Get Me The Usual
December 9, 2004 8:03 AM   Subscribe

How does one gain "regular" status, with all the duties and privileges associated, at a bar quickly?

My regular bartender is moving away next week, so it's time to find a new place to drink. So beyond "Go there a lot" are there any tips and tricks that my fellow MeFites can offer from either side of the bartop?
posted by robocop is bleeding to Human Relations (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Tip well? Introduce yourself?

Shouldn't this be just like plesantires anywhere else?
posted by esch at 8:08 AM on December 9, 2004

Well depends on the bar of course, but in general:
Go often.
Learn all the bartenders names.
Tip well, but not loserishly overlarge.
Behave well. Be funny and low key, don't get ass out and puke all over the bathroom.
Find another regular to make friends with for associational purposes.
Go early in afternoon shifts when you have time to actually talk to the bartender.
Find things (tastes, life experiences) you might have in common with bartenders and other regulars.
Have a distinctive, but not insane/gross/complicated drink that you always drink.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:08 AM on December 9, 2004

Don't piss in the sink.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:08 AM on December 9, 2004

Be affable, courteous, not overbearing in your desire to be seen as a regular, and tip generously.
posted by safetyfork at 8:08 AM on December 9, 2004

Go there a lot.

Make sure all the staff know you, and make sure you tip them well and often.

If you have the opportunity to be helpful to them in any way, take it.

Other than that, just making sure that they recognize that you're a decent sort who likes to spend time and money in their establishment will work eventually.

Don't think it means anything, though; enjoy any real or perceived rise in status while you can, as staff always turn over (as you've seen) and at the end of the day you are always going to be a customer, first and foremost. Any friendship or privilege they extend to you is not guaranteed to last forever.
posted by LondonYank at 8:09 AM on December 9, 2004

Tip well on your first drink. Even if you're going to run a tab, pay cash for the first round. The bartender will remember the good tip. Be friendly. Don't be demanding. Introduce yourself and remember the bartender's name. If you don't get good service after tipping well the first visit, look for a different bartender.
posted by Juicylicious at 8:10 AM on December 9, 2004

The first thing you do is pick a fight with the biggest dude you see. Don't worry, the big ones are usually slow and stupid, it's the short guys you gotta watch out for, 'cuz they've been picked on all their lives and they've learnt to fight back; plus sometimes they got a chip on their shoulders and they get mean to make up for it. Anyway, bump into a big guy, then tell him to watch out the hell where's he's goin'. Then sucker punch him, then give 'im a good bashin' while he's down. You'll end up in solitary for a couple weeks, but everyone'll respect you after that.

No waitaminnit--sorry--that's prison, not a bar.

Okay, sorry.

What safetyfork said. Just don't try too hard and go buying everyone a round or something. The bartender(s) is probably your key. Tip decent and strike up a conversation when it's slow.

Probably stay away from the pool table, unless it's a REALLY friendly crowd. Pool tables sometimes spawn petty, neurotic competitiveness, not to mention "Those were MY quarters!" "No, MINE!" "Okay, who the hell took my quarters!?" "It's my turn, but someone erased my name off the chalkboard, dammit!" Etc. At least that's how it is in the States.
posted by Shane at 8:15 AM on December 9, 2004

Response by poster: How good is a good tip? My general rule of thumb is a buck-a-pour, 50-cents-a-bottle when paying cash. It's likely less, all told, when I pay off a tab where I can find the 15-20 percent mark easily.

I'm not looking to be a bartender's best friend and distract them while they're trying to work, but after having a good bartender/customer relationship, I'm eager to start again.

How many places could you possibly be a regular at? How often do you have to keep visiting in order to retain your regular status?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:19 AM on December 9, 2004

are you moving on to another bar or just trying to get in good with "your" bartender's replacement? you can get regular status pretty quickly if you have a friend who's a regular and just go to his bar with him a couple of times.

otherwise, you're better off being a regular with the owner than with the bartender if you want to keep your status as bartenders turn over. of course, this only applies if the owner hangs around in the bar. this is how i obtained reagular status at a local restaurant, even though the bar staff and waitstaff changed; the owner always greeted me by name and remembered my drink order. even with six months between visits, i'm still greeted by name and an exchange of pleasantries.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:21 AM on December 9, 2004

Am I missing something? Is the bar closing, or is just the bartender leaving? As long as the bar’s still standing, I would say you’re still a regular at said bar. Wouldn’t it be better to stay put at the place where the other bartenders and patrons already know you? I think you’ll establish regularship status faster if you only have to get to know one person (the new bartender), rather than a whole new set of clientele and all new bar personnel.
posted by boomchicka at 8:24 AM on December 9, 2004

Also, what crush-onastick said.
posted by boomchicka at 8:25 AM on December 9, 2004

I absolutely despised all of the regulars at my bar. They were simply local crazy drunks masquerading as upstanding citizens.

