Rules for How to Behave in a Bar

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

"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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Not bad, but frankly I think if there's going to be Rules for Paying Customers, there needs to be some Rules for Bartenders. I bartended at a VERY high end establishment in New York, with a very high level of customer service and customer respect. So now when I go into bars I feel like I'm a pretty decent critic of service. Bartenders are generally way overpaid. Not always, but often. Go to Europe and see how well bartenders are tipped...haha. Nine times out of ten a hip club will employ an attractive woman who feels that her looks are enough. She'll be slow, unresponsive, and have a bad attitude of entitlement to boot - then expect a gargantuan tip! I see bartenders all the time laughing it up with chums at the bar while people are standing their expectantly and being ignored while a bartender tries to finish of the conversation. Look - when a patron is waiting, you WALK AWAY from whatever conversation you're having. You don't wait until you can bring it to a nice, tidy and conclusive end. WALK AWAY and do YOUR JOB. You're a bartender, there to serve drinks, not a prince or princess. Generally speaking, I give huge tips. But what I like to do is order drinks all night without leaving a tip until I'm ready to leave, and see what the bartender does when I'm not laying down a couple bucks per order. If they give me a bad attitude, they get what they get. If they continue DOING THEIR JOB they hit the jackpot.


It's a bar! If you want to instil rules, work in a school. A lot of these rules are dead-on but some are extreme. I am a paying customer in a public place:

If you have the ingredients to make the beverage, I should be able to order it.
If I am on a date and want to give my partner a kiss, I will.
If a bartender does not want to be asked to make something of their own choosing, then they have lost their pride in craftsmanship and customer service.
If someone in the biz wants to watch the bartender work all night, it is their paying right. A good portion of bartending is in the show. It is NOT an office!
Patrons are there for an experience and it involves living! How can the bar ask $10+ for a drink and at the same time, micromanage their guest?!I am not your child.
And I have been the biz 20 years.


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