How to Be the Best Bartender Ever (and Listen Up Waiters & Restaurant Owners, too!)

There’s more to being a bartender or waiter than dropping off drinks in front of a customer. If you follow these pointers you’ve got a great chance at making more tips than most.


Anyone can go to school to become a bartender.  You don’t need a degree in psychology to become a server – but maybe you should!  You have to assess your clientele and cater to the customer.  Knowing what’s “top shelf” isn’t enough; you have to be “top notch” to take in the tips.

There’s more to being a bartender or waiter than pouring a shot or dropping off drinks in front of a customer.  If you follow these seemingly apparent pointers, you’ll not only acquire repeat customers, but you’ve got a great chance at making more tips than most.

If You Don’t Like People This Job Isn’t for You - Interaction with people is prominent as a bartender or waiter.  If you are not a people-person and can’t put on that smile, even if your car just broke down this morning and you’re having a bad hair day, then this job isn’t for you.  If you have a scowl on your face and could care less that I’m sitting there and let it show, well, why should I take care to count out that cash for superior service.  Smile, like you mean it, even if you don’t.   Like my grandmother always says, “Smile.  It doesn’t cost you anything,” but in this case if you don’t, it can cost you extra tips and a repeat customer in the future.

Pay Attention, but not Too Much Attention - When people go out, they want to relax, not stress over wrong drink orders or have their conversation constantly interrupted by an over-attentive waiter.  Let me tell you - I’ll always tip, but I’ll tip that extra bit if I get superior service.  You don’t have to work in a four-star restaurant to bring home quite a bit of cash for the little things that count.  When you pick up or pour, put down your problems and pay attention to the customers, first. 

There’s nothing more annoying than sitting or standing at or near a bar trying to get a bartender’s attention and they are engrossed in a conversation with another patron – for ten minutes.  You just told me that I’m not important by not even giving me a nod of your head for acknowledgement.  I get it, you’re busy, but I’d like confirmation that I’ll be served soon and that you saw me. 

Secondly, if you get my drink order right – I’ll remember that, and probably order another.  Double drinks mean double the tip.  Which brings me to my next point – if you take a drink order, it’s more than memorizing if it’s up or on the rocks.  Ask what kind of gin they would like and be prepared to make recommendations; or if someone orders a dirty martini, for example, and says they want it very dirty, be sure to take that into account, or as a server, relate that to the bartender so s/he gets the drink right.  If someone says “no olives” or “3”; “heavy on the garnish”, “salt rim” or “no salt” - or other details, if you get it right – they will show you their appreciation in the tip and/or by becoming a repeat customer and possibly bringing in new customers for you.  Your service and attention to detail as a bartender/server will put you above the rest of your competitors and people will take notice.

And finally, if you see me talking to my friend and we’re having an intent conversation, please don’t interrupt me to ask if I want peanuts.  Just plop them down and I’ll help myself if I want to.  It’s nice for you to ask if I’d like anything else when you see that my drink is near empty, but it’s really not necessary to be a noodge and ask me three or four times “How’s everything?” when you see that I’m otherwise occupied with the people I’m with.  That’s drinkus interruptus, and won’t score you points with me or an extra few bucks at the end of the night. 

Get Creative - I travel a lot.  In my travels I’ve had many experiences at different restaurants, bars, and establishments that serve alcohol.  While I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, I’m always up for trying a new cocktail.  I admire mixologists who get creative and deviate from the usual martini menus and dabble in daring drinks – that work.  Not all concoctions are worth raving about!   (Case in point – I had a butterscotch martini the other night – and wish I hadn’t.  Not everything translates to a good cocktail.) Just like a chef, you will have a few mishaps, but that’s how some of the most surprising combinations that really “click” come about.

I’m not a bartender, but I have had numerous drinks named after me and establishments do rely on my recommendations to friends, readers, and business associates because my opinion is valued.  I’m always tactful, but truthful, if something isn’t up to par.  However, when I find something truly praise-worthy, I’m all about gushing over the goodness.  I guess this is why I’ve become a mixologist magnet.

People like to try new things.   If you are new to deviating from the drink diary, start with small substitutions like adding flavored vodka to a martini or infusing a cocktail with fresh fruit juice.  And if you’re really stuck for coming up with something innovative – there’s an app for that. (Mixology and Mr. Bartender are good to check out for starters.  Mr. Bartender allows you to shake your phone to generate a random drink recipe, and you can also add your own drink recipes and photos to the app as well.  Mixology lets you add photos and recipes, too, but only with the paid version.)  I love Mr. Bartender because of the shake factor for when I don’t know what I want to drink and don’t know how to make it.   I can just flash my phone at the bartender and we’re good to go!

