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If bartender serves you a 2nd beer without asking, do you assume it's on the house?

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Today I tried a local pub because their wings got rave reviews. I'm not really a beer drinker, but ordered a pint since I was sitting at the bar. I finished it, and would have declined a second one had I been asked. But the bartender served me another pint without asking. I was surprised to see it added to the tab. Thoughts?

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  1. In my experience, when a bartender serves a drink that's on the house, he tells you. I probably would have said that I didn't order a 2nd beer when he served it.

    1. Did you drink it? What did the BT say when s/he delivered it? Was there any comment at all or did s/he slide it over with only a wink? Seems odd. Maybe there was some uber subtle suggestion of another that you somehow missed. It shouldn't be the diner's burden to refuse additional drinks, but if you didn't want it, you should have said something when it was brought over.

      1. I wouldn't assume it was free unless I was told so.

        And I regard being served anything non-complimentary in a restaurant without being asked first as bad service. They might get the price of an extra beer that night, but they're not getting a tip, and they're not getting my money in the future.

        1. I have to admit, I would have assumed it was on the house. At every bar I've ever been to, even with the most not-chatty bartenders at pubs that open at 9am in the US in order to show Premier League games from the UK - there's always some kind of communication to indicate if you'd like to order a refill. Even if it's just through body language. And with first timers, I've never seen complete nonverbal communication work that way.

          However, as a woman - I probably also rely on using some routine "aw gee, I don't need this" just to confirm the drink is free. While I would have assumed the beer was on the house, I do usually try to establish some kind of verbal understanding that it is in fact on the house.

          1. did the BT give a 2-knock knuckle-rap on the bar while serving the 2nd?

            18 Replies
            1. re: hill food

              Just shows that there is always something to be learned by reading Chowhound! I'm 50+ and never heard of the 2-knock knuckle-rap as a sign to mean "on-the-house." I thought bartenders knocked on the bar to acknowledge a tip, but I've never noticed if it was a single knock or a double-knock.

              1. re: hill food

                Yep. The 2 knuckle rap along with "good luck!" One of life's sweetest sounds.

                1. re: Bob Martinez

                  Yeah usually accompanied by "Cheers" around these parts. It's not subtle by any means, since they will take money out of your pile if you're paying cash. If a credit card, I would think they would take it away and run it? Usually the third drink is earliest though.

                  1. re: coll

                    I always thought that's what it meant, but have never been sure, I go ahead and pay for it anyway (gotta be real, I was probably going to order one anyway and the BT can take it as a nice tip if it was in fact being comped)

                    but if I was confused, I would just say something like "oh I didn't order this" as pleasant as possible, and see where it went from there.

                    1. re: hill food

                      They do always knock on the bar in my neck of the woods, of course if not for the company I occasionally keep I might not have known either!

                      1. re: coll

                        and I figure if I go ahead and pay for it, that BT will give me even better service if (yeah right 'if'! OK - when) I come back again.

                        lotsa body language in bars, catch the BT's eye and tap the glass for another, or as you're getting low, give a sideways wave over it to say 'cut me off'

                        I like to claim I grew up in pool halls and juke joints. started smoking as my mom was always too hungover to make breakfast and just lit us some Lucky Strikes and hoped we made to school OK w/o the assistance of 'friendly' strangers. (she's horrified and a little amused I tell people that completely fictitious version of somebody else's childhood as my own).

                        maybe that's a pitch for SpikeTV or Trav. "The Bar Whisperer"

                    2. re: coll

                      "Usually the third drink is earliest though."

                      That is exactly what I was going to say. Even at the kind of old-fashioned neighborhood bars that actually still do rounds, you have to actually buy a couple of rounds first. In NYC the fourth round is the free one. The point is to keep you drinking, after all, and it works. There are always people who'd probably just drink two beers but will drink a third if they know that means the fourth one is free. And of course, then you're not just having a couple of beers but actually moving into some serious drinking, and not going home (or to the next bar) after all.

                  2. re: hill food

                    2-knock-knuckle-rap - that's new to me. What part of the country?

                    1. re: BiscuitBoy

                      New York for sure.

