How to Get the Bartender’s Attention

You and your friends are sitting at the corner booth at the local tavern, waiting to sing karaoke, when you realize your beer glasses are all nearly empty. “Don’t worry, friends,” you say. “I’ll get the next round!” You struggle your way through the crowd and make it to the bar, where you notice two very busy bartenders. They’re going as fast as they can to mix everyone’s drinks, pour their beers, and collect their payments, but you immediately realize that it’s going to be a bit of a wait. There are at least a half-dozen others to your left and right waiting to order drinks, with more and more people squeezing into line behind them. Someone is practically trying to weasel their way in front of you!

While this booming business and high-demand is a great problem for a bar to have, it’s not so great for you as you’re growing very impatient. It’s been nearly three minutes, and the bartender seems to be skipping right over you with each pass. And now he’s serving the woman who just stepped up to the bar! This simply isn’t fair. You’re a paying customer just like everyone else, and you’re thirsty. You look back to your group, and you can see their frustration mounting.

So, how do you get the bartender’s attention? We asked a local Austin-area bartender, Keith, and his responses were indeed very helpful.

  • Keith isn’t intentionally picking anyone out of the crowd to serve. When it gets super busy, he says it’s hard to remember who’s been standing there the longest. Wherever he ends his previous order is where he begins the next. It’s the luck of the draw! “Sometimes I wish there was a queue. People get angry when they have to wait. But it is what it is. It usually evens out by the end of the night.”
  • Put that damn card down! Keith thinks he speaks for the majority when he says you waving your card or cash in the air is annoying. “Yes, I see your money, but guess what—everyone has to pay regardless if you’re waving your money in the air like an asshole or keeping it out of view.”
  • Get out of the waitress station area. If you’re blocking a waitress’s access to pick up drinks, you’re definitely not getting served.
  • Believe it or not, Keith says a friendly smile is more helpful than looking annoyed or impatient.
  • If you had ordered earlier in the night and had tipped well, Keith will try to make a mental note of it and accommodate you throughout the night, but it’s just not always possible to give you priority.
  • Make yourself visible. Tall people, heavy people, and people wearing flashy clothing are at an advantage, but basically, don’t stand behind a pillar.
  • Likewise, Keith won’t deny that a busty female leaning over the bar will often get his attention over others. “That’s something my eyes are, like, subconsciously drawn to, and once you make contact, you kinda just have to take the order. You can’t just glance and then move on even if it was inadvertent.”
  • Order promptly when it is your turn. “You have literally one second to start giving me your order before I move on, if it’s really busy. Skip the small talk. I’m doing fine, you’re doing fine, I get it.”
  • No need to have that empty glass sitting in front of you. “I see some guys, they’re thinking, if I set this empty cup here then I’ll know that they want more. It’s not the worst thing to do but I assume you want a drink either way.”
  • “I wish people would consolidate orders. Send one person for the group. But yeah, I realize that’s not going to make your drinks get out faster,” says Keith. The natural inclination, of course, is the more people sent to order, the quicker someone from the group will be spotted.
  • If you see that it’s really busy, try to simplify your drink order. Stick to simple mixed drinks or beer. Or if you’re going to order something complicated, “hopefully they order like 8 of whatever it is,” Keith says. “But you’re free to order what you want. I don’t want to sit here and tell you how to enjoy your night out.”
  • Get in line before your drink is totally gone.
  • Don’t shout. “I ignore people who try to get my attention by yelling ‘hey, hey!'” That does not get you closer to the front of the line.
  • Above all, don’t be a jerk. “If you get the feeling that you’re being intentionally skipped over, it’s either in your head, or you’re right; I am skipping you because you were a total jerk or a crappy tipper or something.”

Wow, that was some great advice! Maybe next time you go to the bar on a busy night, you can stand patiently with a smile, keeping your hands out of the air, tip well to begin with, and make yourself visible. What if you’re doing all of these things and still not getting served?

“Well, if like thirty people got their drinks who got in line after you, then yeah, politely grab me when I go by and get my attention,” Keith explains. “If I truly wronged you, I’ll make it right. I’m here to make tips, not enemies.”

Has Keith ever experienced anyone get really impatient and so something insane? “I’ve seen multiple guys just come behind the bar and start pouring their own beers. I’ve had someone call the bar and forced me to answer the phone to take their order. People will expose themselves, usually women, but I’ve seen both. I guess the worst one was having a guy show me he had a gun in his waistline. I obviously served him his drinks and then called the police. You know, if you don’t like waiting, go to the liquor store and go drink at home. Waiting at a bar is a fact of coming to a bar. Sorry.”

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My Hot Take:
I’ve been very guilty of a few of these things, like looking impatient and holding money out. But I don’t think I’ve ever been outright rude. I’ll save bad remarks for Yelp, plus I probably want to be on the bartender’s good side for the rest of the night! I always have my 6’6″ height to help me get noticed, but that can work against me, as people feel they need to push their way in front of me to be seen.

Bartender not noticing you as you try to order a drink? Be patient, be visible, and be ready to order. They probably aren’t intentionally ignoring you.


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