What you really want to know is how to not piss off the bartender, and the above posts have given you some decent advice. I would second the mid-afternoon idea.

One point though: it's $1 per drink. Well, unless the drink is more than $5, then adjust accordingly. Happy hour prices and you're only paying $2 for that beer? Doesn't matter -- tip $1.
posted by hummus at 8:25 AM on December 9, 2004

Other general rules of thumb:

When ordering drinks, ask for a menu and order an entree or dessert item. Ask the bartender if s/he's tried any of the specials. They'll know you're there for more than the alcohol, and will be more welcoming to you.

If you go with a friend, and the place is busy, offer to eat at the bar; by showing you're not uptight about having a specific place to sit shows maturity and decency, which the owner and staff will remember.

As for tipping, 15-20% for tabs is good, but for microbrews and premium imports, and especially cocktails I'd suggest a dollar per round, rather than half that amount (it just comes off as stingy).
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:32 AM on December 9, 2004

Read Cosmopolitan: A Bartender's Life

All the secrets will be revealed.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:32 AM on December 9, 2004

"My general rule of thumb is a buck-a-pour, 50-cents-a-bottle when paying cash."

What do bartenders and strippers have in common? You don't tip them with change. $1 minimum for anything. Although I wouldn't tip more simply because I bought a more expensive beer, it all pours more or less the same.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:34 AM on December 9, 2004

Response by poster: The bar in question is a fine place, but I'm taking the bartender's departure as a chance to broaden my horizons. The other folks at said bar are nice and all, but many of the staff seem to focus on the college crowd rather than lil ole sitting at the bar reading a book me. The difference between the bartender who ask if I wanted a refill when I'm down to my last inch of beer and the one I need to flag down from the coeds is a huge one.

We're not spoling for choice in the Cambridge-Somerville-Boston area, but left to my own devices I'd just keep going to the same place over and over (thus driving Banjo crazy). I weep for my poor liver durring this vetting process.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:34 AM on December 9, 2004

As general interest this is very good.
posted by stuartmm at 8:35 AM on December 9, 2004

"Eighty percent of success is showing up."
- Woody Allen
posted by caddis at 8:39 AM on December 9, 2004

Not trying too hard is very important. You're a "regular" if you go there all the time. And if you tip well, bartenders will take care of you, just like a stripper will pay attention to you for a second if you hold up a few bucks. I assume though, that you'd prefer your bartender actually like you (or, at least be glad you came in), not just be using you for money. To that end, I agree that going in the early afternoon when conversation can happen is a good idea. And going often is a good idea - but be careful with this one. There's a fine line between "Norm!" and the guy who you feel sorry for or are creeped-out by because he shows up alone every day and talks to you like he's desparate for attention. Like hummus, I hated most of my regulars, but less so when I was working someplace I liked to work (there's another hint for finding the right bar).

More tips for not pissing off bartenders:

Don't one-time them - when ordering for a group, know what everyone wants and order all the drinks at the same time.

Don't flag them down - if they're a halfway decent bartender and you're a halfway decent customer, they know you're there.
posted by leecifer at 8:43 AM on December 9, 2004

You know, asking for a cup of coffee is a good thing too. It's usually free in bars in the States, and the bartender will often ask you what's up. Waiting for someone? Not drinking tonight? Designated driver? Instant conversation.

Drinking coffee in a bar just seems to be a novelty respected universally by bartenders, as they know you're not going to turn into a drunken asshole and cause trouble. Also, you can tip a buck even if the coffee's free, which is a cool thing to do.
posted by Shane at 8:47 AM on December 9, 2004

You don't have to drink alchy-hol everytime you're there.

Bartenders will have a decent amount of personal experience of non-alcoholic drinks (they don't tend to get drunk on the job but still need liquids) so exploring the grand vistas of 'virgin' drinks might give you a memorable quirk that differentiates you from The Drunk in the Chevy Cap, The Drunk Whose Wife Left Him etc.
posted by i_cola at 8:53 AM on December 9, 2004

Just out of curiosity, what are the duties and privileges associated with being a regular?
posted by letitrain at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2004

You don't have to drink alchy-hol everytime you're there.

This is very true. Assuming the bartender isn't an alcoholic, staying sober immediately puts you in a club with him/her. 'Cuz you'll likely end up the only sober people in the place...
posted by Shane at 8:55 AM on December 9, 2004

robo, me boyo, you need to know your seasons. In any college-oriented pub, the LDKs (lil' drunk kids) are likely to appear to have more pull, but over the winter break, and in summer months, they'll be gone and long forgotten. Nearly any place with a liquor license becomes a filling station/meet market when the halls of academia are open.

