Bartenders Dished On The Dirty Secrets Of Their Jobs, And Now I've Got Some Trust Issues

·8 min read

Recently, I was scrolling through Quora and stumbled across this question that asked, "What are some dirty little secrets of bartending?" Bartenders came through with some secrets so dirty, I needed a bottle of spray bleach.


1."If a customer asks you to make his drinks stronger (and you are already pouring correctly) pour a tiny drop of the predominant liquor in the drink’s straw and the customer’s first sip will taste more potent. Your customer will be convinced the entire drink is stronger, so you will have a happier customer. You won’t be screwing your bar over by over-pouring (and just maayyybe receive a little bit better tip.)"

Erik Widmann


2."Vermouth is a PERISHABLE grape-based product, and it only gets used sparingly. This means it sits on a shelf, typically above room temperature because of the lights it's next to or the refrigerator that's blowing warm air on it. It probably has a pour spout on it for easier pouring of the 1/8 ounce they are ignorantly portioning out. So now it's a heavily oxidized perishable product that is heated and has fruit flies floating in it because they love that shit."

Joshua Micah James

close up of a cocktail in a whiskey glass
Maurese / Getty Images/iStockphoto

3."It’s called 'The Float.' When you work a bar for a long enough time, you develop a knowledge of what to see when a person is really 'done.' By law, where I have worked as a bartender, it is illegal to serve someone who is visually intoxicated. The truth is it’s not always easy to see, especially with a person who holds their liquor well. The problem is that it is not always the easiest thing to enforce...To stall a person who is over the limit without having to cut them off, with mixed drinks, you pour the cocktail mixers as normal, but for the alcohol, you 'float' a splash of liquor on the top of the cocktail. The drink then *smells* like booze, which is probably the most important element in making a drunk think they are still drinking, but the actual alcohol content is minimal."

Michael Chan


4."How a lot of bartenders make money is that they give out free drinks to heavy tippers. It's not necessarily bad as most bars allow their bartenders to give out a certain amount of free drinks per night. And you want this clientele in the establishment. They tend to be rich men that order more expensive drinks anyway. They'll place an order and tip like $20 when the tip should only be like two bucks. They make sure the bartender sees this. Now, the bartender will help them first if it's crowded. Chat them up if there's time. And eventually, give them a free drink."

Brizzle Souny


5."It isn’t really a secret, but top-end liquor with mixers is sort of a waste of money. Mixing a top-shelf vodka/gin/bourbon/rum/whiskey with sodas, fruit juices, and creams (coconut or otherwise) masks many of the nuances of those liquors. The house rum and coke cost far less, and the overwhelming number of people can’t tell the difference."

Sean Kelly


6."High maintenance drinks. On busy nights, the darndest thing would always happen to me: The blender would break! Sorry, no more frozen drinks. (It takes forever). Same with the espresso machine: If it's 11 p.m. on a Saturday night, our machine is broken."

Jeremy B. Smith


7."I have a friend who tends bar in Orlando, Florida. The very busy bar he works at is mainly full of tourists, and the drinks are all metered so there is no room for [comping drinks]. His cunning trick is to have a couple of small sponges strategically placed behind the bar soaked in different spirits. Every now and then he will push the rim of an empty glass onto the sponge and then make a cocktail as ordered. Upon serving the drink to the customer, he would say 'I put an extra one in there on me,' the customer would believe because they can taste the neat spirit on the rim and would then hopefully give a bigger tip."

Steve Black

a sponge
David Engelhardt / Getty Images/Tetra images RF

8."In some places, people use optics to get standard measures. You know the upturned bottles where a thing dispenses a fixed measure rather than pouring the bottle into a measuring tool, then into glass? They are plastic. Once you run Pernod through once, anything after will taste of anise. It sort of embeds itself. You could make a Pernod-flavored drink with no Pernod in it using old optic."