                      1. re: Bob Martinez

                        huh. I need to work on my bar etiquette, then, as I'm close enough to have known this thing

                        1. re: BiscuitBoy

                          It's really old fashioned, I find it more out on the east end of Long Island than in the city. Not that I travel to drink all that much! but maybe it's more if they know you nowadays?

                      2. re: BiscuitBoy

                        Definitely done (and appreciated!) in San Francisco.

                        1. re: monfrancisco

                          definitely saw it in SF (those WERE my days of wine and roses I really haven't spent much (that much) time in bars since, like I did back then), also seen in NYC, DC, sometimes NOLA, and in the Midwest, but it is usually a grumpy old man type place where it occurs. yes, several rounds in and you're tipping well and not an asshole and the BT figures, let's keep these folks around a while (I guess)

                          1. re: hill food

                            Yes. In one of my grumpy old man places, I'm an honorary "lonely guy," something I'm inordinately proud of (I was busted purchasing a Hungry Man tv dinner at the store across the street after a long afternoon of baseball watching). Oh, I'm female, thus the "honorary."

                            1. re: monfrancisco

                              it is a MOST inclusive club one certainly not gender restricted. so welcome. and pipe down, Pujols is up (smirk).

                              1. re: hill food

                                Grumpy old man places is a perfect desciption of the places I'm thinking of!

                                1. re: hill food

                                  Thanks! May you have many "rap rap, Live a little"s in your future!

                          2. re: BiscuitBoy

                            Ca too!

                        2. This is a new one on me.

                          1. No, I wouldn't and I'd have said something when they brought it.

                            1. Weird, same thing just happened to a friend of mine, only with a whiskey. He was pretty annoyed to see it on the bill. Our party debated it for a while and the concensus was, if it's free, the server/bartender will say something indicating that. If they don't, it's up to you to refuse the service or at least say "I didn't order this," in the hopes that they'll respond "it's on the house." Several people also stated they enjoy when a bartender anticipates they'll want another and has it ready without a wait.

                              1. I wouldn't have assumed it was on the house. I would have just said "I didn't order this, I'm all set, thanks" if I didn't want the second beer.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: LeoLioness

                                  What LeoLioness said. I wouldn't assume an unrequested refill was on the house.

                                  Right or wrong, in my area, an empty glass in front of a patron sitting at the bar is a signal for a refill. If one doesn't not want a refill, they either keep the glass close to their side of the bar or put the coaster on top of the glass.

                                  1. re: cleobeach

                                    Wow. That is not the case where I live at all.

                                    1. re: melpy

                                      There are so many secret signs in a "real" bar, I only know of some but it is very complicated. Usually you push your glass forward when you want a refill, or take your money away if you don't; but if the bartender knows you, all bets are off.

                                      1. re: coll

                                        Also if you are at a neighborhood bar, and an upside down shot glass appears in front of you, someone just bought you a drink. The bartender will subsequently let you know who. Most likely you will return the favor shortly thereafter. I plan on two, maybe three, drinks after I first sit down, and usually walk out leaving multiple shot glasses sitting in a lonely huddle. Not sure if they pay anyway, or what... at that point it doesn't seem that important ;-) It's a fun game though.

                                        1. re: coll

                                          I know places that do the same thing and if you do not take the drink at that time, they will give you chips for use on your next visit.

                                          1. re: MGZ

                                            OMG I still have a wooden chip from a local tiki bar from at least three years ago in my wallet, it's so cute I don't want to throw it out but I haven't been back since! It looks like one of those wooden nickles,with a picture of a martini glass on front.

                                            You know, this is very timely with St Paddys Day and all, for some reason I think a lot of this is an Irish tradition.

                                          2. re: coll

                                            ahh so THAT's what that means, never knew. (and it's been years since I was cute enough to get one, oh well)

                                  2. Should have stopped the bartender and said, "I did't order that" when they were placing the beer in front of you.

                                    1. There's no such thing as a free lunch, or beer!

                                      Often times bartenders want to be "on their game" and have that second or third waiting for you to place the empty on the bar. Unless the bartender clearly identifies it as on the house then you should never "assume" it is. Speak up, question it, worst case scenario he takes it away and pours it down the sink to the beer Gods.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: jrvedivici

                                        While I understand the notion of no free lunch (beer) - I'm not entirely sure this applies here. Once that beer is poured in the glass most likely, it's either going to the patron or in the sink.

