Rules for How to Behave in a Bar

The dos and don'ts of bar etiquette, straight from the experts

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

"I think as a society we're losing our ability to be social," remarked Philip Duff, renowned Amsterdam bar owner and beverage consultant. "We need books now to tell us how to be nice, how to make small talk? Really?"

This coming from someone who is self-described as one of the least well-behaved men in the industry. And who, even more fittingly, made the observation while leading a seminar on "How to Behave in a Bar" at last weekend's Manhattan Cocktail Classic.

His co-host, longtime bartender Angus Winchester, chimed in: "In restaurants people know how to behave, in bars, people just get sloppy." He noted that bar rules are becoming an increasingly popular feature at establishments across the world — he found them at 85 bars internationally, in fact. Things like "No PDA at PDT" or "Know what you want, know what your friend wants, have money, and say please and thank you," which is the code at San Francisco's R Bar.

Below are highlights from the lecture, some bar etiquette to keep in mind for your next visit to the local watering hole. (You know, in case you forget that it's probably not a good idea to tip with quarters or snap your fingers at a bartender to get their attention.) Remember: Manners cost nothing and are worth millions.


1. Read the cocktail menu before ordering, and when you have the bartender's attention, know what you want (and what your friend wants, too).

2. Also, know the kind of establishment you're frequenting. If you're at reservation-only, super-cool speakeasy known for making the best craft cocktails in town, don't order a Long Island Iced Tea or a round of Jägerbombs (and definitely don't get mad if they won't serve them).

3. Don't ask "Make me something good" or "What is good today?" Says Duff, "you'll get chicken."

4. It would be better instead to ask what the bartender likes making. But if you're going to ask for a recommendation, take it. 

5. Don't order rude or "nasty sounding" drinks, it's demeaning to both parties. (As Duff so eloquently put it: "You kiss your mother with that mouth?") Basically, don't order a drink with a name that includes a body part that is normally covered with clothing.

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