A Manner of Drinking
Etiquette is a social minefield.
Codes of conduct exist for just about every occasion in every subculture. At local bars, twentysomething guys know it's unmanly to refuse a shot. You can't really call yourself "Uptown" unless you belittle suburbanites (you know, those misguided people in comfortable, modern, inexpensive homes) on a regular basis. And errant politicians must "stay the course," no matter how detrimental that course may be.
One simple misstep--disputing Karl Rove's view of things, pouring Tabasco on your mother-in-law's famous meat loaf to "give it some flavor"--and the consequences...oh, the consequences.
We've all blundered enough to know better, yet we still manage to commit the same old mistakes. Although bartenders control delivery of the very product barhoppers desire, overanxious drunks routinely shout "hey" or tap empties impatiently on the counter every time they need another round. Even worse, they often try to scam free drinks, run multiple tabs and skimp on tips.
"Bartenders do have memories," warns Brian Rudolph of The Old Monk, speaking of consequences.
In fact, they often hang around after closing time to review the evening. At Candle Room, Stan's Blue Note and everywhere in between, bar staff reel off stories about patrons failing to ante up, driving other customers away and so on--often sharing names or descriptions of particularly irritating drunks. Bartenders at The Old Monk go a bit further, keeping a notebook of pet peeves stashed behind the bar. Some excerpts:
11. Enter: frantically waving customer in a busy bar. "I just need a water."
31. (Impatiently) Can we order?
Sure, what would you like?
2 minutes later
48. "How much is a beer?"
"How much is a well?"
"How much is a..."
Strangely enough, the Burning Question crew was in the bar the night No. 48 occurred, and...hey, wait a minute...
But what are a bartender's biggest pet peeves?
Well, the entries we pulled from The Old Monk notebook illustrate many of the common annoyances. First of all, bartenders don't appreciate wild gestures. "Waving, whistling--those are all wrong," says Adam Salazar, bartender at Republic, Seven and Sneaky Pete's. He suggests something more subdued, such as eye contact.
"That's the way to get attention," agrees Garret Bratt of Cuba Libre, "because we see everything, and we can't go any faster."
Because bartenders earn their reputations, in part, through expedient service, they find it discouraging when patrons elbow their way to the bar and then slowly ponder drink orders. "They don't want you to walk away, either," complains Glenn Hartzell, bartender at Stolik, with evident frustration. Meanwhile, others start clamoring for service. "From my perspective, what am I supposed to do? I have people waiting." Leave to tend others or remain and wait for a decision? Either way, there's a good chance the unlucky bartender will piss off someone.
The problem is so pervasive bartenders often celebrate quietly when someone orders with speed and precision. "They look around; they don't know what they want," says Felipe Mendez of Monica's, echoing the gripes of others. "But sometimes--'Macallan 12 on the rocks.' Oh, yeah."
Many of the other routine faux pas involve tipping--or the lack thereof. "They wave a bill, then pull it back when you're not looking," Bauman says, reporting one frequent scam. Yep, they're on to that one. They also know about verbal tips ("I'll take care of you") and patrons overly concerned with pricing. Neither bargain shoppers nor those boasting of their tipping prowess generally drop anything in the till. Our favorite blatant tipping error occurred during our visit to The Old Monk, when someone ordered four beers totaling $19.75, handed the bartender a $20 and blurted, "Keep the change."
"Those are the most annoying habits," says Jose Del Corral of The Men's Club. "And impolite people."
That's right. Every bartender we spoke with evinced a misty appreciation for simple gratitude, or at least a "please" and "thank you" from customers. Some even hinted that a bit of charm went further in wiping clean the aforementioned etiquette blunders than a fat tip. "Money talks," Hartzell explains, "but there's a lack of civility that no amount of money will solve."
All in all, however, servers are a relatively forgiving group. "All that stuff goes with the territory," Salazar says with a shrug. "You're not going to have a perfect night behind the bar." They know people make mistakes--just don't slow them down, don't deliberately try to humiliate them and don't stiff them.
"It's just common-sense stuff," explains Danny Versfelt of Al Biernat's. "Realize that I'm working and wait your turn."
Of course, common sense falters badly sometimes--such as the night Green Room bartenders caught a drunk trying to urinate against the bar. "We meet a lot of good people," Bauman concedes. "But some nights you lose respect for humanity."
Now there's one for Miss Manners.
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