12 Mistakes You Might Be Making When Ordering Cocktails

If beer and wine are not your drink of choice, there might be a cocktail with your name on it. Cocktails come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and flavors — they can also be customized to fit most taste palates. Over time, you may discover your affinity for certain kinds of mixed drinks over others. Whether you prefer drinks rooted in tequila, bourbon, vodka, or any other liquor, most of us have a go-to drink that we tend to order from our bartender whenever we head to a bar or restaurant.

However, have you ever stopped and considered that you could be making any number of mistakes when ordering a cocktail? Perhaps you are paying more for your drink than you should, or maybe you are ordering a particular drink incorrectly, only to discover that the alternative is much more to your liking. The world of mixed drinks can feel large and intimidating when you consider how many different kinds there are, but knowing where people often make errors will help you order your next cocktail with confidence. Before heading out this weekend to enjoy a round of drinks with your friends, be sure to study some of the common pitfalls people make when ordering cocktails.

1. Asking for an extra strong drink

Cocktails are not the cheapest drinks on the menu, so you don't want to feel stiffed when ordering one. That said, trying to game the system by asking for an extra strong drink will likely not work in your favor. While drinks with a higher ABV will certainly feel like you are getting your money's worth, it is often a major headache for the bartender and the bar from an accounting perspective.

Like any other business, bars and restaurants need to calculate how much they stand to profit on any given night based on the cost of goods sold. Every ingredient that goes into your favorite meal or drink is part of that cost, and some components cost more than others. Ordering an extra strong drink would simply increase the amount that it costs the bar to make it. So, do not be surprised if your extra strong drink comes with an additional fee — if the bartender is even willing to make it in the first place.

2. Ordering a complicated drink when it's busy

Many of you have probably experienced heading out on a busy Friday evening only to realize that everyone else in town had the same idea. Suddenly, it feels like you are swimming upstream to reach the bar to order your first round of drinks. This is especially true when you visit some of the best bars in town and everyone is ending the work week with a visit to their favorite bartender.

When it is your turn, avoid ordering a complicated drink if you are surrounded by a crowd waiting to place their orders. If you ask for a drink that requires a complicated set of steps to make, you will ultimately slow the bartender down from attending to other orders. And nobody likes a person who holds up the bar. That goes for blended frozen drinks as well.

Instead, have a simple drink order ready, and once the crowd dies down, then head to the bar and have your second round be something that is perhaps a little more complex to make.

3. Not knowing how to properly order a martini

Any good bartender will know how to assemble all of the basic cocktails, so long as you are visiting a full-service bar with all of the right fixings. While a bartender can whip up a standard cocktail, it still requires you to know exactly what you want to order. For some cocktails, there are more steps involved than simply stating your order.

Take, for example, the martini. It is not enough to just say, "I would like a martini." If you want to order a martini the right way, there are some other factors to consider, like which kind of vermouth to include. If you want a combination of dry and sweet vermouth, you should order a "perfect" martini. And sorry James Bond, traditionally, a martini is served stirred and not shaken. Keep in mind that there is a big difference between ordering a traditional martini with gin and vermouth versus ordering one with vodka.

You should be able to answer several questions when ordering a martini, so be sure to study up before you head out to the bar. Otherwise, be ready to strike up a conversation with your bartender about what all of the differences are.

4. Not being brave enough to ask for dealer's choice

Humans are creatures of habit, so if there is a cocktail that you enjoy, you might tend to stick with it every time you go out to the bar. Even on occasions when you are willing to try something new, your eyes will naturally scan the menu for ingredients you recognize and like. If you really want to be adventurous, it might be to your benefit to ask the bartender for the dealer's choice. Or, more simply, ask them to surprise you.

Often, a bartender will ask you to clarify a few things before concocting a surprise beverage. Be ready to decide what kind of alcohol you like most: tequila, gin, whisky, or vodka. Also, do you like your drinks fruity or more on the sweeter side? From there, they will be able to make something to your liking since they know what ingredients pair well together. 

This may not be the best thing to order if the bar you are visiting is super slammed. However, if the crowd is tame this might be a great option. Your bartender may even share their personal favorite recipe, or they may quiz you for more details. Either way, it's a fun way to liven up your evening out.

5. Closing your tab prematurely

Most of the time, starting your evening at the bar will involve opening up a tab with the bartender. When it is time for your party to order more drinks, the bartender can easily add them to the tab without having to run your credit card a second or third time. On the contrary, closing out your tab individually each time you order a round of drinks can turn out to be more of a hassle than it is worth. That is why it is important to make sure you do not make the mistake of closing your tab too early.

You may think that closing a bar tab at the end of each round is a budgeting tactic to avoid running up some astronomically high bill, but it is probably doing more harm than good. Not only will that cause several unnecessary receipts for you to deal with, but it can slow the bartender down, too, if you close out your tab only to reopen one when you decide you want another drink. It's best to keep your tab open until you are fairly certain you've had your last drink. Just make sure not to forget your credit card at the end of the night — we have all been there.

6. Ordering one drink at a time

It is possible you have ended up as the designated person from your party to go up to the bar and order drinks while the rest of the group hangs back at the table. When it is your turn to order, you may feel a natural urge to present the order of drinks in a way that is easy for the bartender to handle. After all, how would you feel if someone walked up to you and ordered four completely different cocktails at the same time?