                                        Had the OP said, "I didn't order a second" - then the beer would have become on the house either way. Either consumed by the patron or down the drain (assuming it wasn't super crowded in which case the chance of it immediately going to another patron wouldn't have been impossible).

                                        Finding a way to do a quick verbal check if a drink is on the house is a good idea. However, I think in this case - the bartender was being presumptuous.

                                        1. re: cresyd

                                          You are 100% correct and I started to type but then stopped that if this happens you tell the bartender you didn't order it and chances are it will become on the house because more than 50% of the time the bartender will just say "sorry my mistake" and leave it there without charging you.

                                          My bottom line is simply don't assume anything and question everything. lol

                                          1. re: cresyd

                                            More than once, when I've been faced with the same dilema, I've asked if it's on the house. And every time the answer has been, "of course".
                                            I figure it's a way of the bartender to increase his/her's tips.
                                            But, there again, I'm a pretty cynical guy.

                                            1. re: zippypinhead

                                              Well, perhaps you have right to be even more cynical. Because according to this scenario, if you don't speak up it'll just get added to your bill.

                                              I do respect that "when in doubt, ask" definitely applies here. But - where I find the situation less appealing is that had the OP asked or said, "I didn't order this" - the beer would have become on the house.

                                        2. It would be very presumptuous that I would order the same beer again and not change my order to something else.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: JAB

                                            That may be true in a good beer bar, but I think that on average a bartender can predict that a bud or coors light drinker or (insert generic popular local brand here) will be sticking with that order.

                                          2. I would not have assumed it was on the house.

                                            1. Wow! Pretty ballsy move by the bartender to serve an unordered drink in the first place............. unless yoiu're a regular who always has two + (and even then,,,,,,,still questionable).

                                              I'd've said "I didn't order this." as politely as I could. May have been a mistake (for someone else) and there's absolutely nothing wrong with questioning it regardless. It's YOUR money.

                                              1. I've never been offered a second drink with me asking for it, so I'm not sure how I would respond. I'd certainly think it most odd that the staff member had done it.

                                                1. I have always understood the universal symbol for "Please refill my drink" was to put the empty glass at the bartenders edge of the bar. I have had many, many refills poured as a result of it - even a few I probably didn't want (and definitely a few I didn't need).

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: MGZ

                                                    That would be my assumption too. With the addition of leaving your money out on the bar to show you are still buying.

                                                  2. you could have declined......no free lunch anymore; no beers OTH w/o expressly saying

                                                    1. I have one question.....did he serve you the second drink in the same glass as the first, or in a new glass with the first glass still in front of you?

                                                      16 Replies
                                                      1. re: fourunder

                                                        I don't remember for sure, but my experience has always been that beer glasses aren't refilled. Then again, my experience has always been to be asked if I wanted another one. I think the second one was in a new glass.

                                                        Prior to the 2nd beer, my tab was a little under $17. Maybe she figured it wouldn't be much of a tip if I paid with a $20 and left her the difference. The additional beer pushed it over $20.

                                                        1. re: ebchower

                                                          As others have opined, never assume anything is for free., s if you did not specifically decline and you did consume the beer....then being added to the bar tab should not be unusual.

                                                          The signals how bartenders provide comped drinks have been noted. My experience, both as a former bartender and on the receiving end of a buy back....is that the bartender makes it very clear and point out the fact the drink/s are for free when meant to be to ensure you do realize the fact to affect their potential tips. If they intended to make a buy back, but you leave before they are able to do so, sometimes they will announce they will take the last drink off the tab.

                                                          FWIW, whenever I drink in a bar....the drinks are always refilled until I ask for the tab. sometimes they ask, most times they do not .

                                                          1. re: fourunder

                                                            Out of curiosity - at a bar where it's your first or second time - is your first drink refilled without any kind of communication? Either a physical gesture, putting money on the bar in the manner of other patrons, etc?

                                                            I understand that after you've developed a rapport with either the bar or the server that night that "keep them coming" is desired. I think there may also be a gender difference in this - as a woman, even in places that veer towards "grumpy old man" bars, there's usually some kind of communication about a refill. Even if it's a place where you put money out on the bar - there will typically be some kind of body language to indicate if another is desired. Perhaps with men there's more "unspoken" bar behavior.

