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May 7, 2001 10:27 AM


  • j

Hello. I am a bartender, and would like to improve my job performance. Would anyone please tell me what they find most annoying about the service they receive from bartenders and what they appreciate from them? Thank you in advance.

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  1. b
    Brandon Nelson

    My pet peeve

    Don't act like you are there to be social if there are people waiting. I you want to be social, do it when you don't have a line. You sound like a pro. Anyone with the kind of attitude you have tends not to do this.

    I remember my all time favorite bartender. She always met me with a smile, knew my name, worked her butt off, was chatty during the slow times, and always remembered my last drink. Not just that evening, but always. 3 days ago, 2 weeks ago, 2 monthes ago, didn't matter. If I had a "usual" drink this wouldn't be so impressive. Sky and soda, Beam and coke, B&B, Tecate, I follow my mood. I know this is way too much to ask of me if I was tending bar.

    I salute your attitude Jenny. Props to you.


    2 Replies
    1. re: Brandon Nelson
      Michele Cindy

      When I was in H.S. and during my early college years I would go to a bar in Kenilworth, NJ called "Apples" .
      For Seven years I didn't go to Apples again, then one night I went in for old time sake, the bartender said without a blink, "Hi Michele, the usual, Bacardi and Coke?" I of course said yes.

      1. re: Michele Cindy
        Brandon Nelson

        Good, I'm not the only one

        I find happenings like this amazing. Needless to say I always tipped Mia better than any other bartender at the same place. She was worth it!


    2. b
      barbara ryan

      OK. If you know my face, you should know my drink. (That being if it's only one of two things - not a variety). Greet me pleasantly. Do not tell me your personal problems. Do not get drunk with your patrons. Every three or four rounds, buy us one - we'll tip accordingly. If a glass is chipped or broken, replace with a new drink and an apology. Please make sure there's no leftover lipstick on a glass. Yuck-o-rama. And in the same vain, keep it clean! Wipe that bar down. Wipe those bottles down. Make sure your glasses and your supplies are in good condition and well-stocked. If your bar is full of over-served patrons, it's unlikely that I'll return. That's about it. Oh, but do thank me on the way out please.

      24 Replies
      1. re: barbara ryan

        Why do expect a bartender to buy you back a drink every three or four rounds?
        Do you expect that kind of rebate from any other business you deal with?
        And how do you condone offering the bartender an extra tip for the act of stealing from his or her employer?
        I endorse the rest of your expectations but a buy back, if it occurs at all, should not be automatic. It is entirely at the discretion of the bartender's management. And since you object to "over-served patrons" (as do I), the bar giving away booze is one sure way to get patrons over-served.

        1. re: Deven Black
          Bob Martinez

          Deven, I have lived in New York city all my life and buybacks have always been a pleasant tradition here, accepted by bartenders and well appreciated by patrons. If this disturbs you, please insist on paying for all your drinks. I'll continue to accept the occasional freebie. Lets call it "freedom of choice".

          I am also not persuaded by your point that "the bar giving away booze is one sure way to get patrons over-served." The lions share of the damage is undoubtedly caused by the three drinks the patron buys rather than by the fourth free one.

          And finally, I dispute your contention that buybacks are an example of employees stealing from their employer. Bar owners are well aware of the buyback tradition and encourage their staff to do it in moderation (i.e. every 3rd or 4th round) as a way to build customer good will. The expense is factored in to their total cost of doing business.

          1. re: Bob Martinez

            I agree with you, Bob. With some fancy cocktails costing up to $12 each, an occasional "free" drink is nice. It doesn't cost the bar that amount and is factored into their total cost. This is a well-accepted tradition here in New York City. It's not stealing from the house to up the bartender's tips and creates good will. However, I never personally expect this from a bartender. When he/she comps me a drink, it's a nice surprise and I'm appreciative.

            1. re: Ruby
              Bob Martinez

              Ruby, I'm appreciative of buybacks as well. My experience (and I'm probably admitting too much here) is that buybacks are much more more common in places with regular patrons like neighborhood bars. It is far less common at hotel and restaurant bars where the staff assumes that you won't be coming back any time soon.

            2. re: Bob Martinez

              I've been in the bar business in NYC for over 20 years so I'm well aware of the tradition of buybacks. I have served them, taken them, and encouraged my staff to use them wisely to build both the owner's business and their own tips. None of that changes the basic premise of my original post: that it is bizarre for the bar customer to expect, and occasionally demand, a 20-25% rebate from the bar when they would not expect or demand any similar rebate from any other business they might deal with including, I have to add, the rest of the restaurant that the bar is in.

              I'd love it if my car dealer gave me every fifth or sixth car free. I'd be thrilled if the shoe store gave me every sixth or seventh pair free. It'll never happen, but bar customers are insulted if they don't get the fourth drink bought.

