Tag Archives: pubs

The Bar Etiquette Bible: The Last Will and Testament of a Retiring Barkeep

23 Jul


Just over four years after graduating, I have finally got a (sort of) job. Well, yes, it’s another internship. But in a baffling turn of events, I’m actually getting paid this time. This means that once more I’m hanging up my pinny and leaving the pub game- and who knows, this time it might be for good.

Having started working in a bar at Manchester in 2007, I have come to learn a lot. It’s a trade that can be really good fun and very satisfying, but also wretchedly stressful and bloody hard work. It teaches you how to talk to people, multi-task and keep calm under pressure… but it also gives you an insight into the worst habits and rotten core of human nature itself. A bit dramatic? Try dealing with a pack of lecherous, middle-aged men in the twelfth hour of their drinking session.

So it is now that I feel I should offer the following twenty rules to make the world a better place for barpersons and patrons alike. Anyone who has ever worked in a bar, please know that you are not alone. And anyone who ever frequents a bar, please take these points on board. They might save your life one day. Okay, that actually was a bit dramatic.

1) You know, as a barkeep, having to offer an assortment of options for each drink is just as knackering for us as it is for you. However, some useful advice to keep close to hand is that ‘normal’ is neither a classification of size, taste or indeed, brand of beverage.  If we’re to take such a guideline literally, I suppose we should be grateful for the amount of faith you put into us and our perceptions.  I regularly talk in cat-speak and bite my toenails.

2) The phrase ‘when you’re ready’ is poison to a barkeep’s ears. If we were ready, we’d be serving you already, you utter berk.  By abstaining from this bolshy practice you are in fact retaining your deserved position in your server’s mental queue. If you choose to indulge in it, we can only wish you the best of luck.

3) Coming to a bar whilst mid-conversation on your mobile and still expecting to be served is as good as holding out your hand and saying ‘Hi, I’m an Ignorant Pr*ck, pleased to meet you.’ It’s one of the most infuriatingly rude of all customer crimes, suggesting that we’re not even worth giving your full attention to as you place your order. We are not a vending machine. To be fair, we probably don’t want to talk to you either- but unfortunately, it’s something that the conditions of our pay require us to do.

4) You may find it hard in your intoxicated state to remember the pocket-cripplingly long list of drinks in your round, but please, don’t think that means you have to dispense it to us in some kind of weird, alcoholic breadcrumb trail. One-at-a-time ordering draws out this affair much longer than necessary and will result in an impatient reception, often coupled with eye twitching. (Unless you spot a barperson with a pedometer, in which case they will probably be grateful of the seven mile journey of to-ing and fro-ing you send them on.)

5) Waving notes around or unfurling wads of cash for attention usually only proves effective in strip joints, and should be abandoned when awaiting service in any other pub or bar. You will be instantly branded as a flash kn*bhead and 99% of witnesses of such practice will secretly hope that a pickpocket targets you.

6) No, it is not okay for you to place your order, leave your money and nip to the toilet. I can’t actually think of any other place where this may be considered acceptable mid-service. If you went to a bank you wouldn’t turn to the cashier and say ‘I’m just going for a wee whilst you count that out’ or announce to a Vicar that you’re off to empty your bowels whilst he breaks the bread.

7) Whilst we’re on the topic, it’s probably around now that you should know that dumping money onto the bar top when paying for drinks is just not cool.  If we have a hand outstretched awaiting payment, that’s where the money goes. Not in the puddle of ale you’ve created as you snatched and spilt your pint. If you still insist on doing this you should hope that you’re not owed any change. Coins can hurt when thrown.

8) Just because you know a barperson’s name, it doesn’t automatically entitle you to a bespoke customer service experience. Shouting their name loudly over a busy crowd of thirsty punters isn’t going to bump you up the queue. If anything it’s going to make you look like a bigger tw*t when you’re publicly snubbed by someone who clearly doesn’t want to know. Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not the only one we talk to. It’s not you, it’s us. Does that help? No? Well, get over it. We’re busy.

9) No matter what, always remember your P’s and motherf*cking Q’s. Your cash may buy you a few short minutes of our attention and service, but that does not elevate you to some kind of slave-master role and exempt you from treating us like real human people. I have been known to deny an overheated and profusely sweating youth of his abrupt demand of ‘WATER’ at a teenie-mosher gig until he had realised and rectified his omission of a simple ‘please’. It felt like a motherly scolding but my God, it was worth it.