                                                            1. re: cresyd

                                                              I think in the OP's particular case, the misunderstanding arose from the start of creating a tab and not offering cash on the bar for payment. It's my experience that a tab indicates a prolonged stay and a desire to drink. When cash is put on the bar, as long as there is enough to cover the drinks, they will continue. If the pot is not replenished, then the service ceases to a degree until/unless the patron makes a gesture to continue.

                                                              There are many perceived gestures out there.,....some are good and some are not.. I would assume that if you placed your empty glass off the napkin and towards the inner edge of the bar top, then you are still looking to consume. A pile of money would indicate the same....a lack of cash would not..

                                                              If after you are served your first drink and are paying with cash....then I would look at your change returned to see if you are still looking to have another. Let's say two drinks were $11 and $9 was returned and left on the bar. If your drinks were empty, then I would ask if you still wanted another.....but if there was only 2-5 visible on the bar, then I would assume you have decided not to continue and I would not necessarily see the need to ask first, but rather wait for you to signal me...the reason being, you picked up some of your change, but not all, so I would assume you were leaving what you left as a gratuity and not deciding to have another drink or round of drinks.

                                                              As for the bad signal....I could never understand who came up with the idea to cover your drink with the cocktail napkin. or place the straw across the rim.....I always took that to mean you were done, as in finito....but this usually occurred only on busy nights and where the patron disappeared....only to return and ask where their half filled drink was? Apparently to some the action means they were still in the house and the covered drink meant they were reserving their seat. It took me a while, but I finally realized that I would not throw these drinks out.....it happened a lot on busy nights and some patrons were genuine....but many were not.

                                                              To be honest, myself and most of my friends....who happen to work in restaurants always announce our intentions up front. After pleasantries, the house asks what you want. If you pay with cash, it usually coincides with a statement like *one and done*....If a tab is being run...then the last drink I intend to have would be accompanied by saying * last one, I'm done and give me the check*.

                                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                                While I'm sure that these various signals that relate - let's say that the OP's "mistake" was putting the glass off the napkin/close to the bar. Had the bartender returned with a new pint, and the OP said "oh, I didn't order that" - then I do not think that the "culture of the empty glass off the bar mat" would have sufficed for the bartender to debate the issue.

                                                                The other thing in this situation that I think also needs to be included is that the OP ordered food and a beer. It's fairly uncommon when ordering food to pay ahead of time (unless we're talking about counter service or more unique situations). So while the tab may have been "left open" - for the bartender to assume that meant ongoing drinking was presumptious.

                                                                1. re: cresyd

                                                                  Paragraph one...I agree, but still, the OP did not decline and consumed the beer.

                                                                  Paragraph two....I don't think it's presumptuous for any bartender to assume or expect ongoing drinking....but he should probably get confirmation before bringing another drink..

                                                                  1. re: fourunder

                                                                    On paragraph two, we can agree to disagree.

                                                                    Some people just want one drink. Others may want to start with one drink and then switch to another. With a new patron, for a bartender to assume that this patron will continue to drink the same drink for an extended period and to "just keep them coming" speaks to a very narrow kind of customer.

                                                                    1. re: cresyd

                                                                      This, my point again. Unless there's only one good beer in the house, I generally order a different beer each round.

                                                                      1. re: JAB

                                                                        While there may be others like you....I can tell you having been in the bar, restaurant and catering business for five decades.....

                                                                        Most people do not switch drinks, be it wine, beer or hard liquor.. they ask what is available and order, and usually stick with that choice for the duration of their stay....unless they pair their drinks with food.... ...however I would agree at a GastroPub a patron is more apt to try different beers.

                                                                        1. re: fourunder

                                                                          Also wanted to kind of underline that bars that do rounds (buybacks) don't do them on the second round. What would be the point? They're bringing a refill because, as you (fourunder) have explained in detail, they assume you're running a tab and going to be there for a while. But it's not like every other drink is going to be free because you're running a tab.

