Behind the Bar: A Veteran Barman Dishes on Bad (and Good) Customers

February 9 2014, 9:30 AM

Ordering a drink should be easy. And fun. And relaxing. But some of us turn the age-old process into a struggle—or worse.

Dave Berry, general manager, bartender, and sometime plumber at Whiskey Bar, has seen people behaving badly in his 20 years behind the bar. “Most people are amateurs when it comes to drinking," he says. "And ordering. And tipping. I think every person should be forced to do some kind of service industry work for six months, just to see what we go through.” Here, his distilled tips on how to be a better drinking buddy.

Look for guidance: “If you came up to me and said, ‘I don’t really know what I like,' my first question is, ‘What have you had recently?’ ” Berry says. "That’s my favorite kind of customer."  Let the bartender help you to discover spirits you’d otherwise never know, but don’t expect hand-holding on a busy Friday night; they've got other customers.

Know your surroundings: All bars are not created equal. You’re more likely to find a frozen margarita than a Stoli martini with bleu cheese–stuffed olives at a small Mexican restaurant. You’ll find neither at Berry's bar. “I try not to be a dick to them, but my usual response is, ‘Welcome to the Whiskey Bar,'" Berry says. "You’re at the Whiskey Bar. Sorry I don’t have your specific vodka.’ ” 

Keep time: Place your order in full. Experienced bartenders can handle it. “Don’t one-drink me to death,” Berry says. “I’ve been doing this 20 years. I can remember five drinks.” Have your money ready, or better yet, open a tab for the night. 

Show appreciation: You could tip $5 on a $30 happy-hour tab. “ ‘Ooh, I almost tipped 20 percent,’ ” Berry mocks. “But I served you 10 drinks. That’s 50 cents a drink. I make my money on tips.” On the other hand, a 20-percent tip on a $100 shot of Macallan 25 is overdoing it. And if you buy a $4.50 drink with a five-dollar bill? “Keep your 50 cents," he says. "Keep it. That’s way cooler than tipping me 50 cents.” When in doubt, a dollar per drink is usually safe. 

Don’t beg: Regulars get taken care of with free drinks, but if you have to ask, you’re probably not there yet. “If you’re in here spending a lot of money, I’m going to reciprocate by taking care of you,” he says. “And if [you are] cool. I also have a regular who’s in here all the time who I can’t stand. I never buy him a drink. Because he sucks. Creepy old dude, rubbing on chicks. Just old, dirty old man. It gives me the creeps.”

Practice patience: Experienced bartenders have a mental vision of what’s happening at the bar. “I have an idea of who was first, who was second, who was third,” he says. “Don’t wave $20 in my face and be like, ‘I’m next! I’m next!’ Because that’s not going to get it done. I’ll go right to the next person. I am not a stripper.”

—Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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