We're not spoling for choice in the Cambridge-Somerville-Boston area, but left to my own devices I'd just keep going to the same place over and over (thus driving Banjo crazy)

It still sounds to me like you're halfway between Hell's Gate and Jackass Mountain, though I mean that in the nicest way!
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:55 AM on December 9, 2004

Today is my regular bartender's last day on the job....she's going to vet school. While we're cool with the rest of the staff, Terri is the best.

How we got to be regulars was mostly just showing up....regularly. Small talk about the menu, the music, or what's on tap, healthy but not outrageous tips, and making sure you say goodbye and thanks on your way out. We tend to go during the slower hours - usually in between the 5-7 happy hour and the 10-12 happy hour when we can get a seat at the bar.

Benefits include NEVER having to flag down a bartender for a refill, charging happy hour prices when it isn't happy hour, and the occasional "Gosh, that glass has a small chip in the rim, I better not charge you for that beer."

I'd say it's tough to be a regular at more than about two places. We're at our main hangout at least once or twice a week for two or three hours at a time.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 8:56 AM on December 9, 2004

What hummus and leecifer said. Finding a bar you feel comfortable in, and where you get satisfactory service, is your goal. Getting a bartender to like you, though - that's kind of a strange game. It's a little weird to want a bartender to develop sincere personal affections for you.

The public should always be aware that their 'relationship' with a person in a service role is not, to that server, social or personal in nature; it is commercial. It is their job to look after your drinks, make small talk, and help you feel comfortable at their bar so that they can build up a bigger tab, get you to come back and bring your friends, and recieve better tips. They would also like their working hours to be pleasant, so they try to create a comfortable atmosphere for themselves, as well -- engage in conversation, avoid conflict, etc. But remember -- they're trapped back there; they're working. Your presence in that bar falls into the context of their working life, not their personal life.

In my restaurant days, I have many memories of watching the bartenders laugh, schmooze, converse, and listen sympathetically to patrons, much as an actual friend would do -- only to step over to the service area and say under their breath, as they poured a drink,' that guy is such an asshole. Anyone working in food and beverage service learns early on that it pays, big, to master the art of duplicity. You simply can't afford to seem not to like your customers.

That's not to say that some regulars aren't genuinely liked. They certainly are. Some customers are preferred mightily to others. And most people in food & beverage find that there's something they like about hospitality, taking care of people, being in that interactive role. But remember always it's a business relationship, and be respectful, and don't be overconfident in expecting freebies, special attention, or priveleges. Nothing more odious than the boorish, lordly "Ah'm-a-regular-here!" fellow who barrels into the kitchen univited (and unwanted), reaches over the bar and helps himself to garnishes, and makes rude jokes at the staff because he believes his 'regular' status allows him to act like an oaf.

In fairness, you don't sound like that kind of person. Reading a book at a bar is a great pleasure if the bar is used to that sort of thing. Being in a bar alone, looking dor that happy medium between solitude and socializing, is wonderful when the balance is right. Not every bar wants that type of atmosphere, and you just need to find a bar that values that tflavor of customer. An excellent bartender is worth his/her weight in gold -- attentive but not fussy, looks after the small details, welcomes and chats with you warmly. Hope you find a good place.
posted by Miko at 9:08 AM on December 9, 2004

As said above, please never tip coins. It's better to say I owe you one and next time double up. A buck a drink, a buck a drink, somewhere between three and five if you get a buyback when you leave and you're good.

And while I don't really want to head into never play poker with a man named doc territory here, I say never drink at a bar where the bartender doesn't take an occasional drink while on shift.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:15 AM on December 9, 2004

Talk to the bartender like he/she is an actual person, not a servant. Most have lives outside of their bartending jobs- ask about them (mbd1mbd1's bartender going to vet school is a good example). Remember it, and work it into a subsequent conversation the next time you show up ("Hey, how's vet school going?") After all the conversations they have during the course of their shift, it's the ones that aren't about the bar that they'll remember.
posted by mkultra at 9:29 AM on December 9, 2004

Miki wrote:they're trapped back there; they're working. Your presence in that bar falls into the context of their working life, not their personal life

While this undoubtedly can be true, some of my best friends are people whom I've met while they were serving me beers or food at establishments where I was a "regular". I'm just sayin... bartenders and waitstaff don't necessarily lock down into a "serving the served" mentality.

My tipping rule is a buck per round of 4 or less drinks. If a bartender gives me a free drink, I usually tip them about what the drink would have cost.

