How To Order Drinks At The Bar Without Embarrassing Yourself

What kind of bar?

Before even considering what drink you’ll order, you need to assess the type of bar you’re visiting. Bars can vary widely in their offerings, so knowing what to expect will increase your confidence.

Are you in a restaurant bar? Order their specialty: for instance, Tex-Mex restaurants would be keen on margaritas. An upscale restaurant usually carries wine and upscale cocktails. If you find yourself at a beer bar, tavern, or brewery check out the taps and ask for a sample of one that sounds interesting. A wine bar will probably have a long list of vintages with no beer or liquor. Cocktail bars are typically trendy and pride themselves on their mixology. In any bar setting, you can always ask the bartender for recommendations.

Basic Terminology

Before you attempt placing an order, it is important to get some terminology straight. Even if you’re not an expert get these terms right, and no one will be any the wiser.

Beer comes in a pint: a standard 16 ounces in the United States.

Tall or short – either glass uses the same amount of alcohol. If you don’t state a size, you will usually get a short drink.

A well liquor is the basic, generic brand that will likely be used to mix your drink unless you specify a brand. So if you have a preference, name it. When you order a mixed drink, well or not, state the liquor first, then the mixer: quite literally, what the liquor is mixed with. This may be soda water, tonic water, juice, and other sodas. Getting the sequence right is important; you will definitely alert the bartender and listeners to your ignorance if you switch it around.

Putting it all together, your order = tall/short + liquor + mixer. Example: Tall vodka soda, please. Remember, if you want a specific brand, name it. Example: tall Stoli & soda, please, with a twist (lemon peel).

Single v. double – by default, a mixed drink will be a single serving of alcohol. If you’d like two servings, order a double. You can add the “double” before or after you name the drink. Example: double rum and coke is the same as rum and coke, double.

Neat v. on the rocks, states your preference to have your drink without or with ice. Alternately, straight up means chilled. Order your “whiskey, neat,” and you’ll feel as smooth as you sound.

Almost There

If you know where you’re going and what type of bar it is, you’re already doing your research. Go ahead and take a look at their menu, as this will help you feel more comfortable once there.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’ve brushed up on your vocabulary, but if you still run into uncertainty upon ordering, ask for clarification. The minor embarrassment of asking is well worth avoiding disappointment and potentially distaste at accidentally ordering something you don’t want. The bartenders are the experts. Unless the bar is swamped, they should obligingly help you out, or least offer you a menu.

Don’t put your foot in your mouth. A couple of questions you should not ask are: “What’s good here?” and “What’s cheap?” These seemingly innocuous questions are actually insulting to the establishment. Instead, what you should ask is “What’s popular?” and “Are there any specials?”

Approaching the Bartender

Etiquette is vastly important in your approach and delivery of your drink order. Don’t idle at the bar until you are ready, or you have a question if they’re not packed. Walking up and simply putting your hands on the bar will indicate to the bartender that you are ready. Do not snap, whistle, yell, or any variation thereof. The bartender will come to you.

Be mindful that if you are at a restaurant bar, the same bartender is mixing drinks for the entire establishment. If it’s crowded or loud, make sure you speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard. If you have multiple drink orders, state them all at the same time. Example: One pint of Guinness and a margarita on the rocks, please.

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Your in-laws

What to order: Whatever they’re having, and as much as, too.

In-laws (or your partner’s parents if not married) are similar to your folks with one crucial exception. While they too will likely pick up the tab, they will also be way more judgmental as to the boozing levels of their cherished offspring’s significant other. Thus, let them dictate what you’re drinking. If they’re wine people, you’re drinking wine and letting them pour each glass. If they prefer beer, go round-for-round. If they’re Mormon teetotalers, sneak off to the bathroom and hit your flask hard.

Give the wrong answer to “What’ll it be?” and you could look like a greedy dipsomaniac.

HowToOrder Vodka and Gin

When placing a drink order that is made with vodka or gin make sure you specify which top-shelf liquor you would like. Otherwise, your drink will typically be made with a low-quality liquor typically kept on the speed rail.  

If ordering a martini, be prepared to answer how you would like that made (e.g. dirty? Shaken?) 

Time to Get out There and Order

Just remember, you don’t need to know every bar term. Bartenders are happy to help you out, but hopefully, you feel more ready for your next outing. Check out #15 Bottoms Up by the Ride the Vibes podcast to learn more English and for more information on alcohol culture. Now, get out there and order a drink like a pro. 

