Behind the Bar: Etiquette

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On great nights, a bartender will delight you with well-mixed drinks, introduce you to new elixirs and, when called upon, entertain you with funny stories. But for many bar-goers, drinking is more like a junior high dance filled with moments of stomach-turning awkwardness and self-doubt. To make life a little easier, I’ve examined some of the thorniest of bar situations that trip up even experienced night owls. Now you’ll be able to drink with confidence.

Sending Back a Drink:

Sometimes you get a cocktail that just isn’t right. But there’s no need to suffer in silence. Meet the problem head on and calmly say, “Excuse me, this drink is a little too sweet.” It’s not the end of the world and, hell, a good bartender can fix these things easily.

Dealing with an Unfriendly Bartender:

An unfriendly bartender can wreck your evening. There’s never an excuse for rudeness (on either side of the bar), but more often than not a bartender who is aloof or short is hiding a lack of skill. The solution for you is simple: find a new joint.

The Art of Tipping:

Americans have been tipping since colonial times, but no one seems to know how much to leave at a bar. Once and for all, tipping for drinks is no different than tipping for food—15 to 20 percent is appropriate. Also, when you’re lucky enough to get a complimentary drink or appetizer, you should tip as if it were part of the check. And if you’re at a restaurant having drinks before dinner, tip the bartender before you move onto the dining room. There’s a good chance when your tab is transferred that the bartender may never see a gratuity for your drinks.

That last tip is on the house.

Master Mixologist Dale DeGroff is the author of The Essential Cocktail and The Craft of the Cocktail. He is also one of’s advisors.

From our Friends



  • kyle posted 6 years ago

    if drinking at an establishment for several drinks or a longer period of time, leave a large tip on the first drink (i.e. enough to tip for two drinks worth). i do this and get exceptional service; i tip every other drink.

  • Rob posted 6 years ago

    I found that just decent tip of 15-20% is enough to get you remembered by most bartenders.. its way to common to skimp on the bartenders tip

  • Marcus posted 6 years ago

    This is the least informative piece of text I've ever read.

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