Don’t be that person—local bartenders dish on bar etiquette

Image courtesy of Tamu Curtis

A night out on the town can range from being fun and chill to being an all-out rager, where you wake up missing a shoe. Whether you remember your night out or not, there are always a group of people who do—your bartenders. They see and hear everything.

They also want to make sure that you, your friends and other patrons have the best time possible. To ensure that you aren’t that guy or girl, here are some etiquette lessons from some of Charlotte’s favorite bartenders.

(1) Trust your bartender, but let them know what you like

“We really appreciate when a guest gives us free reign with crafting their beverage, but if you do that, please let us know if there is something you definitely don’t like,” said Todd Brinkman, director of Eats and Drinks at Charlotte Marriott City Center.

“Although our bartenders are amazing at what they do, asking them to ‘surprise you’ with a cocktail can go awry if you are perhaps more of a vodka or gin person and the bartender makes a Mezcal Old Fashioned (even though I promise you that drink is so good you will overcome that lingering fear).

“If you want to try something new but aren’t the world’s most adventurous drinker, ask the bartender to recommend something in a certain style and they will do their best to create something just right for your taste,” Brinkman said.

Image courtesy of Stoke

(2) I’m not your dog

“I’m not the clapper, so please don’t clap at me,” said Stephen Marshall, bar chef at Loft & Cellar. “Also, please stop snapping. Please don’t say, ‘hey buddy/boss,’ or wave your hand or card in our face. Trust us, we have seen you, and you are on our radar. ”

Image courtesy of Loft & Cellar

(3) Don’t forget your card

“People leave without paying the tab or closing out more often than you’d think,” Brinkman said. “We always give guests the benefit of the doubt, and nine times out of 10 it is unintentional. But that is why it is the norm to run your card with your first drink order. And know that if you leave your card at the bar for more than a week, there is a good chance it will be destroyed. We’re just looking out for your (and your bank account’s) best interest.”

(4) Think before you speak

“Bartenders hate to hear about how you were once a bartender/server/chef, so you know how things work,” Marshall said. “Also, stop saying you know the owner. Guess what? Everyone does. Please remember that we are hospitality professionals, and we are here and want to provide you with a unique and dignified experience.”

(5) Don’t be a Scrooge when it comes to tipping

“Tipping only $1 on that fancy $15 craft cocktail at the cool new cocktail bar is bad etiquette,” said Tamu Curtis, founder of Liberate Your Palate. “Craft cocktails mean your bartender isn’t just pouring a beer from a tap, although there is an art to that as well.

“Your bartender is coming in hours before their shift to make house-made syrups, reductions, fresh squeezed juices and to prep those Instagramable garnishes for you. These cocktails have many ingredients and steps. Tip your bartender at least 20% to show your appreciation ($3 is 20% of $15).”

Tamu Curtis, founder of Liberate Your Palate

(6) Don’t be sloppy

“Something I know every bartender has experienced and has dreaded at some point … cutting people off,” said Amanda Britton, head bartender at Bardo Restaurant.

“I don’t know a single bartender who gets great joy out of cutting your guests off. We want to make sure all of our guests are enjoying themselves responsibly, but also protecting the guest, ourselves and the establishment. When a guest gets upset, it only makes the situation harder and, no doubt, we won’t get you another drink. So be cool. We’re just doing our job.”

Image courtesy of Erin Breeden

(7) North Carolina is tripping

“I wish guests knew more about our outdated liquor laws,” Britton said. “While these laws make your bartenders’ lives more difficult, it may not be in a way that’s obvious to the guest. If you’re a passionate drinker and enjoy imbibing, ask your bartender what hurdles they have trying to grow their bar program and how you can help make some change. The more people that know, the louder our voices are.”

Marshall also wants to remind everyone about the law regarding last call in North Carolina, as “drinks cannot be served after 2 a.m.” While other states may not have the same law, it’s “2 a.m. and goodnight” in the state, including in the fair Queen City.


  1. Here’s one for the bartenders from the patrons: acknowledge us when you see us at the bar ready to order. We understand you may be in the weeds, with a dozen orders in front of you. We’re cool if it takes awhile. The problem happens when you fail to acknowledge that you know we’re there, because then we start wondering whether you really DO know we’re there.

    Even though this article says, “Trust us, we’ve seen you, you’re on our radar,” that doesn’t always seem like it’s the case, especially in packed bars.

    Just say hello, or “be with you in a minute,” or even nod, and that will make all the difference in the world. Good bartenders do this, every time. Bad bartenders never do this.

    • Exactly right, Vance. I’ve personally experienced plenty of situations in which multiple attempts over 10-20 minutes of politely attempting to get the attention of a server at sparsely crowded establishments leads not even to the acknowledgement of my existence. So sometimes it requires waiving a hand or a card just to see if it elicits even a head nod if not immediate service. Let’s assume Mr. Marshall is not intending to speak on behalf of his entire industry because the image he paints often doesn’t match reality. I’ve seen too many servers who indeed are oblivious to those around them or too busy flirting with a customer or too occupied with their own conversations with other employees.

      It’s interesting that his own establishment has a mediocre 3.5 rating on Yelp. And most of the complaints from dissatisfied customers are not because of the food but–you guessed it–because of poor, slow, unprofessional service, not resembling the “dignified experience” he describes. Perhaps Mr. Marshall isn’t in the best position to lecture the public about the mutual expectations of “hospitality professionals” and their customers.

      • Very true. It’s not necessarily a rare thing, either. It happens way too often at too many bars. Some bartenders are so consumed in creating the perfect cocktail they forget to scan the bar and see who’s waiting.

  2. Tip for bartenders on #2: if you “have seen us” maybe just acknowledge with a nod or smile or ‘be right there’ gesture so we aware that your customer that is the reason you are there knows we are on your radar?

  3. “ask your bartender what hurdles they have trying to grow their bar program and how you can help make some change.”



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