My regulars walk into the bar like it’s their living room. And in a lot of ways, it is. I’ve worked in restaurants and bars for eight years, and each place had a loyal crowd who stopped by to eat or drink five or six nights a week.
My last bar was a warmly-lit bistro with tin ceilings and leather banquettes. It had a great burger, nightly dinner specials and a seasonal cocktail menu, though my regulars usually preferred the classics: an ice cold gin martini or an Aperol spritz in the garden. Throw in a killer molten chocolate dessert, and there's no wonder they came back night after night.
Do these people — some of whom I see more than my friends — bother me? Actually, they make working in the service industry better. They turn “just a job” into a makeshift family. So what do my regulars know that others don't? Here’s how to go from someone your bartender never wants to see again to someone they roll out the red carpet for.
Don't say: “Surprise me.”
Customers who ask for a surprise are almost never happy with the outcome. “Oh, I actually don’t like tequila/gin/whiskey…” is the most common response to a mystery drink. Your bartender is busy and doesn’t have time to imagine what you might want. They sat down and wrote a cocktail menu for this exact reason.
Do say: “Make me your favorite.”
You still shouldn’t be too picky about what liquor you end up with. But this way, whether you know what you’re getting or not, the bartender doesn’t have to think too much about what to make you. Plus, they get to make their favorite drink. Chances are, they think they make the best version of their favorite, and they can’t wait to share it with you.
Don't wave money, yell drink orders or interrupt.
Your bartender has a constant to-do list in their minds. They’re making drinks, taking orders, closing tabs and doing floor service all at the same time. Don’t cut them off from talking to another person; don’t scream your order at them and walk away. You’ll get your drink.
Do keep your cool.
One of a regular’s most important qualities is looking at the staff, knowing they’re busy and being completely content with the company of a beer and steak. No bartender wants to look over their shoulder during a rush and feel like they’re neglecting you. Hopefully, you’re a regular because you like bars and people-watching. This is your happy place.
Don't act like it's all about “me, me, me, me.”
Bartenders are prepared to be two-bit therapists, but don’t go overboard. It’s really not their job to listen to hours of complaining about your job, your wife, your weight, your mistress, your boss, or your mistress who is your boss.
Do ask your bartender: “And what about you?”
I’ve known my regulars for years. Not only do I know a lot about them, but they know a lot about me. They knew when I graduated college, when I got a new job, when I had a trip planned with my mother, when I wasn’t feeling well, when I was discouraged or inspired. Talk and listen. Talk and listen. Repeat.
Don't ask your bartender to slip you a little extra.
A lot of bars measure shots and even well drinks these days, and asking your bartender to make your drink stronger, with a coy wink, is not a good idea. This is their job, and managers are watching to make sure their employees follow the rules. Bars make money off liquor, so bartenders can’t pour the bar out for you just because you ask (or scream).
Do say: “You don’t have to get me anything.”
A classy regular will never expect to get anything for free. But guess what: you probably will. I loved to take care of my regulars. Being at a bar because you love the place and the people — not because you get free stuff — will only make a bartender love you more. But be understanding if it doesn’t happen every time.
Don't ask: “What time do you get off?”
If you thought your bartender was hitting on you because they were being really nice the whole night, I’ve got some bad news: It’s our job to be nice. There are exceptions to this rule, but in general, leave your bartenders alone. Even though you’re out and partying, they’re at work.
Do understand that bartenders are professionals.
A regular knows that their relationship with the staff thrives in the restaurant or bar alone. This is your refuge from the real world; don’t try to mix the two together.
Don't tip a dollar per drink, especially on $15 cocktails.
Craft cocktails mean your bartender isn’t just pouring a beer from a tap. They're coming in hours before their shift to make house-made syrups and fresh-squeezed juices and prep drinks that have many ingredients and steps. Tip in a way that shows you're enjoying your grapefruit, rosemary-infused Tom Collins, and not a Miller High Life.
Do tip 20 percent based on what the total check should have been.
Even when half the check is taken off as a courtesy, a regular tips 20 percent based on what the total should have been. Did you save money? No. But that’s not what being a regular is about.
Don't get wasted.
Bartenders don’t want to cut you off. They don’t want to call the cops, break up your fights, call you a car, make sure your friends find you or deal with your slurring. It’s late, and they’re a lot more sober than you.
Do know when it’s time to go home.
Sure, a regular can sometimes have one too many. But that’s when they get their hat and leave. Don’t worry about an Irish goodbye. If you're a regular, your bartender knows you’ll be back.