10) If it’s late, the bar staff are cleaning things and we politely tell you that we’re closed, ‘you’re joking’ is not the best response to give. Not only are we probably tired and desperate for release, you should respect that we could probably fabricate some better gags for our stand-up routine. No, we’re not joking. Clearly. That’d be even less funny than that ‘knock knock’ joke about bananas and oranges, which I still don’t really get to this day.

11) Another thing to bear in mind whilst we’re discussing closing time is that we’re not in the mood to wait for you while you carry on your conversation and slowly finish your drink. Having to be asked more than three times to drink up and responding with an off-hand ‘yeah, yeah’ will get you struck from any barkeep’s Christmas card list. If you’re about to make a comment about us being abrupt or rude, well, we are truly most frightfully sorry. You’re right, it’s not your fault we’ve been sober and on our feet for eight hours whilst you slowly get wrecked… but would you mind most terribly if you jog onwards now, kind sir?

12) In most retail roles, that age-old golden rule of ‘the customer’s always right’ is true… but not here. The bar staff are always right. Please hold back from telling us how to do our job. We won’t come into your office and tell you that your filing system leaves much to be desired if you can accept that we know how much head there is supposed to be on your pint. Deal? Good.

13) It may come as a surprise, but your average member of bar staff exercises absolutely no control over the cost of the drinks they sell, so please don’t get arsey with them about the price. Angrily exclaiming ‘how much?!’ whilst sifting through a handful of coins with indignation isn’t going to help anyone. Believe us, we’d much rather that it was a boozy free-for-all too, but that would mean that we ourselves would be collapsed behind the bar in a drunken coma and there would be nobody left to serve you. Swings and roundabouts.

14) Abbreviations. Southern Comfort may have tried to get down with the kids by actively encouraging requests for ‘SoCo’, but it’s the equivalent of a middle aged try-hard reversing a baseball cap and sitting down on a backwards chair thinking they’re Snoop Dogg. Requests of ‘OJ’ or a ‘pint of numbers’ are habits that jar against the grain of my heart, soul and very skin like a blunt, rusting knife. Just talk like a ‘normal’ person, please.

15) Do you think shredding beermats, tearing up menus or peeling bottle labels before scattering them like confetti all over the floor makes our job more fun, or less fun? If you think the latter, well done and have a gold star. The former? You’re a d*ck. Please drink at home.

16) Also, just so you know, when your mate hurls his guts all over the floor/table/upholstery, this does not make them a ‘legend’. If you think it does, we’re going to come and find you when you are exhausted after a long day of work armed with a bucket of warm sick for you to deal with, with only a mop and some paper roll as your permitted tools. Gloves? Ha, no.

17) If you come to a busy bar and wait for ten minutes, we assume that by the time it’s your turn, you know what you want. When we say, ‘what can I get you?’ please don’t stare back, open-mouthed like we’ve asked you to work out the square root of 48,642. Sadly, most companies can’t afford telepathy training so you’re going to have to decide. We also heard you grumbling to your friend about how long it was taking to get served, so please don’t do this now. It’s not that hard. Promise.

18) Dealing with so many members of public, you soon discover some strange, widespread habits. The one that seems to stand out is the inclusion of the word ‘just’ before placing an order. There have been many attempts of working it out, but why do so many ask for ‘just a Carling, please’ or ‘just a large white wine and some peanuts, thanks’? Is it because they want to let us know they’re sorry to bother us? It’s okay, we don’t mind. Are they trying to sound flippant and casual? We don’t really care. Is it because they didn’t want us to think they were going to be ordering a hundred items? I’m sure we would have realised that as you said more things. It’s an odd one.

19) Underage drinkers: yes, we’ve been there. Yes, it’s a bit rubbish. But unfortunately, giving your soft, young innards toxic booze makes us bad people that get fined a whole lot of money. Frankly, the outcome of your night out doesn’t mean that much to us.  So please don’t:

a) Tell us that we’re out of order

b) Say that you really are over eighteen, promise!

c) Attempt ‘go on, just one’. Did you not hear what we just said?

d) Pat your pockets down and sadly report that you left your ID at home. That has never worked. Ever.

20) And finally, we really do welcome your gratitude in the form of taking a drink or a tip. We honestly do appreciate it, and can be the best tonic for a terrible night (quite literally for lovers of gin.) However, please do remember this. Just because you bought us a drink does not mean that we owe you anything. We thought it was because you were being nice, not because you thought it worked like some kind of fast-track system. If you do think that, please up the rate of bribery, because we’re not cheap, beer-pouring hussies.

N.B.  Leaving the five pence of your change does not, repeat, not constitute a thoughtful tip. So please don’t swan away from the bar on a cloud of your own sense of generosity like you’re Bob Geldof.