A week ago I sat down at my desk with nothing. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to write about so I brewed a pot of coffee and tried to gather my thoughts. I started thinking about many years worth of experiences behind the bar. Two cups of coffee later I was on a roll. Four cups and 2000 words later I had to pump the brakes and wrap it up. But there was still so much to say on the subject of how, and how not to behave while in a bar. I’ve probably amassed over my many years as a bartender, more than enough stories and experiences like this to write a book. However, a never ending supply of diapers that need changing from two different sources (both of whom inherited Daddy’s colon) a sixty-plus hour work week (that doesn’t include writing time), and very little sleep necessitates that I put that project on hold for awhile. So I’ll have to feed this to you a little bit at a time.

Evidently, the first installment of BAR BEHAVIOR 101 was well received, so class is back in session. Perhaps, I have become the unofficial spokesman for drink slingers everywhere who trudge along on the front lines of the service industry terminally dodging an onslaught of stupid questions, rude treatment, less than generous compensation, and perpetually idiotic behavior.

Hopefully, most of you enjoyed the first part. Unless of course you are an English teacher in which case you would have run out of red ink before you got to the end. For what it’s worth my friendly educators, I am completely aware of my innate penchant for run on sentences. I’m not a write; I am a storyteller. My mind gets racing when I’m delivering a rant, and I speak like I think. I then in turn, write like I speak. I sometimes find myself forgetting to breath while typing.

Now back to the point at hand. If you’ve been in this business as long as I have, you’ve either been part of, or within earshot of some of the most entertaining verbal exchanges ever between patrons and bartenders. I’ll give you some examples that have actually taken place over the years, as well as some more examples of “how not to act in a bar”. There are multiple ways to make your bartender dislike you almost immediately, and many of you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Consider this a public service announcement. If I can save but one soul, it’s all worth it.

1.) If the bartender approaches you and greets you and your first words to him or her are either; “how much is….”, or “do you know how to make….”, then it is a long uphill climb for you my friend. You know how each police canine dog has its own attack word? Consider this a favor. I’ve just taught you how to avoid the immediate disdain of the person providing you with your next glass of personality enhancement. You’re welcome.

2.) I’ve recently noticed a trend that has already reached epidemic proportions and I’m leading a crusade to stop it. It’s “That Guy”.  He comes to the bar and orders one drink at a time, he has no cash and refuses to start a check so he pays for each individual drink with a credit card and insists that you run it and close it out. I speak on behalf of all adult beverage harbingers everywhere when I say, this is wrong, stupid, and irritating as hell on so many levels. The bar is three deep, and every second I spend with my back to it swiping your debit card with the logo of your favorite sports team emblazoned on it, someone else is not getting a drink. You are quickly becoming hated by me, and the hundreds of thirsty people around you. You even take the time to write in, and do the math for the .48 cent tip that you leave. Keep it. Your rapid and untimely disappearance from my vicinity would be more than gratuity enough.

By the end of the evening, I and my coworkers, have swiped the same card nearly a double digit amount of times at roughly a minute and a half per transaction. Figure out how much of my time you’ve wasted. Now figure out why by your third round, we’re not in too big a hurry to get to you. I’m no tree hugger, but you’ve also single handedly accounted for about 27 feet of printer tape. Here’s some advice junior, carry cash, leave the card and start a check. Trust me when I say that no one working their butts off behind a ridiculously busy bar is going to take a break to go do some online shopping at your expense. And I think I can safely say that nobody wants your identity. You also repeatedly wait until your drink has already been placed in front of you to even take out your cute little Velcro wallet to remove the card to pay with. And hand me the damn card BEFORE you bend over to pick up the wrinkled 24-hour bus pass that you dropped when you opened your wallet.

Many years ago, in the formative days of my illustrious career as a purveyor of behavioral enhancing beverages, I worked with a guy who had literally made an art out of sarcasm. He seemed to always have an answer for every stupid question. He did it without ever changing the tone of his voice, and always with a smile on his face. He would subtly belittle people and have them laughing along with him. I swear there were times that people would not even realize until they woke up the next day that they had been shredded. I admired this trait, and made it my mission to master the art. Several years later, I think I’ve achieved black belt status and I’m eternally grateful to my mentor who remains my good friend to this day.

I’ll now regale you with a small sampling of some of the more memorable verbal exchanges I’ve heard in the bar. Most were between bartender and customer; some were between two or more bartenders working together. All actually happened. I won’t get into specifics, but many involved me, many involved my mentor, and others I just overheard and enjoyed enough to share them with you years later. Keep in mind that the key to pulling these off is to always keep a smile on your face while delivering the verbal barbs.

1.)  I know I’ve written about this one before, but it’s my favorite and probably the one I’ve used the most often.

CUSTOMER- “What’s the cheapest thing you have here?”

BARTENDER- “Evidently you.”

2.) BARTENDER- “What can I get for you?”

CUSTOMER- “What do you have?”

BARTENDER- “4000 bottles, 200 thirsty people, very little time, and short fuse.”

3.) CUSTOMER- “Do you have a match?”

BARTENDER- “Not since John Holmes died.”

4.) This one was an exchange from many years ago between me and a guy I was working with. We were working an insanely busy bar and our special that day was $1.75 beer.

HIM-“ I feel like I’m waiting on a bunch of linebackers.”

ME- “What do you mean?”

HIM- “Everyone is fighting through trying to get the quarter back.”

5.) The following annoying question has been asked thousands of times to bartenders and elicited as many different answers. I try to give a different one each time. Here’s one example.

CUSTOMER- “What’s your favorite drink to make?”

BARTENDER- “The Ketel One on the rocks I’m going to pour myself at 1:58 a.m. and sip on to try and erase the memory of you.”

6.) This is another one that’s been asked thousands of times, and again, I try to give a different answer each time, if nothing else, for the purpose of my own entertainment.

CUSTOMER- “When does it get busy here?”

BARTENDER- “Right after you leave.”

7.) While working in a place with a very extensive specialty drink list that is actually in a book with multiple pages this one took place;tTwo women requested the drink menu and studied it intently. Over the course of approximately 15 minutes, they read it cover to cover often looking at each other wide eyed and lips pursed with enthusiasm. There were multiple “ooohs” and “aaahhs”, as if they were witnessing the grand finale of a 4th of July fireworks display. After about the fifth time approaching them, I (I mean the bartender) said this: “are you two ordering a drink or picking china patterns?” They both giggled and replied: “we’ll have two Coronas.” SERIOUSLY?

I apologize if my wit was not quite up to par this week. Today I right with heavy heart. It was exactly ten years ago today that my mother, who was, is, and always will be my hero lost her long hard battle with cancer. I’d feel remiss not to at least mention her in closing. My only regrets are that she didn’t make it long enough to hold her three youngest grandchildren or to see her own baby boy FINALLY grow up. I’m doing ok Mom. I love you, I miss you, and I think about you every day. I hope to see again someday, but not any time soon. Suddenly I have a lot of reasons to want to stick around here for awhile.

Thanks for playing along everybody.

Until next week,

Syd Nichols

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