Rude, Pointless Questions: A Bartender's Frequent Nightmare

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While I've admitted to being unnecessarily judgmental about sweet cocktail drinkers, and therein publicly apologized, there is something I cannot and will not apologize for: rude, obstinate, and pretentious drinkers. There is a particular group of customers whose questions seem to hide their true intentions, and, when their diversion is met with unsatisfactory results, they chide the bartender for failing to meet their needs. No bartender should have to suffer the long, drawn-out inquisitions of those whose sole purpose is to befuddle with bellicose bargaining. Shameful as it is, these customers are all too often absolutely smug about their humorless yet time-consuming approach.

To me, drinking in our time has reached a fever pitch, with so many great options that the exploration of new drinks and spirits is half the fun.

Decorum would hold that the bartender should just walk away and wait on someone more deserving of his time, but our jobs too often rely on an exiguous portion of the bill that they hang above your head as though it were the strings of a puppeteer. Still, some bartenders do walk away. One that I'd frequent, named Jonathan, would castigate first-time Martini drinkers for not issuing specific instructions. He was unwilling to imagine the laundry list most Martini drinkers demand and then have the drink returned because it wasn't dirty enough, or had too much vermouth.

I can certainly sympathize, but it's really not about customers asking questions, which I actually very much appreciate when they're sincere, but asking questions that don't really get to the matter. Case in point: In the following video the customer begins by asking if the cocktails are good and what the best one is. This is really a very stupid question and the bartender's response is correct: The best cocktail is made of ingredients that you like.

Now if you don't know what you like, a simple description of beverages or foods that you generally enjoy might help: I'm a red wine drinker, I like strong flavors, or I prefer tart drinks. But without knowing your specific tastes, you certainly can't anticipate a bartender getting it right the first time. In that sense, perhaps the discovery itself may prove a useful lesson to the apt student. To me, drinking in our time has reached a fever pitch, with so many great options that the exploration of new drinks and spirits is half the fun. Even with the rising cost of cocktails, they're still minor investments in pleasure and satisfaction. Enjoy the ride. The relationship of a bartender to customer should be cordial and instructional. If you know what you want, order it. If you don't, be prepared to engage in a dialogue, open to the possibilities.

In the meantime, this video was passed around by my bartenders and bartender friends, and we all enjoyed a good laugh. Mostly because it's verbatim some of the encounters we've had with the aforementioned drinkers and, if you know yourself to be one of them, at least we're no longer laughing behind your back.

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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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