that most likely will get you nowhere, or perhaps a scowl with your cocktail.

Bartenders are there to serve you and most of them will bend over backwards for you. They aren’t your servant, but they’ll make you think they are. But give them the respect they are due.

Please don’t walk up to a bartender and say: “What do I have to do to get a drink around here?” Every bartender has heard that many times. Try using, “Excuse me, please,” which will likely get you some attention rather quickly.

A lot of bartenders will introduce themselves by name. Try using it.

One of the worst things to do is snap your fingers to get attention. Bartenders will ignore that or respond with a dirty look. Another non-attention getter is banging on the bar with an empty beer bottle or glass. Now you’re really going to have to wait for a refill.

And don’t expect to be served quickly when you walk into a bar that’s packed three deep. Other people have been waiting before you.

To be fair, on the other hand, customers don’t want to hear from the bartender that the bar is short-staffed. That’s not the customer’s problem. That’s management’s problem.

If you want a cocktail made a certain way, tell the bartender when you order it. Don’t take a sip and then say, “But that’s not how I like it,” or “That’s not how I make it at home.” Most bartenders use standard recipes, but they’ll vary it any way you like. Just let them know ahead of time.

If you are ever cut off, don’t argue. Just leave and come back (if you’re allowed) another time. The bartender is judge and jury.

A regular customer will usually get served before you do. Right or wrong, it’s just the way it is. A person who comes in on a daily basis, perhaps with a group in tow, and spends money, is going to get extra attention. After all, if someone’s helping to pay your mortgage, you give them prompt service.

Bartenders like to keep things sanitary. If you don’t have a handkerchief, use a paper cocktail napkin and dispose of it properly. Don’t leave it on the bar for the bartender to pick up.

The bar is the bartender’s office. Don’t trash it. Respect it. You wouldn’t want someone coming into your office and leaving things all over it.

Barstools are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Don’t plop down and try to save the empty stool next to you for a friend. If there are other people standing nearby, they are entitled to that empty stool.

If you are with a group at the bar waiting for a dinner table, clear your check before going to the dining room. When checks are transferred into the dining room, the bartender will usually get cheated on most, if not all, of the tip. Some restaurants will have the waiter tip the bartender on transfer checks, but it’s not etched in stone and is usually not the full tip amount that the customer left.

Bartenders have to be very careful about not serving underage people. If you walk in with a young-looking group, don’t expect to order alcoholic drinks for everyone in your group. The bartender will need a valid I.D. from everyone drinking in your group. If someone is underage, don’t hide at a corner table and try to pass him or her a cocktail. If you come in with your son or daughter who is underage, don’t tell the bartender it’s okay because they are with one or both parents. The law says “21,” with or without a parent. Don’t ask the bartender to break the law.

And last call means exactly that. The purpose of a last call is to give everyone an opportunity to order a last cocktail and ample time to finish it. Last call is usually given about one-half hour before closing. For late night bars, drinks have to be off the bar by a certain time. It’s the law. If not, the establishment could lose its liquor license.

One of the worst things to ask a bartender is: “Do you make a good Manhattan?” (Or a good “whatever”). How do you want him or her to respond? “No, I make a terrible Manhattan. Go somewhere else!”

When you walk up to the bar, and the bartender greets you with: “Good evening, how are you?” don’t start rattling off your order without first replying: “I’m fine, thank you.”

Great customer service is often more important than mixing a good cocktail and a professional bartender will treat his or her chosen career as a profession. And that person is an artist behind the bar. Watch a professional bartender, for example, layer a Pousee-Café—it’s like watching Renoir paint “Luncheon of the Boating Party.”

A true professional bartender will give you the great service and respect you deserve. He or she wants you to come back. But they also want you to think of them as a person, rather than a servant.

And remember to use “please” and “thank you.” They go a long way!

Nick Wineriter worked as a bartender in Washington, D.C., for 37 years, including at the renowned Duke Zeibert’s. Go to ocalagazette.com/hello-ocala-tales-of-a-barman to read an article previously published in the Gazette.

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