Why Bartenders Shouldn't Be Rude

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All right, so I've harangued customers for being rude in past posts, and turnabout is fair play. This may come as a shock to some, but bartenders can be the rudest of them all. Not shocked? I wish you were.

First, there's the superiority complex of certain bartenders, and I'm not just talking about "mixologists." I've walked into many bars where I felt that I had to genuflect before the bartender to get any pittance of a beverage, let alone a well-made drink.

I'm not saying its right, but at least with mixologists at cocktail bars I have a better chance of getting a good drink, effrontery aside. What excuse do you have if you're just some boorish bar-waiter, barren of talent, woefully lacking experience and devoid of compassion, with no inkling of humility in the face of someone turning over his or her hard-won money to you? None.

At least rudeness implies some level of interest. How often have I been witness to complete and utter apathy?

I'm a polite person, so in these situations I feel like I've done something wrong most of the time. I end up apologizing for asking the bartender to add bitters to my Manhattan, which he swears up and down is unheard of; I've implored the bartender to give more than a splash of tonic and leave the browning lime off my gin & tonic, while they drown the drink in gin and thoughtlessly add the lime anyway; and felt like I've committed a crime by ordering a Coke for the designated driver. It's just maddening.

We're not talking about exceptional requests or ordering during a busy night at a high-volume bar. There you expect to get a poorly mixed-drink served in a plastic cup with no more than a, "That will be $12," if you even dare to venture into the cocktail world. Beer definitely suffices in these cases without complaint. I'm talking about mildly busy bars or lounges with time to spare, or at least time enough.

Think that's bad? At least rudeness implies some level of interest. How often have I been witness to complete and utter apathy whereby the bartender darts back and forth behind the stick trying to avoid any prompting of customer interaction? What a shell game that is! While I recognize bartenders need time and attention to make cocktails, the difference between 30 seconds in getting your cocktail and the 30 seconds it takes to just acknowledge the presence of someone in front of you are not comparable.

Come on! You don't have to be a pushover to acknowledge the customer, and if you're taking money, you're taking requests--learn a drink or two. If nothing else bartenders learn this one rule: make eye contact with your customers and throw them a bone with a simple "I'll be with you." You'd be amazed how far this goes toward ensuring customer patience.

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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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