The 9 most annoying things your group can do at a bar, according to a bartender

Emma WitmanThe author, pictured above, has some advice for customers who show up in big groups.
  • Large groups can make a bartender’s job difficult when they demand separate checks, expect special treatment, and don’t know what they want to order.
  • As a bartender, I often treat big groups better when they make my life easier.
  • Here are the nine most annoying things you can do at a bar when you’re in a large group, and what you should do instead.
  • Visit for more stories.

In the service industry, large groups have always had a bad rap.

Whether it’s a beer-league team winding down after a game or a bachelorette party painting the town red, the phrase “the more the merrier” doesn’t always hold true for those on the other side of the bar, like me.

Recent changes to how the IRS classifies certain tips have raised the stakes – and anxiety – of serving a big group. Since 2014, bars and restaurants have been financially incentivized to stop charging automatic gratuity for large groups. That means I can bust my butt to provide good service to a group, to the neglect of my other tables, all for a horrible tip that wasn’t worth the effort.

However, there are ways to make your bartender an infinitely bigger fan of your big group, despite our anxiety over the lack of an assured gratuity.

And there’s something in it for you, too. When I’m feeling charmed by a big group, I’m more likely to suggest cool items that aren’t on the menu, give honest opinions of what’s on the menu, dole out small tastes of my recommended spirits, and gush about the best spots for you to hit next.

A really happy bartender might even “forget” to ring in a drink or upcharge on your tab.

With that in mind, here are nine of the most annoying things you can do at a bar when you’re in a big group, and what you should do instead.

Don’t get separate checks in a huge group — have one person cover it, or split the bill evenly.

It’s hard to convey just what a difference it makes in the night of a server or bartender when a big group decides to close on one card, or multiple cards split evenly.

This is the area most rife with time-consuming processes, mistakes, and solutions to mistakes that are also time-consuming.

You haven’t felt pain and anxiety until on a busy night you’re having to find – and make room for among a graveyard of glassware – nine check presenters and nine pens, and then wait for a chip reader to process nine credit cards, all while you’re 10 orders behind at the bar.

It is precisely because the separation process is so exquisitely agonizing that you can make any bartender love you before you even order one drink.

How? By telling them up front, “We’ll be on one tab.”

Although in real life I’ll politely smile, swipe your card, then ask what drinks what you’re having, in my mind I’ve fallen to the ground in giddy relief muttering “Hallelujah.”

However, maybe your big group isn’t ready to take the bold step of one tab. Maybe Glen still refuses to download Venmo. And Andy only has $US100 bills. That’s OK, as long as you follow the next piece of advice.

If you must get separate checks, don’t nitpick small errors that may inevitably arise.


I understand if you don’t want to pay for your buddy’s $US95 shot of WhistlePig Boss Hog, birthday boy or not.

But if I’ve put your $US10 Four Roses Small Batch on his tab, and his $US12 Four Roses Single Barrel on yours, please politely pretend that my work and memory were flawless, and don’t request another round trip to your table to fix it.

If I’m dealing with a party of two, it’s no big deal.

But if you’re in a large group and this happens, my brain is already sweating in its bone box from the thought of the 10 minutes it will take to swipe – and manually enter the cards that inevitably won’t swipe – your large group’s divvied-up tab. A typically menial task will feel in this case terribly burdensome.

You can always make up the difference in the tip if you’re determined to keep things fair between each other. We don’t judge. As long as it shakes out to 20% total, we’re fine.

If the bar is busy, get another guest — not the server or bartender — to take your group photo.

Shutterstockk/Syda Productions

“When you have a minute…”

I appreciate the intention behind this phrase, and in most instances, I welcome hearing it.

“We’re ready to close when you have a minute.” “We’d love some more water when you have a minute.” “We’d like to order another round when you have a minute.” All swell.

What gets my goat though is when, seeing that I’m busy, a large party throws in that polite caveat before requesting, “When you have a minute, can you take our picture?”

Folks, on a busy Saturday night, we don’t have a spare second, much less a minute.

