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How to Get a Bartender's Attention


When you've poured drinks for a living like I have--for vacationers in Hilton Head, for yuppies and aspiring yuppies in D.C., for frat boys in Athens, Ohio, and for blue-collar plumbers and firefighters in Cleveland--you never forget that perfect bar patron.

To paraphrase Bogie: We'll always have Hilton Head. That's where I was slinging cocktails during the summer of 1995, when Mr. Perfect showed up at the bar. I never did get his real name. He came in with his girlfriend, and from the moment he walked in to the moment he left, he was an ideal patron. Polite. Friendly, but not overly chatty. He liked porters and stouts instead of Miller Lite and Budweiser, and he didn't play really obnoxious songs on the jukebox, like the assholes who think it's neat to play "The End" by the Doors because the song meanders on for fourteen minutes and they're sticking it to The Man.

Oh, and another thing--he tipped well. Really well. He paid his $22 tab with a Ben Franklin and told me to keep the rest.

No barkeep expects a 355 percent tip. But the surest way to get a bartender's attention--and keep it--usually begins and ends with a little something extra for the effort. Don't forget that the term "tips" is an acronym for "To Insure Proper Service."

Talk to bartenders around town, and they issue a common refrain. On those nights when the line for drinks is five deep, when you have to crawl to breathe because the air is thick with smoke and sweat pours from every orifice on your body, the way to get prompt service is simple. Tip. Know your order the second the bartender makes eye contact. Have your money ready. Don't hesitate and, for God's sake, don't keep adding on to the order. You know, the jerk who orders two Heinekens. Then a Guinness. Then two Zimas.

Did I mention you should tip?
Colleen from the Treehouse puts it like this: "The ideal customer is courteous, leaves a good tip, is funny and chatty, but not too much. And I prefer male customers because they usually tip better."

That's right, Buffy. Your perfect bod may get you free drinks from the insurance salesman with a hard-on at the end of the bar, but it doesn't exempt you from sliding the barkeep a greenback now and again.

Natalie, who tends bar at Wish, says customers should be aware that not all tips are created equal. "A dollar is fine for a beer, but it should be a couple dollars for a martini because of the time it takes. They need to realize that if it takes me ten minutes to make twenty shots, I could have done a lot more orders in that time."

It goes without saying that snapping fingers, whistling, or shouting "hey sweetheart" or "yo buddy" to get a bartender's attention will get you nothing but scowls and deaf ears. In a just world, such behavior would earn you a chopstick to the inner ear and an intimate understanding of the word "cornhole."

My pal in Hilton Head understood this dynamic, this delicate ballet between a slammed bar and a hustling server. So did Barry in Athens, Erroll in D.C., and Sean and Doug in Euclid. That's why their drinks of choice are still burned into my brain. Their drinks were always waiting for them before they ordered, no matter how busy the bar was. They were--are--ideal customers who are polite and fun. They come into the bar to socialize and relax, not to make the bartender's night the equivalent of a root canal.

They also tip well. If you, dear reader, feel unable to carry out this simple exercise in bar etiquette, don't go out. Pick up a twelve-pack of Natural Light (I think a twelver goes for $5.29 these days), stay home, and watch T.J. Hooker reruns.

It will be more enjoyable for both you and me.


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