Effective strategies for crowded bars

Mathias Turner

Mathias TurnerColumnist

As someone with both an enthusiastic appreciation for the consumption of alcohol and two long years of experience serving it, I’ve learned quite a bit about how to get good service in crowded bars. Understandably, it may seem ridiculous to write a guide which outlines the treatment of people who are paid to serve you, but bartending is unique in that it reverses the typical relationship between vendor and customer: instead of the bartender making an effort to attract the interest of the customer in order to make a sale, the customer tries to attract the attention of the bartender in order to make a purchase. In a crowded bar, the staff is overwhelmed by people competing to be the next one served, and certain types of behaviors are more effective than others. I’m writing this with the assumption that the average customer goes to bars with the intention of getting drunk, does not like waiting in line for drinks and finds being served quickly preferable to being skipped over in favor of someone else.

As is to be expected, tipping well is among the most effective strategies. “Tipping well” means different things to different people, but a dollar per order is pretty much the standard in the world of bartending. If you’re ordering a bottle of beer, the bartender probably won’t care if you don’t tip a dollar; if you’re ordering for an entire group of people, you’ll probably end up waiting a while for your next drink if you don’t tip more than a dollar. The idea that tipping affects your service seems to offend people and may seem petty, but it’s a result of the nature of the job, not a personal vendetta. Bartenders (obviously) work in order to make money, and the vast majority of their wages come from tips (in fact, tips are the only thing which make the job worth doing). Preferential treatment is given to people who tip well because it encourages them to keep tipping well, which results in more money earned. Bartenders typically don’t care how long people who don’t tip have to wait, as long as they get served before they swear off ever coming back to the bar.

Tipping well tends to carry additional benefits beyond simply helping to ensure prompt, friendly service. The extra money I spend tipping is almost always balanced out by extra alcohol, in the form of both free shots and extra strong drinks. I generally don’t spend any more than I would have if I had purchased all the alcohol I end up consuming. Many people seem to be opposed to the idea of tipping in general, which I can understand. If that’s your stance, that’s fine, but don’t be surprised when other people get better service than you.

Speaking more generally, there is a long list of behaviors which many people seem to think will help them get served more quickly, though actually result in a longer wait. While skipping over poor tippers is nothing personal, ignoring people intent on being annoying can be one of the most satisfying parts of the job. As a general guideline, try to adhere to the same basic rules of behavior that you would anywhere else. Whistling, snapping and pounding your fists are equally as unbecoming in a bar as they are outside one and will not help you get drunk faster. If the bartender is busy with an order, interrupting to make it known that you want a drink only results in an annoyed bartender; standing at the bar already signals your desire quite clearly, and they’ll make it to you when it’s your turn. Along those same lines, holding or waving your money in the air is not any more effective than waiting patiently.

In my experience, the best way to get served in a busy bar is to stay calm, be friendly, make eye contact, and wait for the bartender to come to you. Try to pay attention, too; if the bartender has to try to get your attention when your turn comes up, they’ll likely go on to one of the many other people waiting for drinks. Really, apart from tipping, it’s more about what not to do.

Feel free to dismiss any of this advice on the grounds that everybody’s job sucks, bartenders are arrogant, and they don’t deserve any special treatment. These are all valid points, and I won’t disagree. However, I will continue to enjoy the benefits which come along with being on good terms with bar staff. Either that sounds worth it to you, or it doesn’t.

Mathias is a non-traditional student majoring in Spanish. Reach him at [email protected].