It’s a Saturday night in the city. Bars all over the boroughs are abuzz with New Yorkers eager to quench their thirst. You finally get through the front door of your destination only to discover a packed room with the bar three people deep waiting to order drinks. It is these moments when it seems as though you must adorn your invisible armor and fight off the masses in order to procure a single libation. Defeated? You shouldn’t be. On the flip side, bartenders see the hordes of customers equally challenging because there is nothing worse than keeping patrons waiting for a drink. As a bartender, I am committed to efficient and quality service and anyone who has sat (or stood) at my various bars can reaffirm this statement. However, there is nothing worse than interacting with an individual who defies some of the basic principles of chivalry when I am trying to service anywhere from two to twenty parched patrons simultaneously. After all, mutual decency is the key to procuring an evening of drinks flowing like the mighty Hudson River.
There are various strategies you can put into action to maximize the likelihood of scoring a drink faster than imagined. Take it from my side of the bar; I know what works.
1) Patience: “Good things come to those who wait.” It can become frustrating to wait a couple extra minutes for a mere bottle of beer or a vodka soda, but take a deep breath, channel that angst and know that the bartender will get your order. We want to get a drink in your hand just as much as you. Often times, bartenders will at least acknowledge your presence at the bar and say, “I’ll be with you in a few minutes.” Getting this connection is your ticket to being serviced and let it sooth your anxiety away.
2) Know your drink order: There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more frustrating than being slammed with drink orders and having a customer approach the bar and say, “ummm, so, what’s good here? Oh wait, I need to see what my friends want.” On a slower night, feel free to come inquisitive about drink offerings because we want to help you select the right cocktail. But when it is a packed house, time is of the essence and be prepared with your listing of beverages beforehand.
3) Manners: We’re all human. The words “please” and “thank you” never go unnoticed by bartenders.
4) Gestures: I once had a customer throw wadded up napkins at me to get my attention when he wanted a drink. Needless to say, I gave him a short (yet stern)lecture on decency and that his actions were unappreciated. Here’s a list of motions that bartenders hate: the waving hand right in the bartender’s face, snapping, tapping or slapping the bar, and yelling from across the room. Remain dignified. Holding out your hand is a simple and appropriate action that bartenders respond to when it is busy, as well as saying “excuse me.”
Snapping never works (and the bartender doesn't really hate you)
5) Payment: Ward III (111 Reade Street, (212) 240-9194) has a list of house rules, including #6 which reads, “Please, if you plan to stay for more than one round, start a tab with us. Processing cards takes valuable time that is better spent making cocktails for your fellow patrons.” If you plan to stay for one drink, the probability is that it will turn into two. Throw a card down as a placeholder or else bring enough cash in your wallet to pay for each round as you order.
6) Get off the phone: If you’re placing an order, talk to me. The person on the other end of the line won’t be able to get you that Old Fashioned you so desire.
7) Tip appropriately: Tipping is up to the discretion of the patron. But as I always say, “your generosity is my livelihood.” There is no rule dictating the appropriate amount to tip, but often times the notion is a dollar a drink (or two dollars if it is a more involved cocktail). But bear in mind, if you order twelve Lemon Drop shots and tip three dollars, you will probably have one unhappy bartender. You are paying for a service. If you want to save your pennies, buy a six-pack, break out the beer opener and kick-it in your own apartment.
8) Smile: I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to see customers smile. And it won’t mess up your hair!