Lists are Bad Journalism
One of our least favorite things about the restaurant industry, even after we’ve largely left it, is the prevalence of shoddy journalism. Beyond the dime-store food critics that thrive on creating drama without checking facts, possibly the most offensive articles are the lists of drinks bartenders (oftentimes imaginary) hate, or 10 drinks not to order, or any permutation of this lowest form of jaundiced journalism. Since the internet and various outlets can’t seem to get their shit together and offer something more than clickbait that diminishes and disrespects an entire industry, here’s a real article, from a real bartender.
This is not a list of drinks not to order. This is not a list. A list unto itself is not journalism or writing of any note.
I was recently asked what drinks are appropriate to order to avoid the scorn and laughter of a bartender, the implication being that I would provide a list of cocktails, headed up by a Ramos or a Mojito or some other hot-button drink that makes low-rent bartenders’ blood boil.
Relaxation: The Raison D’etre of Bars the World Over
Here’s the larger issue- if you’re out to enjoy yourself, it’s an experience for you to enjoy, not the bartender. Ideally, everyone has a good time, but order whatever the hell you want. If you’re that worried about what others think about you, you’re probably the type of person who would throw themselves a surprise party.
Secondly, the bartender is ideally a trained professional, who is an expert on everything on that back bar. They tend to have a very cultivated palette, and yes, some have some pretty fancy tastes, but most bartenders I know or have worked with enjoy a simple boilermaker (beer and a shot) after they finish their shift. The guests that were most concerned with impressing me were my least favorite, and not only because they were known to inaccurately comment on such topics as the water source of various Kentucky whiskeys. Protip: There’s no way in hell the water a distillery is using is ‘city water’, and even if they don’t have their own water source, they’re using treated water, Bourbon-bro. I’ve been to those distilleries and shaken hands with the Master Distillers.
Trust the Professionals
As I said before, the bartender is ideally a professional. Their job is to facilitate a wonderful guest experience. This may involve guiding a guest’s choice in drinks, but it is never about judging the guest or mocking them. Yes, some may laugh about you, but they’ll do it in private and among friends, the same way everyone tends to blow off steam after work. If I point a finger, there’s three pointed back at me. I have definitely cursed guests well after the fact at after-hours watering holes for smugly ordering something off menu, resulting in a trip to the liquor room, resulting in the ticket times going to absolute shit. Some bartenders are definitely going to mock you to your face though, and those individuals are not cut out for hospitality. However, on that note, some guests are incredibly rude and disrespectful of those in hospitality careers. Those individuals can try working even a single week in the industry, sweat for a living for once and then come back with a healthier attitude towards humanity in general.
It’s generally not so much the drink a guest chooses, but it’s their attitude that happens to go along with some of the more labor-intensive drinks. It’s important to enjoy yourself but practice good etiquette. Be aware of what type of establishment you’re in. Don’t order a Ramos Gin Fizz in a dive bar. Don’t be rude or upset about the wine selection in a beer bar. Read the menu. Resist the urge to say that witty joke you’re itching to tell because we’ve heard them since bars were invented. There are ruins of ancient bars in the Mediterranean where the stones still echo with “Boy, this place is packed.” followed by a single person’s laughter.
Remember that the bartender likely takes a great deal of pride in their job. While you’re there to party, they’re there to work. They’ve likely gone to trade seminars, distilleries, breweries and read a lot on their field. While continuing education is not a requirement for the bartender profession, there are many in the discipline that take it incredibly seriously. Many take it seriously enough to tattoo it on their body.
Our jobs will always be more fun than almost everyone else’s. Even if you personally believe that working in a restaurant is not a “real job” (Protip: it is, and many of those in the industry make way more money than you think), keep that sort of poisonous attitude to yourself. Be polite, be courteous and be nice. Bartenders want to give you a good time, so approach any bar with a good attitude and you’ll likely be rewarded. The folks that are in the hospitality industry and hate fun and positivity are eventually weeded out.
There are, however, always going to be drink orders that elicit a reaction, and yes, sometimes laughter. Fair warning, I am not going to list off drinks. Only complete hacks would be proud of doing that. Most bartenders are fed up with these types of articles. They give the craft a bad name and are incredibly reductive and disrespectful when it comes to the guest. Be nice and most professionals will do everything they can to accommodate you. That said, here’s two unfortunate stories where I was that horrible bartender:
A heavy-set man, bucking the trend of (bruised) Crown Royal ordered by his likewise heavy-set friends, ordered a Fuzzy Navel. I laughed in his face. He was not kidding.
A group of Japanese students came into the bar, right before close. One ordered for the rest: “Three Linglings!” I ducked my head into the cooler to grab the Yuenglings and try and get my giggles under control.
Get With the Times
There are a few things I would never fault a bartender for calling out or laughing at. For instance, demanding a “manly” glass. It’s sexist, and it’s 2018. Hemingway crushed drinks in every form of glass and had no problem with his masculinity, to a point of toxicity. Grow up. Attaching a gender to a drink on the basis of color or glassware is the epitome of foolishness. It’ll land you as the punchline of the joke in short order. If it’s something you like, order it and trust your bartender. Including, ::shudder:: a Fuzzy Navel.
Being unspecific is also always a great way to be lampooned. Don’t order “the best whiskey” or “the best” anything. You sound like a moron, especially when you try and wave us off with a flick of your hand. If you really don’t care what you’re putting into your body, walk down the street to the gas station and hit the premium button on the gas pump. Phrases like that aren’t helpful, and bartenders usually love to help educate. Say things like “spicy”, “sweet”, “aggressive” or “smooth” when ordering spirits. When ordering cocktails, do not say “not too sweet”, as it’s possibly the most cliched, unhelpful line ever. If you think that’s acceptable, you’ve definitely won the honor of inspiring at least one of the shots the bartender will take tonight. Say things like “fruity”, “tart”, “tropical”, “savory” or “dry”.
…But Have an Open Mind
Overly fussy folk that are specific about bland or boring products are also a classic punching bag. Miller Lite, for example, is pretty wide-spread, but there’s a growing movement away from macro-brews towards craft brews in restaurants across the United States. The beverage list almost anywhere you go has likely been at least somewhat carefully curated, and there’s sure to be an option for you. Getting upset that a restaurant’s niche doesn’t specifically cater to you is spoiled and childish. If the menu does not appeal to you, there are millions of other bars that carry horrible beer. It’s neither a dig on you or your poor taste, it’s simply an attempt at capturing an audience that doesn’t take their marching orders from commercials that air during football games. The same goes for liquor brand loyalty. Getting upset when your preferred brand is not on the back bar isn’t helpful. There’s likely a perfectly fine substitute available. A restaurant or bar isn’t a liquor store, it’s a well-curated exercise in providing an experience. Trust the professionals. They know far better than you what the gluten content of your preferred vodka is and why that’s not even a metric to measure spirits by because distillation removes gluten. It’s science. Leave the flat earth, anti-vaxxer shit outside the bar.
Attitude Always Matters
Avoiding these pitfalls not only guarantees a bartender laughing with you instead of at you but engaging in this kind of curious and positive behavior will likely win many a bartender to your side, which is an amazing relationship. We’re a little biased, but a lot of our favorite people are or have been bartenders. They’re a weird and rare breed, and many are introverts trapped in an extrovert’s career, but they specialize in exploring humanity. They’re scientists measuring the butterfly effect of kindness. Being a bright spot on their map only helps us all, and it definitely gives you a new friend, with an occasional free drink or two as a back.