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Restaurant Confessionals

How to Treat Your Bartender Friends, According to Your Bartender Friends

“Please don’t put my full name in this—I’m about to tell you how much alcohol I give away.”

by Ian Burke
05 September 2018, 3:06pm

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Whether they’ve dedicated their lives and careers to high-end mixology or are side-hustling at a local dive, you probably have a friend or two that tends bar. And when that friend finally gets that new head bartender position at the hotel bar, or lands the gig at the pub down the street, it usually feels like a cause for celebration. Now that your bestie is behind the bar, free drinks, line-cutting, and undivided attention in a packed house ensue, right? Well, not exactly. From extra tipping to fucking off (nicely) during peak hours, here are a few things to remember when drinking at your bartender friend’s establishment, according to them.

You’re probably going to get a free round or two, but don’t take advantage.

It varies. I have friends that I’m gonna totally hook up, but I also have friends that I know only get one free beer, because I know they might break shit. By the way, please don’t put my full name in this—I’m about to tell you how much alcohol I give away. My best friend came once and I must have given him like, 400 dollars worth of well liquor, which is ridiculous. He showed up with his boyfriend, it was my first day bartending, and I said, “Fuck it, I’ll just give away a couple bottles of well liquor.” But you don’t do that every time. If you’re my friend, it’s like, every third or fourth drink will be a buy-back, or every two if you’re a really good friend. But it’s so subjective—it totally depends on the person, and how often they come in. —Mark, Brooklyn, NY.

It depends. I don’t really give out a ton of free drinks to my friends. I try to save that for other people, our regulars or soon-to-be regulars that come in. I try to keep the amount of free drinks to a minimum per shift. I just use free drinks as a way to get new people to become regulars.Allison, Denton, TX.

I don’t think, as a friend, you should expect much when going to a bar where your friend bartends at. It depends on the person and it depends on the bar’s leniency. My bar has a big policy on not giving out free drinks—ever. So, I’ll give out as much as I can, but at the same time, I’m not trying to get fired. I’m not trying to get in trouble. —Jan, Vernon, NJ.

You have to let people know that it can’t be an all-the-time thing. If you’re coming in five nights a week expecting free drinks, you’re crazy. Regulars are a little different than friends, though. Like, if one of my regulars comes in every night, and I know they’re going to spend 60 bucks every time, a shot or two on the house still keeps me in the black. I love my friends, but I also love making my rent and staying employed. But I think my friends—and people in general—know that free booze can’t be an everyday thing. —Elizabeth, New York, NY.

Behave yourself, and tip your friends well.

Where I’m bartending right now is a little different, since it’s a restaurant also, so I expect my friends not to come in and get trashed and act wild. It’s not as crazy as a regular bar, if that makes sense. As far as tipping goes, though, at the bar I currently work at we tip share, so I tell my friends to leave a pretty good tip because we all split it. It’s not just me they have to think about when tipping. —Allison, Denton, TX.

It all depends on what kind of bar you’re running. At a lot of places I’ve worked, they tell you that you’re the bartender—it’s your bar. So you run it however you see fit. Usually with my friends that come in, I’ll give them a break on a drink here and there, but if I give them a break I expect more of a tip. Then I’ll take the extra money from the tip and put it back into the register, which makes up for the alcohol, and I’m still getting a solid tip. It also depends on the alcohol. For example, shots are less expensive to give away than beer, so maybe I’m not giving away a ton of free beers, but a shot on the house or something like that is usually okay. —Harrison, New York, NY.

I work at a bar that’s pretty chill, so if you’re my friend, you’re gonna get free drinks, and probably a lot of attention as well. But if I’m giving you free drinks all night, you better give me a good tip. —Elizabeth, New York, NY.

I think tipping-wise, it shouldn’t be any different, especially if you have a drink taken off your tab. Fifteen to 20 percent on the original amount is pretty standard. So if you got your whole tab for free, and you got four drinks for 16 dollars each, 15 to 20 percent on that entire amount is good. I think just being honest about things is the best way. Like, I’ll tell someone if I took 20 percent off their tab, or that since I already used my comp this week I can’t get them a drink. And if my friend is bringing in multiple people and they expect free drinks for everyone—I think that’s a no. —Dan, New York, NY.

Honestly, I don’t expect anything. If my friend is at the bar, I don’t really look at it as work if I’m serving them. Like, if I were at a party and I poured you a mixed drink, I wouldn’t ask you to pay me, you know? If my friend came to my bar I wouldn’t expect any tip. I’d charge you the cheapest amount that I could. If they tipped me, I might try to throw it back, honestly. I’m not trying to take my friends' money, I’m already getting paid by other people at the bar. —Jan, Vernon, NJ. (Disclaimer: MUNCHIES recommends always tipping your bartender.)

If it’s busy, your friend might have to actually work. (Gasp!)

If you’re visiting a friend who’s bartending, I think the best thing to do is wait and let them take care of their floor or their bar first. It’s a nice way to show that you want to let them do their job. Let them take care of everyone else first, make sure they’re happy, then maybe they can give you some special attention or get you a drink. —Dan, New York, NY.

I think it differs. I definitely have some friends that get mad because I’m not completely focused on them. But where I work, we usually have two to three bartenders on each shift, so when it gets pretty busy I’ll let one of the other bartenders take care of them. It’s not a very big bar, so I don’t want my manager thinking that I’m just focusing on my friends. But if it’s not busy, I’ll talk and hang out with them. —Allison, Denton, TX.

My friends are always going to be my primary choice, because you’re my buddy, but you also need to know that if I’m busy, you’re gonna have to wait a bit more, because I know you’re not going to get pissy with me. It’s kind of contradictory. Like, I know you’re there, so I’m not going to forget about you, but the customers that I don’t know that are going to pay a little more—those are the people I’m going to take care of first. —Mark, Brooklyn, NY.

For me, I like to keep a good environment, so I give my friends attention, but if it’s busy, I’ll try to get other people to go and talk to them, people that I know. You know, as a bartender, it’s all the same. No matter who’s on the other side of the bar, you want them to have a good time—they’re all your friends. —Harrison, New York, NY.

This article originally appeared on Munchies US.