On Bar Etiquette

This is the text of an email I sent to the Listserve after winning last week. Enjoy!

Hi Listserve!

Like everyone else, I never really expected to win this lottery, but here I am with circa 24K willing recipients.

So what am I going to use my platform for? All GOOD, of course. I’m going to give you some advice on being a better customer in a bar. See, I moonlight as a bartender (I run the Manhattans Project, a little cocktail popup in London (@ManhattansPRJCT)), and I love great customers.

But isn’t the customer’s always right? Nope. The customer is never wrong, but they sure as heck aren’t as right as they could be. Very few drinkers know their spirits, liqueurs, how to balance a cocktail, what fruit is great that week, and what drinks a bar does best. Your bartender does.

Firstly, stop ordering mojitos.

Let me preface this by saying the mojito can be a glorious drink, but it’s my bête noire. On a hot day, made well, it’s really up there. It’s just, mostly, people don’t drink them like that. They order them in a panic at a bar, and the bartender gets some tired mint, some halfway decent rum, a squeeze of lime, some sugar and throws them in a glass with a handful of crushed ice. Then the drink gets topped up with soda and you’re left with something that’s…reliably drinkable, but consistently mediocre.

Too often, it’s ordered by people put off by over pretentious drinks menu, who begrudgingly pay £7. They’ve been put off other classic cocktails by warm, oily martinis and cosmopolitans made with sour mix, so they’ll take this. It’s long enough to feel like good value, and generally inoffensive.

Which brings me on to my second suggestion. Find a bartender you like, trust, and maybe want to bang. That bartender will look after you; they will show you magical new drinks and tell you stories and anecdotes that will make you the life of any party. They probably won’t sleep with you. Sorry.

Once you have that bartender, make them work. Talk to them about what you like. Tell them why you’ve never quite got on with scotch, or gin, or fernet branca. They’ll try to persuade you, and sometimes they’ll succeed. Other times, you’ll learn a bunch about what you like, and that’s only a good thing. Ask them what they’re drinking at the moment, or what’s new in the bar. See if they want to preview you some drinks from the new menu, or test a new concoction on you. They probably do, and your life will be better for it. Just don’t order an old fashioned if they’re rushed off their feet.

Thirdly, tip. Tip early and often. You’ve come out for a nice drink. Don’t scrimp on this…you’ll probably make it back in generous pours, buy backs (when the bartender gets you a shot) and fast service. You’ll be welcomed back and you’ll get to crash the occasional lock-in at the bar and find out all the gossip bartender confidentiality allows. Bartenders don’t make rockstar salaries, and we rely on tips to put the jam on our toast. Look after us, and we’ll look after you. This is the hospitality industry, after all.

Finally, don’t gender your drinks! Don’t ask your bartender for a ‘girly’ drink, or a ‘manly’ shot. You look like an ass, and everyone around you thinks you’re being sexist. Turns out flavours don’t have genders, and your bartender is going to laugh at you for thinking they do.

That’s it from me. Enjoy your listserve subs, and next time you have a Manhattan, send me a toast from wherever you are in the world. Thanks for listening!

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