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A Gentleman's Guide to Bar Etiquette

By Maija Zummo · February 29th, 2012 · Swizzle
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You don’t have to have a penis to drink alcohol, and you don’t have to have a penis to be a dick, either. Polite society functions on ground rules passed down throughout history, and in regards to respecting the bar, etiquette is indifferent toward gender. To avoid looking like a drunk asshole, one should always act the proper gentleman in a house of hooch.

Alcohol is a cornerstone in the formation of civilization, and should be revered as such. In 1772 B.C., Babylonian King Hammurabi not only laid down the first constitutional laws regarding eyes in exchange for other eyes, he also set polite guidelines to regulate beer parlors. Illiterate Mesopotamians blended religion and drinking by reciting a prayer, which doubled as an easy-to-remember beer recipe. King Tut was buried with a stash of wine jugs. Monks brought whiskey — uisge beatha, “the water of life” — to Ireland and Scotland as a medicinal anesthetic and antibiotic. When the Puritans sought religious freedom, they brought more beer than water onto the Mayflower to survive (because beer didn’t carry diphtheria). And in New York, The Sons of Liberty met in Fraunces Tavern — a bar — to plot America’s independence from Britain, the same exact tavern where General George Washington would later bid a fond farewell to his officers after they won the Revolutionary War. There’s even a theory that man gave up his hunter-gatherer lifestyle in order to stay put and cultivate the grains needed to produce beer. 

This aqua vitae, which has flowed through the veins of humans since the beginning of, well, humanity, is frequently found in bars (taverns, pubs, alehouses, clubs, frat parties). And these “bars” are the public sphere where all classes come together, socially and politically, to drink. And for a drunken microcosm to function, some etiquette must be managed. The golden rule of bar etiquette: Your good time should never be at the expense of another. But if you need more guidance on how to not be a jerk, here are some more tips:

Have money.  Any time you want to purchase a good or service from a business in this country, you must have money (we stopped using beaver pelts a long time ago). This rule holds true even if you are “best friends” with the bartender. Walk in to all bars expecting to pay for all of your drinks with cash or credit card. Do not use large quantities of loose change or personal checks.

Know what you want before you walk up to the bar (this includes number of drinks and shots) and order everything at once.

This prevents you from wasting your time, the bartender’s time, and the time of other patrons who are waiting for drinks.

Remember to say “Thank You.” It may be hard to believe, but bartenders are humans, not servants. Say “thank you” when something is given to you and “please” when you ask for something.

Don’t pay separately for one order of drinks. This can be confusing for you and bartenders. When out drinking with friends or colleagues, it is best to agree beforehand whether each person will pay for their own drinks, or whether you will be buying rounds for each other. Don’t wait until you’re in front of the bartender to initiate buying rounds. This could lead to an uncomfortable situation where one member of your party feels obligated to buy a round, even if he or she can’t afford it — or just doesn’t want to buy you a drink.

Tip for every drink. The general rule is tip $1 per drink, and $1.50 or $2 for more complicated drinks or drinks with more than two ingredients such as Bloody Marys, Long Islands, etc. Bartenders will remember good tippers. If you tip out at the end of the night with a tab, tip at least 20 percent.

Tip heavily on your first drink.

If someone buys you a round, drink what you’re given. Sometimes there are gender discrepancies here. In general, men should drink whatever is bought for them, even if it isn’t their liquor of choice. Women should be asked, or are allowed to request, an alternate selection. Note: If you think the drink has been roofied, you don’t have to drink it, even if it was free.

Don’t touch strangers. Self-explanatory.

Don’t tell jokes to people against their will. The more you drink, the funnier you think you are. This is not always true.

Don’t barf … unless it is into a toilet. This same rule applies for urinating.

Don’t order drinks from the bar back. Bar backs don’t make drinks, even if you yell at them.

Don’t use your credit card multiple times. Bars are charged for each credit card transaction. Don’t punish them because you can’t decide how drunk you want to be. Paying multiple times also increases your chance of misplacing your credit card. It’s hard to remember to put that little plastic square back into your purse, pocket or wallet every time you get it out.

Don’t bang on things. Tables, windows, mirrors, other people, yourself.

Don’t shout. Bars are loud to begin with. Shouting escalates loudness, and everyone’s irritation level. Alcohol + shouting +  person = bar fight. Bar fights are frowned upon.

Bartenders are not dogs. They will not respond to whistles, snaps, glass tapping, “buddy,” etc. If you need a drink, make eye contact with your bartender, stand at the bar with your money out or politely say, “Excuse me...”

Learn how to wait. The bartender will get your drink to you eventually. If you’re that impatient, go home. There’s no line to wait to get into your refrigerator.

Don’t argue your tab, unless you know it’s wrong. Chances are if the tab is big enough for you to want to argue it, you aren’t sober enough to add correctly.

Drinks are not served after hours, so don’t ask for one (not even “just one more” with a pouty face). It’s illegal for bars to serve alcohol after closing time.

Don’t go behind the bar. Seriously.

Don’t buy a woman a drink unless you ask her first. People like free drinks. People don’t like being hit on against their will, drugged or obligated to chat.

Don’t fall asleep anywhere in the bar. It’s embarrassing for everyone.

Bring your empties up to the bar. It’s just a nice to do.

Make sure everyone has a safe ride home — including yourself. Touching your nose repeatedly or singing something backward does not necessarily mean you’re able to drive.

Now, go forth, young drinker, and proudly carry on the tradition of drinkery that has made this country great. Just don’t be a dick in the process.  ©

 
 
 
 

 

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