Hey bartender! I don’t know what I want. Can you surprise me?
No. No, I can’t. Next?
Sorry. Knee-jerk reaction. Let me try that again…
Like any good hospitality employee, I try to be as accommodating as possible. However, this request will draw the ire of even the most patient bartender. It’s an unhelpful non-order. I don’t know what you like. And I’m not about to guess only to have you send it back.
That said, I’m willing to work with you if you’re willing to work with me. First, you should read the room. If I’m really busy, I’m not going to be that helpful. It’s better to wait for a lull in the action so I can give you my attention. If you can’t wait, maybe your friend can help you decide.
“Surprise me” orders tend to come from people who don’t normally frequent bars and may not be experienced drinkers. For such people, figuring out what to drink can be intimidating. Some grizzled bartenders have no patience for these types of guests, but that never made much sense to me. I don’t want to add to your anxiety by being a jackass. I’d rather help you discover something you’ll like.
Of course, it always helps if you can give me something to go on — type of spirit, sweet, sour, served up, on the rocks… From there, I’ll have a roadmap. I’ve found that most indecisive drinkers are looking for something sweet and/or fruity to mask the taste of the alcohol.
Sometimes, though, those people are bored with their amaretto sours, and looking to branch out. That’s where I come in. Any bar with a craft cocktail program should be good at accommodating such guests. These bartenders love to show off their mixology game by making something up on the fly. But even your friendly neighborhood bartender probably has a few tricks up his or her sleeve, so don’t be afraid to ask.
A couple important bits of etiquette to keep in mind:
?Trying to accommodate someone’s taste is not an exact science. If the cocktail is not to your liking, let us know and we’ll try to tweak it, but please be gracious. Don’t be a Goldilocks; we aim to please, but we’re not going to make you multiple cocktails to sample until you find one that’s just right. Alcohol costs money.
?If we take some extra time to help you decide on a drink, make sure you tip us appropriately — especially if we create something just for you. I once spent 10 minutes with a customer helping her decide on a cocktail (it was a quiet night). She loved it, ordered several more for herself and her friends, and never left me a dime for the effort. Not cool.
In the time-honored tradition of bartenders telling jokes, here’s some standup comedy. Enjoy. (NSFW language)
Jim Sabataso is a freelance writer and part-time bartender living in Vermont. Have a bar- or cocktail-related or question, you’d like answered? Send it to him on Twitter @JimSabataso with the hashtag #heybartender.