Most of us arrive at our destination a little thirsty. Whether you’ve had the best day or the worst day, when the bartender hands over your glass, it’s game on — and thirst over. Except for when it isn’t… sometimes when the bartender catches your eye, the irony cannot be ignored. In an attempt to satisfy one craving you’ve simultaneously sparked another, and this one cannot be bought. Chances are you aren’t the only one who’s caught feels, but hitting on a bartender is an artform that takes effort. How do I know? I used to be one.
You may have keys to a Bentley and moves like Jagger, but it’s those holding the keys to the liquor cabinet who are unlocking hearts on a nightly basis. They’ve got the power to clear out the room, choose the music, and control your buzz. Yes, chile… you got some competition, and that’s not the only thing standing in your way. While it may appear that the object of your affection is hanging out, they are also on the clock, so treading lightly is key. To grab the attention of a bartender, you must think like a bartender. Much like mixing a cocktail, every ingredient in your game needs to be equally balanced.
Forget what you know and take some advice from me and my fellow drink slingers. We’ve got the scoop to help you stay hydrated, emotionally and physically, on your quest — because everyone should date a bartender at least once in their life.
1. Keep a gentle buzz.
You may think your pickup game is better drunk, but from behind the bar we see you slowly becoming louder and needier. Keep a gentle buzz without going too far — while everyone appreciates the designated driver in the crew, the reality is if you’re staying sober for the fuck of it, bartenders aren’t always impressed. Just take it from Nour, a bartender in Brooklyn. “The bar is for bar patrons, so it’s shots or get off the pot, if you ask me. [And] don’t be surprised when I drop a $4 bill for every flat club soda you [insist on] guzzling.” Sorry mocktail divas, we’ll try to keep you hydrated, but we may not even notice you’re trying to hit on us.
2. Tip respectfully.
You may be a baller in the streets, but throwing down 50 bucks on a $20 tab is just as tacky as leaving no tip — we cannot be bought. Personally, I always felt a little dirty after an enormous tip from someone who had caught feels. Brian, a bartender in Manhattan, happens to agree, “Yes! [I] definitely feel a little gross afterwards…” If your bartender seems disinterested, overtipping will not help your case. Conversely, “tipping” with your phone number instead of leaving a real tip is tacky AF. “If you don’t leave me a decent tip but you do leave me your number, it will find its way to a place where you both belong — the trash,” Nour humbly explains. And take it from me, your phone number will never be as sexy as 20 percent.
3. Create nice vibes, not future nightmares.
For Scarlett, another Brooklyn bartender, it’s all about the vibe, but creating it is where the balance comes in. You may want to ask the bartender what music they’re playing, but “accidentally” spilling your drink to get attention could make them think you’ve had too much sauce. You may decide you’re a smoker, too, when they go out for a quick puff, but do not follow them around. After an overly thirsty patron accidentally walked into the same single-person bathroom as me, I didn’t know if I had an admirer or if the Amazon rep I cursed out earlier in the week knew where I worked. “Lurkers make me feel like I’m gonna get jumped, not like I’m about to spend a wildly passionate night with you.” Nour agrees. No one needs to be that thirsty.
4. Read the room when it’s the last call.
Last call means it’s time for everyone to make moves. You go wherever you’re going to go, and we rapidly start cleaning so we can go too — never be confused about that. “If you weren’t personally/specifically requested to stay, [your presence] is probably not wanted,” AJ, a bartender in Brooklyn, explains, and she is 100-percent correct. Once you finish your drink and are all paid up, there’s no reason to lurk around other than to put us in an awkward position. “If you’re not helping me close, you gotta go, my friend,” Brian says.
5. Acknowledge the power dynamic.
And because hanging around is so easily confused with lurking, let’s double down on it. There are plenty of times when your bartender will be getting off before last call, and chances are they will be sticking around for a shift drink. When I’m feelin’ someone I’ve been serving, I’ll ask them if they’re sticking around for my shift drink, but it can be alarming when people ask me when I’m getting off work. This is another power dynamic often overlooked by patrons outside the industry. Tina, a bartender in Portland, Oregon, explains that hanging out post-shift needs to come with a clear, consensual understanding between both parties. “Getting off work is a sigh of relief for most bartenders, and having to sit next to the person you just served for the last hour [and who has been] waiting to buy you a drink or catch up is completely inappropriate,” she says.
6. Be direct with no pressure.
Your bartender is wearing several different hats. They’re controlling the cash flow, they’re making and serving drinks, and they don’t always pick up on subtle clues. “As a bartender, you’re constantly meeting people for the first time. It can be hard to tell sometimes when someone is flirtatious or just friendly. Directness goes a long way,” Brian advises. And of course, you want your bartender to know your motivations while understanding an important power dynamic — you are a customer first and foremost. When you ask us for something, we want to provide it, and asking for our personal information can feel like entrapment, according to AJ. “I’m literally trapped [behind the bar] and this is also a trap. It’s awkward for everyone, and I’m being pressured to say yes by a public request of my personal info.”
7. Use napkins responsibly.
At the end of the night, I will spend up to 30 seconds trying to recall who Garret is, before tossing a napkin with his digits into the garbage. For all I know Garret left nine digits for the other bartender — and I’m not alone in the napkin confusion. “I feel like napkins, aka the poor remains of the noble tree, have much better uses than writing down your number. If I want your digits, I’ll ask for them,” says Nour. We give you napkins to use as coasters, by the way, and we have overpriced phones to hold our contacts.
But if you build a foundation of flirtation, and most importantly, introduce yourself before you give this move a try, the napkin may not always end up in the rubbish. “I dated someone who left their number on a napkin,” says Brian. “She handed it to me as she was leaving, and there was a lot of confidence in the way she did it. It was fucking hot.” Now, that’s how you hit on a bartender.