11 things you should never say to your bartender

Emma WitmanThe author, Emma Witman, is a bartender in Asheville, North Carolina.
  • Bartenders like me are under a lot of stress every night.
  • Our job gets even harder when we have to process foolish or uninformed statements and requests from customers.
  • Here are 11 things you should never say to your bartender if you want to stay on their good side.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Being a bartender is like navigating a nightly mental health minefield.

There’s the obvious stress that comes with preparing drinks under time pressure for a never-ending stream of customers.

But every night, we also process an untold number of idiotic statements and requests that drive us crazy, even though we politely nod in response to the customers who make them.

I wish I could blame the bad banter on people overdrinking, but frankly, a lot of the weird things that come out of people’s mouths are simply the result of having never worked in the service industry. If you could see things from the bartender’s perspective, you might think twice about asking for “a strong pour” or for your bartender to “surprise” you, for example.

There’s a lot you can say to be a better bar guest, but you can do a favour for bartenders everywhere by simply not saying certain things.

So with that said, consider taking a thoughtful pause before uttering any of these 11 phrases to your bartender.


‘You should smile more.’

Shutterstock/Mavo

This is my No. 1 pet peeve.

It’s rude, uncalled for, and 99.9% of the time, directed at women whose male colleagues are equally liable to be called out – not that you should call out any of us. Consider this: Smiling might literally be driving us to drink more after our shift.

Something to think about next time you feel like harassing your bartender to give you a smile.

It’s normal that a lot of bartenders assume a Resting Bartender Face, the focused facial expression we might land on when we’re trying to do the best job possible.

Do you have a huge, giddy smile when you’re filling out spreadsheets, editing an article, drawing blood, mixing tracks, or whatever else your job entails? Probably not. So please – let this one go. Our reason for not smiling isn’t because we hate you. We’re just trying to focus.


‘Do you know how to make an old fashioned?’

AP Photo/Al Behrman

While we’re on the topic of sexism, asking a bartender if they know how to make an old fashioned is also a question that’s usually directed at women.

Although, I did once enjoy the smug satisfaction of hearing my male coworker being asked if he knew “how to craft a Manhattan.”

The thing is, an old fashioned is so simple and such a staple that the vast, vast majority of bartenders know how to make one.

Your greater concern should be if the bar has the means to make one. So rather than ask if the bartender knows “how” to make one, ask a variation on, “Do you make old fashioneds here?” or “How do you make your old fashioneds here?”

For me personally, rather than ask, I scan the bar to see if I can spot a bottle of Angostura bitters, easily spotted by its trademark oversized label.

But if the bar clearly doesn’t carry bitters, sweetener, or oranges, maybe just don’t ask in the first place, and grab a beer and a shot instead.


On a similar note, ‘Do you make a good old fashioned?’

REUTERS/Marko Djurica

You can replace old fashioned here with any kind of classic cocktail, like a mojito, daiquiri or cosmo.

I don’t understand why people ask if we make a good version of any cocktail. Which is why I usually pause to collect myself before slowly, and with a hint of scorn, saying “… Yes.”

What other response could there be?

“No. I guess you should go to another bar,” perhaps.


‘Is this menu item good?’

Shutterstock/Mavo

As a corollary to that, asking if a menu item is “good” is also baffling.

Why would we put it on the menu if it weren’t “good”?

Do you think we want to serve you swill?


‘I’m easy. Make me whatever you want.’

David Silverman/Getty Images

People assume we bartenders love requests to “make me whatever you want.”

And I won’t lie. I used to be game for this challenge.

But eventually, I got world-weary, and now I just want you to please, please, please make up your mind, rather than me having to make it up for you.

Even more flustering is when people don’t want to give any additional clues as to what they might like, when the range of drink possibilities is infinite.

We end up having to cross-examine and interrogate you into giving us more information, or risk the likelihood that you’ll hate what we put in front of you.


‘What’s your real job?’

AP/Felicia Fonseca

“What’s your real job?” is a frequent question directed at working bartenders in a capitalist society, for some odd reason.

I truly want to respond, “What do you mean by ‘real?’ Are we in ‘The Matrix?'”

I’ve deemed that the only appropriate response to this question.

For starters, you may consider bartending a “fake” job, but we’re not getting paid Monopoly money to do it – in fact, bartending is paid far better than my former “real” job as a newspaper reporter. And being automated out of bartending isn’t on the horizon – at least not the near horizon.

Even if for some of us it’s more of a transient role, plenty of us are also career bartenders, or learned more while bartending than in any other roles, as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has attested herself.


‘This drink is horrible.’

AP Photo/News & Record, H. Scott Hoffman

Telling me a drink is “horrible” is a statement of opinion, not fact.

Even better, if you adjust your wording accordingly, you’ll get a better outcome.

Alright, fine. I guess there’s a chance we did indeed mess up your drink, but it’s far more likely that the drink was technically made correctly and your expectations simply didn’t meet reality.

The great thing is, there’s usually an easy fix or replacement cocktail we’ll have in mind if you use your words and tell us what you didn’t like.


‘What bars do you like to go to around here?’

Lewis Geyer/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

This is either a silly ploy to track me down after work or a desire to feel special because you – correctly – assume that I never divulge this information.

You probably don’t want to go to the bars that bartenders go to anyway. They are places where no one is required to smile and Miller High Life is the most preferred beverage.


‘Wow. That’s a lot of ice for a $US13 drink.’

Adding insult to injury, this icy complaint was given to me while I was getting my arse kicked on a busy Labour Day weekend.

If you’re going to have the audacity to complain about a $US13 cocktail that takes several steps to make before you’ve even had one sip, please, spare us both. Get the $US2 lager instead.


‘Your bourbon selection sucks.’

John Sommers II

I hear this complaint frequently as a bartender in an ABC state. That means my state strictly regulates the sales of all hard liquor. As a consequence, high-demand bourbons aren’t allocated in large numbers here.

Please complain to our state legislators, rather than throw the negativity at us. We hate our bourbon selection too.


‘Make it strong’ or ‘Don’t be shy with your pour.’

Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Garden & Gun

There are so many things I hate about requests to make a drink strong, even when made in a jovial manner.

For starters, it’s the icky entitlement: If you want more booze in your drink, pay for a double.

I hate feeling like someone is trying to badger me into giving them more just because they applied some pressure, especially when other guests are within earshot.

It won’t work. In fact, it might even backfire when I feel less inclined to pour that shot all the way to the tension point of the jigger, or count a little more quickly than I usually do if I’m pouring without one.

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