Bar regulars receive their fair share of perks. Maybe they get quicker service, an occasional free drink or a “Hey, Norm!” when they walk through the door. But most importantly, they earn a spot in a bar community, the colorful atmosphere that makes a bar a bar. They find a place to belong.
So, when you stumble upon a local haunt you really like, where the employees and patrons are the kind of people you’d actually like to hang out with on a regular basis, how do you break through into their exclusive club? I’ve spent years on both sides of the bar, and have a few tips for getting everybody in the room to know your name — in the good way.
Be consistent. Take a lesson from Ernest Hemingway, who patronized Havana’s Floridita bar every day, sometimes twice a day, for more than 25 years. The man sat in the same seat and ordered the same drink, a frozen daiquiri, every visit. And now there’s a bronze statue of him in the corner. While you don’t have to commit to a decades-long con to become a permanent fixture in a watering hole, regularity is key.
Show up around the same times, on the same days and sit in the same spot when you can. Maybe order the same drink. Even just doing this twice will be a signal to your bartender that you’re someone to remember, which is especially important in seasonal communities, where tourists and snowbirds flow in and out like the tide.
Get to know your bartender. Shake his or her hand. They should ask your name, but if they don’t, offer it. Ask theirs, and follow that up with questions about them, like you would a friend. Don’t be a conversation hog. Work on building relationships and engaging with the people around you, not just by dumping all your problems on them, but by listening and being easy to talk to.
Give them interesting details to remember you by. Up until fairly recently, I bartended at the beach, popping open cans of Coors Light for old guys and cans of White Claw for young ones. I have a terrible memory, so I used to keep a note in my phone of my regulars’ names, what they looked like, their drinks of choice and little facts about their lives. And they often remembered the same, asking about my writing and my various Bumble nightmares. We built comradery over the minutiae of our lives.
Be considerate. If your bartender seems busy or distracted, give them space. Don’t force a conversation or demand attention. In fact, the best time to go is when it’s slow, not on a Friday or Saturday night, but on a Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday night when you can introduce yourself. That’s when bartenders and other patrons will have time to get to know you. Then, when you do show up during a busy time, they may even prioritize serving you or chatting with you. Everyone likes to show a friendly face a good time.
And when it is hectic, order your drinks with simplicity and efficiency in mind. Make your bartender’s life easy. Have your cash or credit card ready to start a tab. Be open to trying new things, but don’t be super indecisive when there’s a line of people behind you. If you’re in a group, try to order everything at once.
Tip well. While bars can provide meaningful human connection over liquid lubrication, keep in mind this is a transactional relationship. And you’re the one paying. Reinforce your appreciation for your bartenders’ service with a financial contribution. Consider it an investment in your long-term relationship. Offer to buy your bartenders drinks (but don’t expect them to always accept) and leave at least a 20 percent tip, or $1 per beer or glass of wine.
Be nice. Don’t assume free stuff all of the time, but a bartender will reward you every now and then for being loyal. Always be polite and patient. Don’t get too sloppy on a regular basis or make a mess. Remember, it is possible to build a loving second home with a bar family. But just like with your blood family, no one’s required to like you just because you’re always around and they know your name.
Alyson Sheppard is Lagniappe’s resident hangover specialist and Boozie’s most unreliable Baldwin County spy. Find her on Twitter: @amshep.
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