How to Behave at a Bar in the U.S.

How to Behave at a Bar in the U.S.

Don’t be the person that the bartender and everyone else in the bar wants to avoid. Prevent angry stares and delayed drinks the next time you’re at a bar by putting to use these essential American bar etiquette tips.

Do: Leave a Tip

Tipping is an important practice when ordering drinks at a bar.

It doesn’t matter if tipping was never done in your home country, or if you have a personal vendetta against it. If you’re at a bar in the U.S., then it’s basic etiquette to tip the bartender or the waitstaff.

Bartenders and waitstaff in America are severely underpaid, making about $3 per hour in some states. With such low pay, they tend to make virtually all of their income from the tips they receive every night.

So, when a patron chooses to not tip, they will likely be ignored by the staff.

If you aren’t sure how much to tip, here’s a rule of thumb. If it’s a dive bar with pretty basic drinks, tip the bartender about $1 per drink.

But, everywhere else, if the drinks are $10 or more, tip around 20% of the cost of the drink.

Pro Tip: If you want better service, tip heavily for the first round of drinks. The rest of your night will be smooth sailing after that. You will have your drinks delivered promptly, even if it is a crowded night.

Don’t: Be A Pain When You’re Asked for ID

Other countries in the world might be far more relaxed about the legal drinking age, but in the U.S., it’s taken pretty seriously.

Bars and restaurants in America face serious consequences if they are caught serving alcohol to minors. So, if you’re not age 21 and above, you’re not allowed a drink.

It is standard practice for bars to check everyone’s ID before allowing them to enter, especially if they appear to be under the age of 40. Don’t get offended or throw a fit when they ask you, the doorman or bartender has enough to deal with already. Have your ID out and ready when you enter a bar.

Pro Tip: The staff is probably not going to recognize, or accept, your international ID as proof unless it’s your passport. So, if you don’t have a valid American ID to show them, carry your passport along to avoid being refused entry.

Do: Be Patient and Efficient in Crowded Bars

In a crowded bar, the bartender is usually in a mad rush and juggling multiple orders at once. They will not have the time for your indecisiveness.

If you’re waiting for your turn, make use of the time and pick out your drink order.

At the very least, decide what kind of drink you’re looking for, so you can ask for recommendations based on that. So, when the bartender finally gets to you, you aren’t making everyone wait while you read through the menu.

Indecisiveness at the bar counter will only leave you waiting for the next round of orders to be taken.

Also, don’t bang the tables or wave your money in the bartender’s face as a way to try to catch their attention. This is obnoxious, and rude behavior that will get you ignored.

Bartenders are more observant than you think, and they’ve probably noticed you already. They will get to you in due time. Have a bit of patience.

Don’t: Pretend You Know It All

If you don’t know what’s in a drink, don’t pretend you know. You will just make a fool of yourself, and waste the bartender’s time when you flounder upon being asked what alcohol you want.

Bartenders aren’t intimidating creatures from another world who expect you to know about every cocktail that exists. They are usually happy to help you out and tell you what’s in a certain cocktail, or how it’s going to taste.

So, feel free to ask them for their cocktail suggestion or what goes into a drink mix.

But, don’t hassle them with a dozen questions if they’re already drowning in orders. They might not have the time to explain the whole menu to you, with a breakdown of the flavor palette for each drink.

Find a balance, and know when to step back and just pick a drink.

Do: Use the Napkins and Be Responsible

The napkin you got along with your cocktail is for your drink.

The bartender will not take kindly to you damaging the wooden countertop by spilling your drink every time you put it down.

This is also one of the quickest ways to annoy the bartender. An annoyed bartender is a quick way to a bad bar experience.

Additionally, do not get angry at your bartender if they don’t have the right kind of charger for your phone, or if they have no room to charge your phone. Charging your electronics is not a part of their job description.

Don’t: Wear Sunglasses Indoors (Or at Night)

American pop culture might have convinced you that it’s cool to wear sunglasses everywhere—indoors, at night, while riding the elevator.

While it may look suave in the movies, in real life it doesn’t work so well.

Wearing sunglasses while you’re indoors or out at night just makes you seem haughty or intoxicated. The latter being a bigger issue, because if your bartender thinks you’re too drunk, they will cut you off without a second thought.

Do: Drink Responsibly, and Know When It’s Time to Go Home

You’re an adult, and you’re expected to act like one. Know your limits, and leave before you’ve had one too many.

If not, your bartender will have to cut you off and deny you any more drinks for the night.

This goes back to the strict rules that the U.S. has about serving alcohol to an overly intoxicated person. It is also because no one ever wants to deal with a drunken patron, and clean up the extra mess they inevitably leave behind.

If your bartender thinks you’re too drunk and cuts you off for the night, don’t beg them for one last shot. Instead, have a glass of water or a snack to sober up a bit before you head home.

Don’t: Expect a Response Because You Bought Someone a Drink

If someone catches your eye and you want to get their attention, go ahead and have a drink sent over to their table.

But, don’t expect them to always invite you over or be interested in you in return. If it sparks something, then good for you. If not, be okay with it being a one-way gesture and move on.

Parting Thoughts

Please remember that these tips cover the essentials of bar etiquettes, but are by no means a complete list of the do’s and don’ts for all situations.

There are countless different types of bars in the U.S., ranging from high-end sports bars to Irish pubs. They all have their own vibes and cultures.

Each bar will also have its own set of unsaid social protocols that vary too much to include in a guide like this. So, if you’re ever in doubt about doing something, read the room, and don’t do anything if it seems outrageous.

Reading the room will take you quite far when it comes to ensuring that your American bar experience is great, and that you don’t get thrown out! The next time you go to a bar in the U.S., follow these simple etiquette tips so that you don’t rub people the wrong way, and you are able to enjoy your evening.

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