                                                                          1. re: fourunder

                                                                            Just occurred to me, maybe there is confusion because there are a lot of younger drinkers going out for "cocktails" now but not used to the old fashioned pub setting, and all the traditions that go with it? I personally find it fascinating, since I didn't really learn all this stuff in my younger years myself.

                                                                            I'm seeing a lot of posts from people on the road that want to know where to get upscale "cocktails" now, before they even ask about food. The mention of different drinks at each round made me think of it. If I frequented that type of place, and didn't hang out with a bunch of "grumpy old men" as I grew older, I wouldn't know half of this stuff either!

                                                                            1. re: coll

                                                                              I think that a lot of wide sweeping "this is bar culture" - doesn't take into consideration different kinds of bars. For bar/pubs that do focus on cocktails - no matter what Sex and the City may have said - I've never gone out with friends and ordered Cosmopolitans (or just about any other cocktail) all night. But occasionally it's nice to start with a cocktail before switching to something less fussy.

                                                                              I also currently live in a city where tourist/expat traffic makes up a considerable amount of all bar patrons. So I think that by dealing with that specific population, it's very common to treat customers as not being aware of what would or would not be standard.

                                                                              I also think that referring to bars as "grumpy old men" bars - pretty accurately indicates a gender difference in how patrons are treated. For a man to sit at a bar sipping the same kind of drink all afternoon may be considered a bar type or part of bar culture - but most women in bars, particularly "grumpy old men" bars, are treated differently. At least in my experience.

                                                                              1. re: cresyd

                                                                                Well I'm a grumpy old woman but I don't feel I've ever been treated differently at those kind of places! Then again, the "old" part is possibly the reason.

                                                                                1. re: cresyd

                                                                                  good point, in SF the GOM bars were usually on the edge of the Tenderloin/Polk Gulch or in the old Irish part of the Mission or the Sunset. NYC's West side (all parts except Chelsea) and the LES before it went all hipstroid. in STL on the South side where everyone's always lived there and defines their neighborhoods by school and parish. in LA before Los Feliz and Silverlake went 'uphill' (downhill in my book) I found some in NOLA and in the FQ or Fauborg even, but they'd be on the very edge either near Rampart or Esplanade.

                                                                                  I got really good at spotting likely suspects once.

                                                                                  1. re: cresyd

                                                                                    "I also currently live in a city where tourist/expat traffic makes up a considerable amount of all bar patrons. So I think that by dealing with that specific population, it's very common to treat customers as not being aware of what would or would not be standard."
                                                                                    Yes, I live in NYC, which of course is such a place. And as I think I said above, most bars in NYC, Manhattan especially, don't do rounds. There is not really a reason to do rounds for tourists and visitors from the bar's point of view. Bars that do it for first time visitors are hoping to make those visitors regular patrons. Why bother when you'll never see these patrons again?
                                                                                    Also to clarify these bars are for working people, women as well as men. Emphasis on working. You need to have money to drink in a bar, especially on a regular basis. Bars of this kind that develop a big hipster following, like, oh, say, the Holiday in LES, dropped rounds because they had too many people who never wanted to pay.

                                                                                    1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                                                                      ratgirl - oh right, one more to the list in NYC, "The Last Second" on the far (well for me as a visitor) UES just below Spanish Harlem on 2nd Ave, get it?, never would have found it if not for friends from Queens who were reluctant to venture further South (traffic-phobes), but it fit the bill for a "money on the bar" type place. far out of the typical tourist zone, yet catered to the slightly curmudgeonly and bound to be maybe a regular type of crowd. and they were.

                                                            2. There is no way I would pay for something I didn't order...but, I'd try to get the bartender's attention asap and let him/her know that I didn't order the beer.

                                                              1. Agree with the other CH'ers that he/she should have asked first. THAT is poor service designed to get the tab up.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: njmarshall55

                                                                  Poor service? Yes - the bartender should have asked.

                                                                  Designed to get the tab up? There's no way, short of mind reading, that you can know that. Maybe the bartender assumed that the OP was having another and thought they were doing them a service by bringing it quickly.

                                                                  Why would they make that assumption?

                                                                  Body language, the position of the glass, the speed at which the first beer was consumed, the possibility that in that particular bar 99% of the patrons have more than a single beer.

                                                                  We don't know what they were thinking. That's why it's wrong to assume bad intent.