Simon Thomson

close up of a bar with bottles
Tetra Images / Getty Images/Tetra images RF

9."I have trained a lot of bartenders over the years. Every last one, without fail, unless they had a ton of prior experience, of course, would get stage fright the first night on the bar. The concern was the same every single time. 'What if I screw up? What if I make the drink wrong?' It’s kind of like test-taking anxiety when your mind goes blank. So I would tell them, 'You know what the drink looks like, right?' Followed by a head nod, I would continue, 'Put in the drink what you think goes in there or get pretty close until you learn all the recipes and if anyone notices, you simply tell them, 'this is my version.'' It will make the guest feel special that you took the time to do something just for them and who knows? You might create something pretty sweet in the process."

"The point of that exercise was not to be deceitful to the customer, but to get the bartender to relax so they could focus on the task at hand and learn to do it the right way that much faster without anxiety. Those who actually had to use that line would come back to me and say, 'I can’t believe that worked.'"—Rhonda Stephens


10."Here’s something disgusting that used to happen in all of the British pubs I worked for. Back in the day, pump drinks would be pulled using the traditional hand pump. Any spills were collected in what was called a drip tray which was directly below the pump. In Britain, we have a very dark ale which we call mild. It's very popular with older gentlemen in particular. At the end of the evening, when cleaning up after closing, we bar staff would carefully take the contents of almost all of the drip trays and pour them back into the mild barrel. Yes, you heard me right. We recycled and served slops. Every single day. The only trays that didn’t get treated that way were cider and Guinness because they curdled the mild."

Vicky Watson

a cold beer
Jack Andersen / Getty Images

11."There are many, but one that is little known is if you were to buy a drink for your bartender in Ontario, Canada they are not allowed to drink alcohol while on duty, so they may do one of two things: 1. They may purchase a beverage of your choosing or theirs after they finish their shift or 2. They may take the money from you and pour themselves a drink that may appear to be the drink you purchased for them but it won't have alcohol in it. They may appear to ring it in, but actually, pocket the cash."

Andrew Wilson


12."You’d be surprised how FASCINATED people of all ages are by bar condiments. We got some nice dark cherries in a dark red sauce and I started putting them in Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, and soon our sales of those drinks were just blowing up. Use blood oranges sometimes instead of navel oranges. People will order a drink just to get a blood orange garnish. It’s weird, but true."

James Guelcher

a garnish set up on the bar
Image By Marie Lafauci / Getty Images

13."It was a small thing, but when you ordered an extra-dry vodka martini, the bartender would give you straight vodka (if you weren't sitting right at the bar where you could see him). Some patrons would still send the drink back for not being dry enough. The bartender would then pour it into a different glass, change the level a little, and send the same drink back out to the patron."

Daniel McElrath

a martini being poured
Commercial Eye / Getty Images

14."From the [soda] gun, which is what most bars have where they can pour all the soda from the 'gun' as well as the sour mix out to make drinks, the plastic lines run from downstairs all the way up to the bar and the lines corrode and get, well, toxic as hell."

Nitin Kaushik

close up of someone using the soda gun to make a drink
Photography By Tonelson / Getty Images/iStockphoto

15."Top quality bars [customize] their mixers and their liquors. What you see them pouring is not always what you think it is. That way, you can’t duplicate the drink at home."

Greg Easter

someone straining a drink into a martini glass
Santiago Iñiguez / Getty Images/EyeEm Premium

16.Finally, "In my youth, I worked at a nightclub for a couple of years. Some of the elder bartenders used to make a lot of money from the tip jar. One of the methods was made on beer (this is disgusting): When a guest left an unfinished draft beer, it got poured in a new glass, 'til it was half, or more, full. When you hit the glass on the side with a spoon, it will foam like a freshly poured beer. Then, fill it up with cold beer from the tap. Voila. Of course, [it was] only served to those guests that were already 'tanked up'. They never knew."

Liv Dissot


Are you a bartender and have a secret? Maybe about how clean you keep your bar or how food-safe you are? I'd sure love to read some stories like that right about now. Tell me in the comments below!

Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.