When whispering sweet nothings into your lover’s ear over dinner this Sunday, you may want to lean in a little bit closer. “I’ve been privy to some really shocking things, from confessions about private things to very intimate conversations,” says Jack Caminos, a bartender at Thip Khao. “I think guests are oblivious to servers until they want us — then suddenly we’re their best friend.” What type of things do bartenders pick up on, exactly? We asked a few of the city’s spirit slingers to share their dating do’s and don’ts based on the parade of couples they’ve observed from behind the bar.
Do: Choose your gifts wisely
Chad Spangler, beverage consultant and co-founder of The Menehune Group
Though well-intentioned, the gift of fitness backfired one time while Spangler was working at Provision No. 14 in Logan Circle. “I once saw someone give their significant other [a gift certificate to a] yoga place for Valentine’s Day. It ended up turning into a fight. She got offended.” Maybe just stick to roses and chocolates?
Don’t: Assume she’ll say yes
Jamie Johnson, bar manager at Tabard Inn
“Picture a 40-seat bar. This guy makes a big deal to make sure everyone’s paying attention. He asked his date to marry him, and the girl looked at him and said no. I could see it coming. The body language was there. There was a long pause while everyone went back to not paying attention. They awkwardly finished their meal and left separately.”
Do: Be gracious
Derrick Vann, assistant manager at Nellie’s Sports Bar
“In gay bars, when it comes to paying the tab, a lot of times there’s usually a lot of ‘I’ll get this, no I’ll get this’ arguing. About six times I’ve seen this happen: It’s time to pay the tab, and two men will fight [about who will pay] and in a misguided attempt, one of them says, ‘I make so much more money than you, I should pick this up.’ I would be done with that date.“
Don’t: Show off
Brent Kroll, wine director of Neighborhood Restaurant Group
“If you’re in the house of a trusted sommelier, he will do everything to make you look good. You don’t have to boast and make the conversation a monologue,” which can be off-putting for your date, especially if the two of you are still getting to know each other. “For lack of a better term, don’t get in a pissing contest with your sommelier.”
Do: Keep away from flames
Evan Cablayan, beverage director of Mulebone
“I had this girl and this guy at a bar. They were going hard pretty early. He decided to order a flaming shot. One thing led to another, and the guy knocked the glass over and it ended up lighting the girl’s hair on fire. You know, burnt-hair smell is the worst smell ever. Not only did it disrupt my bar, but it left a stench for hours.
Don’t: Hit on your bartender
Christine Kim, lead bartender at Tico and The Riggsby
“This has happened a few times: Two people will be having fun on a date, and when they leave, the guy puts the girl in a cab and then comes back to the bar to ask me out. I’m like, ‘Weren’t you just on a date?’ And he’ll say something like, ‘You seem a lot more fun.’ I’m just doing my job and making sure they were having fun. He thought I was flirting.”
Do: Go easy on the ex talk
Mick Perrigo, partner and barkeeper at Left Door
“People mention their exes all the time. There may be an occasional ‘They’re going to be fine,’ but usually it’s negative. It’s the go-to disaster on dates I’ve seen. The date starts out really good, and then suddenly all the one person can think of to talk about is their past relationship. It keeps accelerating. And then it turns into a lot of drinking.
Don’t: Get busy in bathrooms
Mo Azab, bartender at Compass Rose
“These people started hooking up at the bar and snuck downstairs [to the bathroom] when we weren’t paying attention. They left to get in an Uber, and I went to check on the bathroom. The toilet was smashed. I walked outside and said, ‘That wasn’t cool, you smashed the toilet,’ and he pulled out some pocket change and handed it to me. Then the car pulled away.”
Do: Be nice to your server
Julia Hurst, bartender at Rose’s Luxury
“I have had a lot of experience with one person on the date treating waitstaff rudely, and the other person apologizing for them. I feel like I’m on a team with them. The [rude] date will go to the bathroom or leaves first, and they’ll apologize. I once got a Facebook message from someone apologizing for how their date acted.”
Don’t: Overdo it
Carlie Steiner, co-founder of Stir Bartending Co.
“This couple was on cocktail number three at Minibar and the man disappeared. This girl was sitting there alone for 10 minutes, 20 minutes and by 30 minutes, I was like, I have to do something. So I knock on the bathroom door and he comes out looking like he’s been puking. I don’t think that they worked out.”
Do: Test the waters
Jason Crafton, bartender at Red Derby
“I’ve seen a first date where the fella offended the lady by saying something political. It ended in a shouting match. I warn against bringing up any such topics until you’re sure [of the person’s politics]. Even if you meet someone new non-romantically, political discussions are not the best place to start because it can get pretty heated pretty fast.”
Don’t: Leave mid-date
Nicole Hassoun, head distiller at Jos. A. Magnus & Co.
“This happened during a daytime Tinder date. A man sat down with his date and halfway through he saw a group of four women and decided to take them on a whiskey tour of the distillery. He left the woman at the bar for 45 minutes. I told her, ‘You know what, girl? Finish your drink and I’ll pay for this. You have better things to do.’ ”
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