This is a short guide to how to behave while sitting at a bar. It has been compiled after being repeatedly disappointed with customers while working as a barman in hostels in South America. The latest generation of traveler has obviously not been educated in this etiquette to the same extent as previously. I blame the rat-race nature of their source countries for this lack of education. The art of sitting at a bar for hours and possibly days is about to be lost. I hereby make a stand and try to commit to record what I have learned so that it may be passed on.
Approaching a Bar
When approaching a bar it is critical to acknowledge that you are approaching a “territory” and therefore your status in this territory is important. If you are a regular or at least have been at the bar within memory of the occupants of the bar then a certain casualness is allowed with greetings and felicitations. Unless you are regular, then expect coolness from other customers at the bar and expect politeness, just short of friendliness, from the barman. Don’t take offence at this. A good option at this time is to enquire about the local beer and to take a bottle or a pint of that. Quizzing the barman at length about various spirits, beers and cocktails will only serve to annoy him. Short greetings and maybe toasting your fellow bar customers and barman is acceptable as long as it isn’t too elaborate and isn’t immediately followed by any attempt at conversation. Having a companion approaching the bar with you lessens the stress levels substantially, as there is no undue pressure on any extraneous party to interact with you.
Talking to the Barman and Ordering the First Drink
After ordering an initial simple drink, i.e. a local beer and after a suitable period of assessment it is acceptable to engage the barman in small talk but not relating in any way to the barman personally. Acceptable topics include queries on upcoming sporting events, items on the menu and the location of the bathroom. Try to keep this level of conversation short and to the point. A good barman will respond with short answers initially and depending on your rapport and previous behavior might ask some questions relating to your presence in the bar, city or country. Respond generously but succinctly. He doesn’t really care; he is just doing his job.
Talking to other Customers
After talking to the barman, your fellow customers will definitely have been listening in and might contribute. Feel free to respond. Should you not wish to talk, avoid eye contact and politely wind up the conversation. The interaction with your fellow customers is completely event-specific and open to a lot of interpretation. It is usually possible to ascertain to some certainty which customers want to talk to you and vica versa. Other customers well versed in bar etiquette will help you out should you find yourself being annoyed by an uneducated bar customer.
Ordering your second Drink
Now that you have established a base relationship with your barman and his other customers and if you have followed the etiquette to this point, your presence is probably not considered a threat to the ambience of the bar. At this stage you can introduce more complicated subjects of conversation and even enquire about the choices of whiskey at the bar. Should none of the whiskeys take your fancy, make your choice of drink and order politely. This is an acceptable time to enquire as to the status of the barman in the bar. Expect to be lied to and don’t be offended.
Dealing with Non-Bar customers
Congratulations, you are now “at the bar” and comfortably so. There are a few situations that will arise that could cause some difficulty. Principal amongst these is the presence of customers in the establishment who choose not to sit at the bar. These individuals and groups will approach the bar only to order. This is the limit of their interaction with the bar. Be careful not to interact with these people or at least keep interaction to a minimum. There are reasons that they are not at the bar. They basically don’t want to talk to you and don’t want to risk you talking to them and presumably since you are the bar you feel the same. A polite, short nod is the preferred method of acknowledging their arrival and departure.
Dealing with your own Inebriation
If you are comfortably installed at the bar there is a strong likelihood that you will start to suffer/enjoy the effects of too much alcohol. This situation has to be prepared for. To lessen the embarrassment factor of this, it is best to avoid bragging about your drinking abilities. Don’t regale fellow customers with drinking stories until you can prove that you can handle your alcohol. This however doesn’t preclude the option of reaching dementia on your first visit. This is generally seen as amusing and entertaining by your fellow customers and will ultimately endear yourself to them. Balance has to be applied however and it is best to reach this stage of inebriation politely and with as little fuss as possible. Discussing Middle-Eastern politics or George W at this stage is to be avoided.
The Opposite Sex
Far be it from me to advise the bar-going public how to interact with the opposite sex. Instead this section merely outlines how this essential life giving behavior should be undertaken at a bar in accordance with bar etiquette. Simply put any attempt to “pick up” at the bar will be greeted with great amusement by your fellow customers. Don’t expect any assistance whatsoever and an even mix of encouragement and abuse. The status of the “pick-upee” and “pick-upper” adds greater amusement to the proceedings. You should include the rest of the bar in the attempt as they will involve themselves anyway. Expect the barman to beat you to it.