How to Be a Better Bar Regular

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor

Still credit: Paramount Television 

A satirical piece on Food & Wine’s FWx titled “11 Ways to Become Besties with Your Bartender" had us in giggles this week. The writer’s "tips" include, "If the bartender is very busy, she will need a lot of notice that you are thirsty and in need of a drink…make a little cash fan to wave at her, like an elegant, antebellum debutante.” Totally good call! BESTIES FOR LIFE.

Kidding aside, the article made us realize we do want to know how to be better regulars. We called up Julia Kingrea, co-owner of The Cobra Club in Brooklyn, a watering hole where we have—full disclosure—whiled away several afternoons sipping cider and trying not to irritate the charming barkeeps. How can we be better regulars? Kingrea shows us the way: 

Tip wellIt’s obvious, but as Kingrea says, it’s a way to show “a level of respect.” A particularly good tipper, she tells us, will tip $2 per drink, although “a dollar is totally standard, and no bartender is gonna complain over a dollar.”

Don’t be needy. "Somebody who isn’t needy, who’s pleasant to be around but doesn’t need to be entertained," says Kingrea, makes your barkeep feel like her whole shift isn’t "being dominated by one person. I feel like that’s even more important than being a good tipper." So bring your reading material or have Tinder at the ready (what? you’re in a bar!), and be prepared to entertain yourself when the barkeep is slammed or feeling quiet. 

Be kind to others. It seems obvious, but “be nice to other patrons,” too, including customers who are new. “Somebody who creates a community,” Kingrea says, is valuable to a bartender, and to the feel of the whole bar. 

Know what you want. Kingrea’s pet peeve is the person who comes up to the bar to order for five people, then doesn’t know what any of those five people want to drink: ”Then they’re turning around the whole time, and you’re standing there for five minutes.” It’s a time suck. 

Bus your table between rounds. Smart regulars know that if you pick up a few glasses and bring ‘em up to the bar, you’re not only winning your bartender’s heart, you’re probably well on your way to a free round. 

Bring treats. "If someone goes to the store and they’re getting lunch and they’re like ‘do you want anything?’ or somebody brings you back [a snack] without asking," you are a treasure to your bartender: "It’s nice to be treated like a human being while you’re working."

Sit in the right place. "Don’t sit in front of the taps," warns Kingrea. "I can’t see you for easy conversation, and you’re in splash radius when the kegs kick." She admits that bartenders tend to hang out at one end of the bar, because "there’s an opening—a quick escape!" she laughs. 

Know that your bartender is always listening. Talking smack about the service? It’s been heard. “Bartenders, we know everything. That sounds silly, but we hear everything—we have some radar, we can hear everybody’s conversation wherever they are. It’s really funny whenever people think we can’t hear them.”

Don’t hit on your bartender. We’ve heard this one a couple of times lately: It’s OK to flirt, “of course, everybody hits on the bartender, but like, you’ll know if it’s reciprocated.”