Craving more food and drinks? Check out our blog on Strange Foods to Eat in East Asia.

A brief history of alcohol – Rod Phillips

Vocabulary 

1. craft beer (n.) 

Def. a specialty beer produced in limited quantities

Ex. The most popular craft beer in the world right now is the IPA (India Pale Ale). 

2. bartender (n.) 

Def. a person who serves drinks at a bar

Ex. That bartender always makes me strong drinks. 

3. pint (n.) 

Def. a pint pot or vessel

Ex. I had seven pints of beer last night. I am a little hungover. 

4. pitcher (n.) 

Def. a container for holding and pouring liquids that usually has a lip or spout and a handle

Ex. I can’t wait to share a pitcher with you guys tonight. 

5. flight (n.)

Def. a selection of alcoholic drinks (such as wines, beers, or whiskeys) for tasting as a group

Ex. This brewery offers a free flight of beer to all its customers. 

6. scotch (n.)

Def. whiskey distilled in Scotland especially from malted barley

Ex. Scotch is less sweet than bourbon or whiskey. 

7. shooter (n.) 

Def. a shot of hard liquor (such as whiskey or tequila) often diluted with something (such as soda)

Ex. She always orders shooters since shots are too strong for her. 

8. mitigate (v.)

Def. to cause to become less harsh

Ex. Drinking the chaser mitigated the flavor of the absinthe, which tasted disgusting. 

9. vermouth (n.) 

Def. a dry or sweet aperitif wine flavored with aromatic herbs and often used in mixed drinks

Ex. More vermouth makes the martini taste smoother and a bit less harsh. 

10. blend (n.) 

Def.  to combine or associate so that the separate constituents or the line of demarcation cannot be distinguished

Ex. Long Island iced teas contain a blend of three to five different kinds of alcohol. 

A romantic interest who is ‘treating’

What to order: Something you can share.

Dating mores have quickly changed in this modern world, and all I’ll say is the kinds of people who have very strong opinions about who should pay on a date seem to rarely have dates. But if you know the other person is paying, whether it’s your first date or 50th anniversary, why not order something you can share? A decent bottle of red wine. A carafe of sangria. And nothing feels more intimate, more romantic, than an ostentatious tiki drinktwo straws!

Bar etiquette

Shutterstock Shutterstock

Hanging over the bar with a visible $20 bill in your hand to get your bartender’s attention is a great trick in the clubs, but it’s not necessary now that you’re a grown up. If you want our attention, and you weren’t able to score a bar stool, simply stand at the bar and aim for eye contact. A small wave of the hand is acceptable if we’ve honestly missed seeing you, or you are under five and a half feet tall. If the bar is busy, know what you want when we arrive. Legitimate questions are acceptable, but hemming and hawing about what to order is not. Have a plan B if we don’t have what you asked for. And please, don’t try to order from the bar back. He’s the guy carrying the kegs and clearing glasses. Have a little patience, and wait for me to get to you.

Learn Some Bar Lingo

Photo by PicJumbo You shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, but it doesn’t hurt to learn some basic bar vocabulary, either. That way, when your bartender or waiter asks if you want your drink “on the rocks” you know he or she isn’t actually asking if you want gravel in your booze.

BarsandBartending.com has a whole list of common bartending lingo, including:

  • On the Rocks: With ice. Straight up is without ice.
  • Neat: A drink served at room temperature without ice. “If someone asks for a whiskey neat, they are asking for a shot straight out of the bottle.”
  • Dirty: If you want a lot of olive juice in your martini, ask for a really dirty one. “Adding olive juice to a martini which makes it a Dirty Martini. The more olive juice, the dirtier the martini.”
  • Well Drink: When you order a well drink, you’re basically telling the bartender you have no preference of what brand of alcohol you want, so just give you the cheapest option. “A well drink is a drink where neither the brand of the liquor or brand of the mix is mentioned.”

It doesn’t hurt to do a little research, either. If you know you’re going to a bar or restaurant in advance, you can check out their wine, beer, or cocktail list online so you know what you’re getting into and you’re more comfortable when you get there. Vinepair is a fun resource to learn about different kinds of spirits, Beer Advocate has a whole section on Beer 101 and check out Wine Folly for a beginner’s guide to drinking wine.

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