              As far as the buyback being figured into the total cost of doing business, it is not. Prices are raised to cover the expense of the free drinks. Yeah, it is tradition, but it doesn't make a lot of sense from any perspective. Wouldn't you prefer to pay less for every drink than get the occasional tip of the hat. And why should a more moderate drinker -- say one who only has two drinks -- be forced to subsidize the extended consumption of others?

              You are correct that the three drinks that lead up to the buyback do the larger share of the damage than the buyback in terms of potential over consumption. Given that, it would seem the prudent thing for the bartender to do at that point is to start encouraging moderation by pouing slower, not encourage even more consumption by giving it away.

              In terms of building customer loyalty the buyback also makes no sense if every bar in the city is doing it. Granted it will take a lot of courage for some bar owner to say no, but someone should.
              Tradition is a lousy reason to keep doing something that is illogical.

              1. re: Deven Black
                barbara ryan

                I think I understand your points. But it's not as if I'm holding a loaded gun to the bartenders head demanding a comp. Here in Chicago it's just the norm. And, as a former bartender/waitress I know the most owners and managers encourage this as it's a form of good will towards the patrons. I frequent one restaurant where it's not uncommon whatsoever to have an after-dinner drink or two on the house. Seeing as we usually spend 40+ a person and a generous tip, what's the harm? And it keeps us coming back. And when we take friends who haven't been there, they're impressed enough to make it their "regular" place. It seems to me this is exactly what an owner/manager would want to encourage. And as far as bar/non-rest. places, I don't think I've ever not been comped at one point or another. I'm polite, I tip well and am a gracious customer. Hell, I used to give drinks to people like that as well. They made my night. So lighten up, it's just a drink for heaven's sake.

                1. re: Deven Black

                  Take it from me, if I made the margins bars make off of 1 drink compared to what a shoe store or car dealer make, I'd be glad to buyback the forth shoe. The relative low cost per drink and high margins make your comparision flawed.
                  Although, I agree with you that buyback plans just don't make sense. However, a free unexpected drink sometimes goes a long way. Every have car mats thrown in at the end to sweeten a car deal?

                  1. re: Shoeman

                    While the margins on a drink seem -- and in some cases are -- high they are not usually unreasonable. There is really no comparison to the margins shoe dealers can charge. Aside from the costs of the license (negligible in NY but astronomical in NJ, for example), the bar owner pays extremely high insurance costs, and a slew of taxes on inventory that the shoeman never hears of. Shoehorns rarely break, though I suppose a few walk out the door. The barman has high breakage and more than the occasional glass walks out the door. Yes, there is profit in booze, but not as much as one might think.

                    I agree that an unexpected free drink goes a long way. The key word is unexpected. The problem I am having is with the expectation that every third, fourth, or fifth drink is free.

                    1. re: Deven Black

                      Buts, what the bottom line? A very successful shoe store will earn a profit of about 12 to 14 cents per dollar. These are hard numbers with all the variables.
                      While we may not have the tax concerns we are dealing with a much larger cost of goods sold.
                      I don't mean to imply that that every bar owner is a millionaire. However, the impact of giving away a free drink is not the same as a free pair of shoes. I don't think you can sustain your agruement financially which was my primary objection to your prior post.

                      1. re: Shoeman

                        Twenty odd years running bars and restaurants: the average profit per dollar of sales has been between six and fifteen cents. Yes, some places make more. Most make less, thus the huge failure rate of bars and restaurants. I think my point is valid.

              2. re: Deven Black

                In British pubs, it's common for a patron (assuming you are doing a fair amount of drinking and have established a relationship with the bartender) to include the bartender in a round! Spreads good cheer -- which is what makes a pub quite different from our American "bars."

                1. re: Alice

                  British pubs are wonderful and so atmospheric but I don't feel I'd want to buy my bartender a drink anymore than I want to buy a waitperson a meal. I'm drinking/eating with my friends and I really don't need a tipsy bartender as part of the package. It's an accepted fact that a good bartender doesn't drink on the job. I bet the ones who are bought a drink are imbibing mostly ginger ale or club soda and the customer is paying the house for a scotch or vodka. Anyway, I'd rather just give the bartender a good tip if he/she has been really helpful.

                  1. re: Ruby
                    yvonne johnson

                    Ruby, just to clarify a few things

                    in british pubs it's not customary to tip the barstaff working *behind the bar*. if you get to know the staff at the bar you might say "have one for yourself" when you hand over the money to pay. the cost of your drinks (excluding cost of their drink) is rung up on register. before returning your change the bartender deducts price of his/her drink, and usually places money in a tip jar. these tips may be pooled at the end of the evening. to say "the customer is paying the house for a scotch or vodka" isn't quite accurate.