And when that luxurious minute is available, we’d rather use it to go to the bathroom, wipe off the mascara running down our face, smoke, or catch up on the pile of side work that has to be done before clocking out.

The thing is, unlike mixing a drink or fetching water, taking a photo is a job perfectly suited for your civilian neighbours. You may even strike up conversation that gets you a free drink. Shot for the bachelorette, anyone?

Know what your group wants when it’s time to order

Cyrus McCrimmon/Getty Images

For a big order, I’m always concerned with time and efficiency.

I’m running a long mental prep list about how and in what order your drinks are going to be made so that they’re all completed around the same time. All this is happening while I’m talking to you, getting the next order.

That means consider yourself on the clock. And unless you tell me to come back to you – a perfectly fine request – I can’t just walk away and start making the drinks while you’re in front of me figuring out what you want.

And if you don’t know what you want, don’t make the bartender guess.

“Make me whatever you like” is not always a cute, fun challenge. And like fixing small mistakes on the bill, order ambiguity is a small annoyance for a small party, and a big headache for a big party.

At least be decisive about the checklist to follow, since I’m not clairvoyantly privy to what you like: What liquor? Refreshing or boozy? Sweet or not sweet? Tart? Bitter? Up or on the rocks? Are funky flavours OK? Spicy? Smoky?

Finally, if you truly don’t know what to ask for, you can alwaysdefer=”defer”to tasting someone else’s drink, then ordering that.

You might still elicit a small eye roll, since I could have made both at once. But better that than holding my attention hostage while you anguish over what to order.

As for ordering all at once, there are polite ways and impolite ways to do it.

Having one person place the entire order is sincerely going above and beyond. It’s not something I expect from even the nicest groups.

That is, unless you’re shoving an iPhone in my face expecting us behind the bar to interpret the words in your dimly lit Notes app – a real thing that happened to my coworker during the busiest hour of service on a Saturday night.

Now, writing down the order to physically hand over on a piece of paper: this sparks joy. Or just read it out! We’ll be ringing the drinks in as you tell us the order, and some of us – not me – even possess hardened auditory memories of steel.

Wrangle in your friends who are overly raucous.

Orbon Alija/Getty Images

You know the ones in your squad. When Andrea goes out, she likes to Do The Most. But if she’s dangerously close to Doing Too Much, please help mitigate before it becomes a problem, i.e., our problem.

Encourage water. Encourage slowing down the pace. Call them an Uber if need be.

Because it’s deeply uncomfortable to have to cut someone off who’s drunk too much. No matter how professionally, politely, and legally disclaimer-riddled it’s done, denying service because of inebriation has never once been not awkward for me.

So if you’re in a large group where one or two people are approaching the edge, use your strength in numbers. Commission some caretakers.

But if someone in your group is cut off, don’t make it worse.

I’ve had large groups where one member was cut off, and rather than back us up, they made it way worse by protesting.

The friend angrily approached the bar and said, “I’ve had the same amount as him, and yet I wasn’t cut off,” as he insisted the friend should be allowed to keep drinking.

It’s as pretty simple calculus: He’s wasted. You’re not. Don’t make me explain the biological, sociological, and circumstantial factors that resulted in that outcome.

And definitely don’t fuel the notion that your friend has been personally victimized by my poor judgment if you want to keep being served.

Not to mention, bartenders are protecting themselves. Many states have “dram shop” laws that hold businesses and servers accountable for injuries caused by intoxicated customers. It’s a concept Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former bartender herself, has eloquently explained in a tweet.

And don’t expect special treatment just because your big group is celebrating.

Sam Rega

There’s nothing quite so distasteful as a group that asks if they will get anything for free because they’re celebrating a birthday or another joyous occasion.

Actually, there is: groups that request something for free because they’re celebrating.

If the answer is no, that’s because freebies are a privilege and not a right at that bar.

By all means, mention that you’re celebrating. We want you to have a good time and for your night to be special. But it won’t increase your likeability – and chances of getting a freebie – to act entitled.

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