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A Bartender’s Guide to Ordering a Drink Like an Adult

Recent college grads, your days of drinking exclusively with your fellow students are over. Now you’ve graduated to drinking in public. Knowing the etiquette for ordering a refreshing cocktail or boozy slushy will not only make you feel more comfortable as you start adulting, but will save you from looking super rude (or like a total newbie) at your office happy hours. We talked to DC bartender Dave Lanzalone, who has a decade of experience under his belt and is currently mixing drinks at Hank’s Oyster Bar. His tips will help you navigate everything from what NOT to do when you’re ordering a drink to what to order at a fancy cocktail bar. You’ll be having a great time — drink in hand — in no time.


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A lot of us swear by little tricks to get the bartender’s attention, like holding your shoulders square to the bar to convey that you’re ready to order. No need, says Dave. “I promise we’re not ignoring you and we want to put a drink in your hand as much as you want one there,” he says.

Dave has a few do’s and don’ts when you’re dying for a drink in a packed bar. “Wait patiently until the bartender makes eye contact, smile and say hello. Have your drink order and your cash or card ready to go so you don’t slow things down.”

The worst thing you can do is forget your manners. “Whistling, snapping, waving or shouting should be avoided at all costs. They only reflect poorly on your character and make the guests around you think you were raised without manners.”

GET A GO-TO DRINK

It’s really helpful to have a “go-to” cocktail that you know you can order whenever (like when the bartender asks your order at a busy bar and you draw a blank) and wherever (a dive you’ve never been to). According to Dave, “these should be simple drinks that are easy to make, like vodka sodas or Jack and Cokes. Mine is a gin and soda with an extra lime. They should not be regional or involved drinks like mojitos and daiquiris.”

Want to add a spirit-forward drink or fancier cocktail to your go-to list? “As you get more comfortable with the skill level of the bartenders, you can begin to order a Moscow Mules or an Old Fashioned. Then maybe move up to Manhattans and French 75s in the higher-end establishments,” Dave suggests.

WHAT TO ORDER OFF A FANCY COCKTAIL MENU

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You may love white wine and vodka sodas, only to wrinkle your nose at the smell of whiskey on the rocks. But a resurgence in cocktail culture means you’ll be missing out on some really great drinks if you don’t evolve your taste buds. Also bars take their cocktail craft pretty seriously. “Bars with cocktail lists generally put a lot of effort into their drinks and want you to try them as part of the experience,” Dave explains.

If you’re clueless when it comes to the menu, but normally drink a certain cocktail or liquor, ask the bartender his thoughts based on your faves. “A good bartender will never judge you because you want to know about something you’re about to drink. There’s nothing worse than giving someone a drink they don’t like because they ordered without having a clue what was in it,” Dave says.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU HATE YOUR EXPENSIVE COCKTAIL

Sometimes you end up with a drink in your hand that you can’t stand, either because the bartender made it poorly or because you branched out and ordered an unfamiliar drink. Here’s the ugly truth: “It’s generally frowned upon to send a drink back. However, we as bartenders would rather you have a drink that you like.” Dave says.

“If the drink is truly unbearable, apologize for the inconvenience and explain politely that you weren’t a fan of the last drink and the specific reasons why,” Dave suggests. “If you trust the bartender to make you a different drink, order something that you are more familiar with. If not, switch to beer, wine, or just straight liquor on the rocks.” As frequent Manhattan drinkers, we will sometimes send back a $14 poorly-made Manhattan, but often just suck it up.

HOW MUCH TO TIP

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Got good service? Tip at least 20 percent. Got a bad drink? Still tip 20 percent. Dave explains: “Many bars and restaurants charge lower prices for their drinks and food because they don’t have to pay their employees a living wage. Consider the tip just part of the expense of going out. If you feel you didn’t get good service, alert a manager about any issues before you leave and see if she can rectify the situation.”

If the manager doesn’t fix things, “feel free to never go back to that bar. The best way to show dissatisfaction with an establishment is to stop giving them your money, not by taking it out on the staff,” Dave says.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IF YOU GET CUT OFF

Don’t beat yourself up, we’ve all been there. And it sucks. But it sucks for bartenders too. “Bartenders hate cutting people off. It’s in direct opposition to the reason we’re there: to sell people drinks and to make money off the tips from the drinks we sell. Plus it makes us feel like jerks telling someone they can’t have something that other people can,” Dave says.

But there’s a good reason people get cut off. Dave explains, “Bars and the bartenders themselves can be legally responsible for a guest’s actions if they are over-served, so from time to time we have to protect ourselves by making the judgement call to stop serving someone.” Prove that you’re an adult by handling this tough situation as follows: “Don’t try to argue with the bartender about it. Accept that you’re finished drinking alcohol at that establishment for the evening and find consolation in the fact that your bar tab won’t be getting any bigger.” Way to find the silver lining, Dave.

WE KNOW YOU STILL HAVE A FEW QUESTIONS

When is it acceptable to chug a beer?

“When your Uber shows up,” Dave says.

When are shots appropriate?

“Shots are a great way to start a night, and the most definitive way to end one,” he says.

Basically, “The key to ordering drinks like an adult is behaving like one,” Dave says. Happy responsible drinking, adults.

Have some great go-to cocktail suggestions? Tweet them to us @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)

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