Why Your Bartender Hates You

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Photo by Southern Foodways Alliance/FlickrCC


I'll be honest; I get a little kick out of the series from Generation Awesome called, "The Bartender Hates You." In this series the embattled bartender, flanked by sleazy dudes, chirpy chicks, and all manner of besotted bar denizens, gets revenge by belittling, berating, and lambasting customers for their lack of bar etiquette. I can't blame him. While I train my bar staff to resist the temptation to personally confront the rude and indignant, bartenders are all too human and one can't help but take personal some of the affronts from ones fellow man.

The incivility can be from both sides, so I do acknowledge that sometimes customers are the victims as well as the perpetrators (and sometimes it's just one long chain). However, it's not uncommon for customers, bar side, to begin their interaction without even the basest of pleasantries. They shout "gin and tonic," an unnecessarily hostile beginning like a cannon ball fired from close range. This happens even in a quiet or slow bar. While this method is direct, it's also a more appropriate first meeting for a vending machine. Why not, "Hi, can I get a gin & tonic?" or even, "Please." (Exasperated "pleases" don't count, either.)

Not all bars are set up to accommodate all needs. Read: not every bar has freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.

That incivility can stem from a perceived slight by the customers. I was at an event recently making specialty cocktails and John McLaughlin, of the McLaughlin Group, asked for tonic water and lemon. When I tried delicately and politely to direct him to the bar that had those ingredients, which I did not, he threw up his hands in astonishment and made a gruff remark before departing the station. I did keep hoping he would say, "from zero to ten, ten being metaphysical certainty, do you have tonic water?" Of course my answer still would have been no.

There are also those who walk up with a scowl before word one, reminding me of the parental advice about being careful lest someone slap the back of your head and your face stays that way. This everyday belligerence belongs to the most common scenario: that someone is already angry and harboring a sense of entitlement before they approach the bar and you're simply there as fodder.

These interactions generally begin with an earnest attempt by the bartender to appease the customer, although much like a wounded baby deer is made sport by the clever carnivore, more aggressive tactics meet any attempt at appeasement. I can't say that I haven't met those tactics with equal force--call it the customer cold war--using the first tactic in the bartenders arsenal, refusal of service. However, the best scenario is still to simply do your best to meet their demands. It isn't personal, after all.

Yet if I could make a plea for the uncivil to save themselves the slower and perpetually more embarrassing route of rudeness, I assure you together we can make a better bar experience (cue tranquil music here). Generally bartenders are customer service professionals and will do their best to meet your needs. (Keeping in mind, not all bars are set up to accommodate all needs. Read: not every bar has freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.) Thank you for reading and have a nice day.

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.
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