Episode #079 – Being a Better Bar Patron

We recently took to the streets (not literally, no open container laws in the District of Columbia!) and stopped by one of our favorite watering holes, Red Derby (Check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, too). It’s a classic beer-and-a-shot bar with a legendary rooftop, but it’s also oh-so-much-more. Jason, one of the bartenders at Derby, treated us to some cocktails while we recorded live at the bar. We certainly don’t advise recording a podcast live at your favorite bar (unless you clear it first).

As we took up space at the bar, we went over unofficial (and sometimes, actually very official) rules to be a good–no–great bar patron. We gathered these from friends who have worked as bartenders and servers in all ranges of bars, from fine craft cocktail establishments to dive bars. So here are your guidelines, and please, keep the line moving:

1. Be human.

This one seems simple, but it informs all of the rest of the rules. Don’t be creepy (your bartender is never hitting on you, unless, of course, you are already involved–and even then, don’t be creepy), don’t be a jerk, and remember, this is someone’s livelihood you’re dealing with. And also, remember that when you get frustrated or have a bad day at the office, you’re probably not at your best–and the same can happen for people who work at bars. And that’s why you need to remember to…

2. Be patient.

One of our friends told us, quite interestingly, that even when a bar is crashed, bartenders are often ready, willing, and eager to provide you with a craft cocktail–often, this is their passion in addition to being their career–but remember, drinks take time, and a bartender who measures may just want to really get things right. And while we’re talking about patience…


Seriously, this is just rude.

4. You can send back a drink if you don’t like it.

This was an interesting one for us to hear, but a friend who used to work in a fine cocktail bar said that this is totally okay, because it’s not saying that the drink isn’t good, it’s saying that it’s not good for you. Treating your bartender like the professional they are can have its benefits, and this is a key exchange.

5. Don’t ask for free extras. Alex Luboff - Red Derby

“Can you make it extra strong?” If you utter this to a bartender, it’s probably more of a sign that you didn’t order the right drink. If you’re drinking to get drunk, you’re certainly not #BeingABetterDrinker like we try to be at Speaking Easy, and your bartender doesn’t have to respond to your request like that. Order a double if you want a double, but don’t try and get freebies.

6. When it is your time to order, try and be ready.

This also helps you be good to your fellow patrons by not tying up servers or bartenders. If you have questions about your choice, that’s totally fine. But calling someone over and then waffling is just obnoxious.

7. You’re only a regular if people think the bar is closed when you’re not there.

This was a quote from a friend who has worked in bars, and maybe it’s a bit to the extreme. But being “a regular” is a defined post and one that you shouldn’t try and claim unless it’s obvious.

8. If you’re in a hurry, don’t order something complex.

Good drinks, at home and at a bar, take time, so if you don’t have enough time to wait for it, order a beer and a shot or something like that. Oftentimes, even ordering a shot can be complicated if a new bottle has to be brought up from storage. So just calm yourself. Drinking is better that way anyway.

9. There are lots of rules to tipping.Jordan Wicker - Red Derby

Typically, what we heard from friends in the industry is that $1 per beer as a tip is probably okay (unless you have more involved staff, like with a tasting) but that you have to account for what drinks you’re getting, and for the type of bar that it might be (like if you have a server and bartender, they may be pooling tips). If you order something complex, like a Ramos Gin Fizz shaken the historic 8 minutes, $1 a drink is not suitable and a surefire way to piss off the bartender. Likewise, if you want to establish better service, or to move your way to being treated like a regular, tip bigger and in cash. Just logical, ain’t it. BUT, tipping is not a guarantee for anything. In this industry, people live off tips, so NO, it’s not like it’s just something extra for good service. It’s making bills for a lot of people.

10. Treat bartenders like the professionals they truly are.

This is definitely a repeat of rule #1, “Be Human,” but it’s just that important. If you want to see what a bartender in a craft cocktail bar is working on or is excited about, don’t have that conversation when it’s 15 deep on a Saturday night. Stop by on a Tuesday when it’s only every-other-seat-filled at the bar. That’s when it’s best to stop in, have a tipple, and really learn. And that’s the best way to get to know a bartender.

There are few better ways to learn new bartending skills and cocktails than from professional bartenders while they are serving you a drink. We’ve even written about doing so before.

Have other ideas for being a better bar patron? Let us know in the feedback!

We’d like to send a shout-out and thanks to Jason and the whole crew at Red Derby! Check out their WednesdayCocktail nights when Jason is whipping up fine drinks and tending bar. Tell him Speaking Easy sent you and then he’ll let us know and feed our egos!