While we might need help to remember all the details, plenty of bartenders can take in all that information at once. With that in mind, it's best not to order drinks one at a time — that is, order one drink, and then when the bartender brings you that drink, order the second and then the third. That can slow the bartender down, especially if there is a way that they can save time by preparing multiple drinks simultaneously by using the same ingredients without having to pull them back out again. For example, if you are ordering brunch cocktails and you want an orange mimosa, and someone else wants a pomegranate mimosa, the bartender can quickly assemble both without pulling out the champagne a second time.

7. Skimping on the tip

This next one may seem like a no-brainer, but it is a common courtesy to tip your bartenders fairly. Mistakenly tipping the wrong amount goes beyond not tipping enough. There is actually a science behind determining how much you should tip your bartender, and it all depends on the kind of drink you order.

When it comes to cocktails specifically, your bartender has more work involved than just pouring a glass of wine or a pint of beer. So, it is expected that you would tip beyond the typical one to two dollars when ordering something that involves multiple steps. If you are out with a larger group of friends and everyone is ordering a few rounds of drinks, then you may want to consider the standard 20% tip, especially if the cocktails you are ordering are more elaborate. Take care of your bartenders, and they will take care of you.

8. Assuming every ingredient mixes well together

There seems to be an endless amount of cocktails out there in the mixology world, with a ton of different flavors, textures, and temperatures to choose from. While the combinations may seem limitless, it is actually vital that you understand the basics of what ingredients mix well together. Asking for an unusual flavor combination may wind up costing you dearly. Yes, you can certainly try the infamous Coca-Cola and wine combination, but there is a reason why rum and Coke are a match made in mixology heaven.

Knowing what ingredients mix well together will help you steer clear of disastrous mixed drink concoctions. A little bit of research can help you avoid sticking to the same tired combination time after time while discovering new favorites. Many people have heard about the gin and champagne combo known as the French 75, but champagne pairs with just about every kind of basic alcohol for an entirely different flavor profile. It is all about having an open mind, but do not leave it so open that you are ordering a cocktail that may as well be everything but the kitchen sink.

9. Forgetting to brush up on your cocktail terminology

The world of cocktails is much bigger than the basic margarita, old-fashioned, and cosmopolitan. In fact, there are so many different kinds of cocktails that they have been categorized into groups and families based on flavor and preparation. If you do not know your highballs from your cobblers, then you may want to sit down and better familiarize yourself with these different groupings. Failing to do so may keep you in the dark about an entire world of mixed drinks that you may actually enjoy. Learning about cocktail families is more than just fun facts you can share at your next party. It is also a matter of learning about how various ingredients mix together, which can, in turn, make you more well-equipped to order your next cocktail like a true pro.

Beyond the types of cocktails out there, you want to make sure you know the different ways a cocktail can be prepared and how to order them. If you like your cocktails ice cold, then you do not want to order them neat, for example.

10. Ordering more than what you're willing to pay for

Cocktails are typically pricier than your standard beer and wine, and multiple rounds of drinks can add up quickly. However, there are a few tricks to remember when ordering your cocktails so you do not accidentally sign up for something not exactly in your budget at the start of the evening.

For example, if you want an extra strong drink, you are more than likely asking for an extra strong price tag. Ordering an extra strong drink, or a double, essentially means that you want more alcohol added to your cocktail, which will increase the cost of the drink. A more cost-effective strategy would be to order a straight serving of alcohol neat or without ice.

You can also help to manage the cost of your drink by asking for whatever the house alcohol is when ordering your cocktail. If your cocktail has many extra ingredients, you might not even notice if you swap out a top-shelf liquor for something more cost-effective.

11. Choosing a dessert cocktail too early in the evening

Alcoholic beverages are enjoyed at most times of the day, from your morning cocktails with brunch to after-dinner cordials like port. But for a truly sweet treat, dessert cocktails have also risen in popularity over the years. From espresso martinis to alcoholic milkshakes, these cocktails are a great option if you love dessert but do not want to commit to, say, an ice cream sundae or a slice of cake. And while there is a mode of thought that believes you should always enjoy dessert before the main meal, you may want to avoid ordering your dessert cocktail first if it is the start of the evening.

As you may imagine, dessert cocktails tend to be on the heavier side, with many including cream-based ingredients to give the drink that rich texture. But those can fill you up sooner than you expect, and you might find yourself tapping out prematurely, especially if your drinks are to be accompanied by any food. If you are setting out for a long evening, it may be best to save the dessert for last.

12. Being afraid to try something new

The world of mixology is growing larger by the day, with bartenders and mixologists discovering new ways to incorporate different flavors and textures into our cocktails. Thanks to these revelations, there is almost always something new to try each time you visit a bar or restaurant. Some elaborate drinks might seem strange at first, but if you never try anything new, you might not discover your next favorite cocktail.

For example, some ingredients, like egg whites, might sound like a total turn-off. But egg white cocktails are true artisan creations that contain a lovely foam texture that many cocktail connoisseurs cannot get enough of. When left in the right hands, egg white cocktails like the gin fizz or whisky sour can be real delights. So, you might want to move beyond the fear of trying an ingredient that does not sound like it belongs anywhere near an alcoholic beverage.