5 Polite Things You're Doing at a Bar That Are Actually Rude, According to Experts

What you think may be helpful to the bartender, like where you put your trash, might not be so helpful after all. Read on to learn more "polite" habits that are actually rude, including advice from a hospitality expert and a veteran bartender.

bartender talking to two customers
Photo: Getty Images

Bars can be a great place to let loose over good drinks with friends, but not at the expense of your bartenders. Even if you think you're being a polite patron, odds are you may have done a few things in the past that bartenders don't find so polite without even knowing it. On your next night out, consider doing your part to avoid these habits and make things a little easier on your bartender. Cheers!

1. Asking your bartender to surprise you with a drink

If you're feeling indecisive and aren't sure about what to order, it doesn't hurt to ask your bartender for some guidance. However, there are some limitations, says Rick Camac, executive director of industry relations at the Institute of Culinary Education: "It greatly depends on the type of bar, how busy the bar is, and the bartender themselves."

"You don't walk into a busy beer joint and ask for the bartender to choose your drink, or any crowded bar for that matter," says Camac.

However, there are some situations where asking for guidance would be appropriate, Camac suggests. "In a bar or restaurant specializing in craft cocktails, some bartenders don't mind this at all, and it may even mention on their menu, 'Tell us what you like and we'll make you something special.' Or, they may verbalize the same. But, there's a time and place for those requests."

Ultimately, you should know what type of bar you're visiting so you have managed expectations in advance. Don't be upset if you're in a wine and beer bar and can't order your favorite mixed drink, or are in a strictly cocktail bar and they don't have assorted beers on tap.

2. Reaching over the bar

Even if you see that your bartender is busy making drinks or speaking with another customer, you aren't doing them a favor by reaching behind the bar to grab a napkin or coaster.

"Bartenders are friends, not enemies. As bartenders, all we ask for is a little respect and love," says Bone Idyll distillery bar founder Sam Berry. "We're here to help you have fun, but often this is taken for granted. Wait your turn, be polite and, most of all, speak to us how you would like to be spoken to. You wouldn't go to a bank and put your hand over the cashier desk!"

The next time you need an extra straw or some additional fruit garnish, just ask your bartender for assistance instead of taking matters into your own hands.

3. Placing trash in your glass

Your drinks are empty, and you've accumulated some trash, so you decide to stuff your cups with receipts or other garbage. While it might get your area a bit cleaner, it can be a messy pain for bartenders to dump out your garbage before bringing the glasses to the dishwasher.

"It really just adds work for the bartender as they now have to remove that debris in order to put the glass in the glass washer," Camac shared. "And, they cannot just put the contents in the trash, as there may be too much liquid, so first they have to empty the contents into a sink, and then take the trash out of the sink to dispose of it in the garbage."

But, don't leave your area a mess with litter when you're done. Instead, do your bartender a favor and bring your waste to the trash can yourself.

4. Waving money to get the bartender's attention

It's busy and you're feeling thirsty, so you wave your cash at the bartender to get their attention. This is actually quite obnoxious and might even offend your bartender.

Camac says, "It's obviously rude in general to wave money in anyone's face—or throw it, as I've seen that too." In the same vein, touching or grabbing your bartender's arm is a "rude and unacceptable" way to get their attention.

A wave and direct eye contact will do the trick and get your drinks flowing as soon as possible. Even if you're in a particularly loud bar, yelling for attention is also not the way to go. "Adding to this list would be "Yo bartender," "Hey dude," "Over here," etc.," Camac says.

5. Saving your complaints for Yelp

If your bartender accidentally messes up your drink or you experience a different issue, try talking to the bartender or manager face-to-face instead of heading to Yelp the next day. Most servers and employees will be happy to remedy the issue, especially if you speak with them politely and calmly.

"As operators, we would much rather you give us the feedback on the spot. This allows us and our team to learn from it, respond and immediately sort the problem out," says Berry. "It doesn't need to feel awkward or confrontational."

Bottom line

At times, bars may be crowded, loud and rowdy, but as a patron that doesn't give you permission to behave any way you like. When communicating with the bartender or attempting to grab their attention, abide by the golden rule: treat them as you would like to be treated. Consider the type of bar you're patronizing and the atmosphere. By all means, ask for guidance or a recommendation, but not "surprises." Never reach over the bar or wave dollar bills. And remember, trash goes in the trash. Lastly, if you experience any customer service or menu issues, deal with them directly, not over an app.

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