Being a bar regular comes with its perks: new friends, expedited service, and maybe even free drinks every once in a while. So once you find that local bar you like, how do you turn it into the place where everybody knows your name? We asked six bartenders to spill their best tips and tricks for becoming a regular. Here’s eight ways to break into that elusive bar community.
1. Be Consistent
Julio Cabrera, bar manager of the Regent Cocktail Club in Miami, says that becoming a regular takes months, even years of steady effort. “Try to visit the same bar at least once a week, sit in the same spot if possible and order the same drink,” he says. “Ernest Hemingway visited Floridita bar in Havana every day, sometimes twice a day, for more than 25 years. He sat in the same corner of the bar and ordered the same drink: frozen daiquiris. Now there’s a bronze statue of him in the place where he used to sit.” You probably won’t get any bronze statues built in your honor, but if you keep coming into a bar around the same time on the same days and seeing the same faces, the bar staff will eventually notice.
2. Tell Us Your Name
If you frequent a bar regularly, the bartenders should recognize you and ask your name. At Ward 8 in Boston, bartenders keep a log of their regulars’ names in a bar journal. General manager Mike Wyatt says he knows not all bars do this, but it’s a nice way to make people feel at home. “If you work in the industry, have visited our bar frequently, or are just a cool person in general and we’ve learned your first name, we’ll record it at the end of the night with a brief note so that we can all learn names and introduce you to others,” he says. If you’ve been going to the same bar for months and no one has even asked you your name yet, Wyatt says you should find another bar that will “offer you a bit more courtesy.”
3. Get To Know Us
Build a relationship with your bartenders. Learn their names. Neal Bodenheimer, co-owner of Cure, Cane & Table and Bellocq bars in New Orleans, says you should treat your bartender like you would a friend you were trying to get to know. “Ask questions, don’t do all the talking,” he says. “Listen. But don’t force a discussion if they’re busy.” You could also include others around you in the conversation, just let loose and talk, says Eric Bennett, Jr., bar manager of Carrigan’s Public House in Birmingham, Alabama. “Engage with your bartender about everything, from how you have the same birthdate to how you both dig bounty hunters—Boba Fett, not Dog,” Bennett says. “Human connection through liquid lubrication is what makes the job worthwhile. It’s great when that spirit of service and camaraderie flows both ways across the bar.”
Samantha Phelps, assistant bar manager at Stay Gold in Austin, says the best regulars can make her laugh. “I’ve worked my share of happy hour shifts when it’s a slow afternoon and it’s just me and you at the bar,” she says. “The day flies by when we have a good conversation and we can crack each other up. A good joke will absolutely get you a shot.”
Cabrera, of the Regent Cocktail Club, says bartenders consider their bars their second homes and the people around them their second family. But all relationships—whether transactional or not—require time. “If you want to be a regular, you need to spend time at that bar, meet all of the staff, and sooner or later they will start to think of you as one of the gang,” Bodenheimer says. “Unless of course you’re an asshole.”
4. Order Your Drink Correctly
Make your bartender’s life easier. Don’t drive them nuts with your order. Phelps, from Stay Gold, says a good regular knows what they want to drink before they try to order. “Indecisive bar patrons annoy the shit out of me,” she says. “Make up your mind or make it a bartender’s choice, but don’t take forever and a day to order.” Wyatt, from Ward 8, has a few more tips: “If you’re in a group, try to order all of your drinks at once rather than one at a time. Don’t be rude by trying to flag us down, yelling or snapping. And if it’s busy, have your money ready or credit card out and ready to start a tab.”
5. Trust Us
You can have your usual drink, but also be open to new spirits, beers and cocktails, Bennett, from Carrigan’s Public House, says. Ryan Fitzgerald, co-owner of ABV in San Francisco, agrees, saying the best kind of patron is someone who has full trust in his staff. “A bar staff’s main goal is to provide an experience,” Fitzgerald says. “We want to give you the kind of experience that we want when we go out. We like nothing more than showing people a good time and things that we’re excited about. The best regulars are the ones who are open to that idea and being taken on a trip and trying new things.” Trust takes time. Fitzgerald says even he doesn’t trust everyone when he goes out, but if you go regularly enough to some place, you should start letting your bartender have a say in your order.
6. Tip Well
Bodenheimer, of Cure, says you should be prepared to spend some money. “Do you splurge for the extra legroom when flying?” he says. “Don’t be afraid to drop a big tip early to show your bartender that you mean business and want special service.” Bodenheimer used to work in nightclubs and says leaving the doorman a tip on the way out, after you had already gotten in, always meant more because you didn’t need the doorman’s favor anymore. “Unexpected tipping can really make you stand out as a person that the bar staff wants to know—remember, bartenders live on tips—and it shows them that you want to invest in a long term relationship,” he says.
Wyatt has a few tipping guidelines: You should leave at least $1 per beer or glass of wine and 20 percent on cocktails. “Or 20 percent on tabs with a group or if you’ve spent a significant amount of time occupying a barstool,” he says. “You’re not on your way to becoming a regular anywhere by being a shitty tipper.”
7. Don’t Expect Free Stuff
If you go into a bar only expecting good service, a bartender will every now and then reward you for being loyal, Bennett says. True, but don’t expect to get hooked-up every time you come in. “If you come in and see me often enough, rest assured I’ll buy you a round or a shot,” Phelps says. “Maybe even a couple. But assuming I’m going to give you everything for free because you come here all the time is simply idiotic. I go to the grocery store all the time and I don’t get my bananas for free unless I’m stealing them. You know what I mean?”
8. Be Nice
If this one isn’t obvious, you have no business being a bar regular. “Be pleasant and polite or at least don’t act like an asshole,” Wyatt says. Phelps says you can ruin all of your bar-regular ambitions if you act entitled or rude. “Visiting the bar frequently or tipping big means jack shit if you’re a jerk to me or the other patrons,” she says. Bennett agrees: “Rule number one, as a regular bar guest, and in life: Don’t be a dick.”
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amshep
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