                    Sometimes, barstaff/publicans will pour themselves an alcoholic drink that you have bought them. you say "it's an accepted fact that a good bartender doesn't drink on the job". in principle this is probably true, and it's a sad fact that publicans have really high rates of alcoholism (easy access. those in other occupations/professions have easy access to other things--another story) but i've been in the presence of many barstaff and publicans who will nurse a drink or two all night and converse with and serve customers very ably. their abilities have not been impaired by a couple of drinks over many hours.

                    different rules apply if you are waited on at a table in a pub/lounge bar. here, you tip the bar staff who bring your drinks usually by placing your tip on their tray.

                    1. re: yvonne johnson

                      Speaking of occupational hazards of bartenders, I learned in a recent Worker's Compensation court case that tuberculosis is a compensable "occupational hazard" of bartenders (at least in some states). Beware the coughing barkeep.

                      1. re: yvonne johnson

                        Interesting to hear all of this. I had an experience my first time in London, afternoon beer at a pub, I left a pound coin on the bar and started to walk out. One of the patrons got off his stool, picked up my coin, followed me to the door, and handed it back to me, saying "we don't do that here, mate"

                        1. re: keith k

                          To add to Keith's observation:

                          I grew up in upstate NY (where no one ever tipped bartenders, BTW) and lived in the north of England for about four years. Tipping in pubs just wasn't done. They may be apocryphal, but there are many stories about Americans being followed outside to be told "you left your change on the bar". A cartoon in a local of mine shows two skeletons sitting at a pub table with the caption "Americans waiting to be served". The biggest sin was trying to get out of buying a round, but that is a whole other story.

                          I pity the substandard wages that many get at the bottom end of our "service economy" but that is a wider social issue that shouldn't be left up to the caprice of tippers. In NYC I get the feeling that overly generous tipping is just one of the many ways that New Yorkers like to show off.

                          Joe Moryl

                          1. re: Joe Moryl

                            Here's a link to an extensive guide to UK pub etiquette--written by sociologists, I think. Absurdly thorough and earnest, but interesting nonetheless.


                            1. re: Steven Sterm


                              Thanks for the link. At first I thought it was a clever piss-take (see chapter 4) but after reading it a bit it does seem on the level. Oh, why didn't I go into the social sciences?

                              Joe Moryl

                      2. re: Ruby

                        Perhaps you mean it's an accepted fact that a good bartender doesn't drink to excess on the job. I'm lucky enough to call quite a few wonderful bartenders friends, and I've seen all of them (save for one who doesn't drink under any circumstances) have the occasional beer or mild cocktail while working. As long as it doesn't interfere with service, I see nothing wrong with this. Moderation is key. But I agree with you that offering a drink should not substitute for a tip.

                  2. re: barbara ryan

                    I agree with you except for the free drink every three or four rounds. What a bunch of nonsense! If you acted like that in any bar I've ever been in, you'd be'd laughed at and probably be thrown out on your ass (and for good reason)! Personally, I don't give a damn whether you're a regular or not. Maybe I'm naive, but I think all customers should be treated equally and fairly and people shouldn't expect special treatment as a rule. Guess it's just the way I was raised. . .

                    1. re: R. Parker

                      Hi Astroman, your post to Barbara states "maybe I'm naive..." I don't think you're 'naive' at all--just plain Rude in your post to her. Telling another hound they'd be 'laughed at' and 'thrown out on their ass' IMHO lacks style and grace. I wouldn't even let my lover talk to me like that much less a stranger so I hope you will lighten up in your language. This particular thread on 'bartenders' does not justify your post. Hope you will take this in the spirit it's given - let's all lighten up - Chowhound is a very informative, fun site.

                      1. re: Ruby

                        Thanks Ruby. Well said. I've yet to be thrown out on my ass but am working on it. Born to be mild.

                      2. re: R. Parker

                        ...this is a pretty common practice. Anyone who tips generously gets free rounds at certain places. I know I used to experience this with pitchers of beer at the kettle of fish when I was younger. Peculiar pub as well. It is not a matter of being special.


                    2. Jenny - I don't have a "regular" bar, so I can get tired of trying to get up to the bar to order while other "favorite" customers are served first. There has to be a point where taking good care of the regular customers will backfire if you treat the rest of us as annoyances. That old "first come first served" idea isn't a bad one.....

                      1. j
                        Janet A. Zimmerman

                        This may seem obvious, but after yet another experience of ordering a gimlet, only to have the bartender say, "that's with an onion, right?" (thinking of a gibson, apparently), I'll add this point: know how to make the classics.

                        Oh, and if it's within your control, use fresh lime and lemon juice instead of that bottled "sweet and sour" mix.

                        1. Please don't allow a brown, scaley or otherwise yucky lime/lemon/garnish make its way onto my drink. Seeing a bad piece of fruit hanging off of my well prepared drink grosses me out.

                          Also, try to keep the bar area from smelling like cleaning solution or dirty dishrags, it ruins the atmosphere.