Dress for Success – And that doesn’t always mean stuffy, prim, and proper – and boring – I get it – dress code isn’t up to you.  It’s up to the owner of the hotel, restaurant, or bar.  However, here’s to hoping that if you have input on what’s acceptable to wear to work that the right ears are listening.  It’s mostly about the drinks, but it’s also about the service and ambiance when someone frequents an establishment and brings in friends, family, and an entourage to follow.  Every place can’t be everything to everyone.  

If you’re a jeans and t-shirts place, then as a restaurant or bar owner, you shouldn’t have your staff dressed all stuffy.  The white button down shirts and black pants look for a bartender isn’t going to bring in the tips.  There’s a reason why the servers and bartenders in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and some beer and burger joints rake in the extra money.  It may not be PC, but the fact is, men like looking at a pretty-dressed woman behind the bar (Think Coyote Ugly).  And women, they enjoy their eye candy, too. If you hire people with personality and allow them to feel relaxed serving up cosmos and Coronas, wearing a pair of jeans to blend in with the crowd, it will bring out their best.  It’s kind of like casual Fridays at an office job – make your employees happy and customers will benefit from it, too.  At the same time, please don’t make a woman dress like a man.  You wouldn’t force a guy to get into a skirt would you?  Then really, don’t make the mixologist maiden or waiter wear a tie.  I’ve seen this.  Really?    

Patience is a Virtue - As a bartender, don’t jump right on the customer as soon as they pull up a bar stool.  Give them a minute to decide what they want to drink.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear the “What can I get you?” and I’ve barely sat down.  You can acknowledge a customer by saying “Hi, how are you?” and let them take the lead.  Trust me – they know why they’re there.  Better yet, if you’ve got any drink or happy hour specials, mention them at that point.  If there’s a martini, beer, or wine menu, place it in front of them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to search for a blackboard to find out if there was a drink special, or ask a bartender if there was a martini menu.  I love to try new things, but if I don’t know what you’ve got, I can’t read your mind. 

Then, ask the patron if you can get them some water while they decide what they would like to have.  This will give you something to do other than hover, and it will allow the customer to figure out what they want to drink.  Some people, of course, will know what they want right away. So be it.  At that point, take their order and be attentive.

I guess you can call this a list of where server etiquette lacks; but hopefully I’ve made some suggestions how to improve it, as well.  Chances are many people have worked or will work in the beverage or food service industry at some point in their lives, so why not make the most if it.  A happy customer means a better chance of you being happy with the tip, too.



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This blog was originally published on the author's own website:  http://TheLadyinRedBlog.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jena May 02, 2013 at 05:22 PM
EXACTLY...I was going to school full time, substitute teaching...and bartending/waitressing! I had many many regular customers who requested me weekly and I made enough money to put myself through college and pay the bills! However, I have come across MANY Laura Madsen's...you know them, the annoying want-to-be experts on subjects they know little about! The customers that the whole wait staff see come through the door and roll their eyes at one another! I wonder what Miss Madsen does besides BLOG? Maybe she needs some advice on how to do her job!
Laura Madsen May 02, 2013 at 05:33 PM
Piloboys, that's really admirable of you to give it your all. I appreciate your feedback and opinions. You are right , the golden rule applies here, I think. Treat people how you would want to be treated. Even in situations where I may have had a server who was having an off day, I never left without tipping. I know that I wouldn't want to be penalized for being human. Rachel and Jena, I think feedback from customers is important in any industry. That's why rating services such as Yelp, Zagat, Open Table, etc. are helpful to people. They are reviews written by customers. If restaurants and those in the food service business wrote their own reviews, everyone would be four-star. There's always good, better, and best. I'm very glad that people do not keep their opinions to themselves. Hz1973, You are correct - overworking staff in any situation does take it's toll on people, too. That's actually a great point that you make, and it's good to make sure as much as possible that there are enough people on the schedule so everyone can take breaks.
Geta Grip May 02, 2013 at 09:37 PM
Wow it seems like the waiters/waitresses and bartenders responding to this article have some thin skin. Ms Madsen is just giving advice on what makes a good bartender. I think there are a lot of bartenders out there who are reading this and agreeing with her common sense advice. But it seems like the servers who do not like people/their jobs/their lives are taking this advice as a personal attack. Lighten up it seems like the ones commenting are the ones who really need this advice. (By the way I have worked in a bar, but I have spent much more time as a patron than employee.)
polopete May 03, 2013 at 02:58 PM
I agree with the majority of what id said. I have bartended in Go-Go bars and nice restaurants.There are general rules. Of course barkeeps have lives too and can have a bad day. These are in general. A patron, especially a regular, likes to be appreciated. Tied up with another custy? Make eye contact so that I know you will be there when you can. Del Friscos Grille in NYC? Gets crowded after work I get it but they walk to the register with eyes down and you feel like you need to send up a flare to spend $15 on a drink
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