If it's your first time ordering drinks from a bartender in a busy bar, tip big (in cash) and make eye contact/introduce yourself. You'll get much better service after that.
posted by maniactown at 9:35 AM on December 9, 2004

BTW, stuartmm, that's a great interview!
posted by mkultra at 9:38 AM on December 9, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for all the insight, folks! If I didn't think it'd be horribly boring, I'd consider blogging my Quest for a Regular Place.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:04 AM on December 9, 2004

If a bartender is really busy, avoid ordering drinks that are a pain in the ass to make like frozen margaritas and mudslides.

And pick the right sort of place to be a regular! Since you're in Boston, I'd suggest looking for a bar that serves locals more than students. Some of my favorites were the Times and Dooleys on Broad street (downtown) and the Littlest Bar on School Street. For Cambridge/Somerville I liked Toad by Porter Square and the Druid.
posted by sophie at 10:05 AM on December 9, 2004

I don't know how one becomes a regular, other than by showing up everyday and not doing anything egregiously stupid. But they sure sign that you've become one is when the bartender places your "usual" in front of you without you saying a word. Then you can consider yourelf a member of the club.
posted by jonmc at 11:27 AM on December 9, 2004

I chuckled at the "you don't have to drink alcohol" comments. I watched one of my favorite bartenders throw someone out for ordering coffee once. Picture a tiny feisty Thai woman with a thick accent yelling "It's a fucking bar! Order a drink or get the hell out!" That said, she had a regular who only ever drank coffee and sat in the corner reading most of the afternoon. After that experience, I'd say that if you're trying to get to the status of a regular quickly, order a drink.
posted by cali at 11:28 AM on December 9, 2004

Robocop - I think it helps to try and avoid the really popular places, as well as the very large ones. I don't think anyone could achieve "regular" status at the Redline in Harvard Square, for example, but you could probably do so very easily at Shay's, right across the road, or Charley's down the street. If you're looking for something a little classier, you could always look to the bars in the Charles Hotel or the Doubletree, or to Legal's near the Kennedy School of Government.

Likewise, I was doing pretty well at a place in Belmont who's name I can't remember, until their bartender left, too. I feel your pain.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:11 PM on December 9, 2004

Response by poster: Really? I had "regular by association" status at Redline for awhile. I'd stop there on my way home from work and befriended a true regular. When with him, I was the same as a regular, but without him, I was just another guy. His style was "stay at bar for hours and hours three times a week" which my workschedule (and liver) would not be too happy with.

But this was early evening, not late night wherein the bar goes ultra cool/crowded/euro. I have not been there in awhile (my beer taste of late has been for hops over Guinness) to see how much cred I might still have. Probably very little.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:42 PM on December 9, 2004

His style was "stay at bar for hours and hours three times a week" which my workschedule (and liver) would not be too happy with.

That's not regular, that's resident.

I tired the same thing there for a while a couple of years back without much avail. I'd really give Shay's a try, if you haven't. Very nice staff, small enough to get attention while still having enough people to keep it interesting.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:56 PM on December 9, 2004

You may not be looking for actual recommendations, but the Cellar on Mass Ave just up from Harvard Square was my regular bar of choice, and, in the afternoon at least, would be totally great for hanging out with a book. The bartenders (at least a year ago) were always friendly, always recognized a familiar face, and generally played very good music. I never got free drinks, but I definitely felt like a "regular" after a very short amount of time.
posted by occhiblu at 1:30 PM on December 9, 2004

Cellar! When I read that robocop was loosing his bartender in the Cambridge area I worried that Quentin was finally giving up his duties completely at the Cellar. I don't see him much anymore but do have regular status (helped him design his porch; helped carry 40' timbers for his porch).

Much of what has been written here does ring true for becoming a regular. Beat the rush and be consistent with the crowd (if you have one), your day(s), drinks and generosity. Being loud is not always horrible, especially as the bartender gets to know you and you have very funny friends. (I am not very funny myself but have friends who would slay anyone.)

Aside: I enjoy being a regular; my wife could care less. I am now a regular (with her riding my coat tails :-) at a local café in Paris (free home made poire, my express will be serré etc.) and a restaurant in Shepherdstown (where our bartender invited us to Thanksgiving dinner). In a small town, the best thing is to not be one of the local, crazy, bigger-than-this-town drunks. /shamefully bloggish entry
posted by Dick Paris at 2:38 PM on December 9, 2004

If you ask the bartender on a date without being absolutely sure of his/her response, you risk losing your regular status.

I had a crush on a pretty flirtatious bartender for a while and finally asked him out after a few months. I thought I had a good shot because he seemed to single me out with the flirting, kiss me on the cheek whenever I came in, etc. He said yes, but then backed out via email, telling me that he had a girlfriend. (Turns out he did, but I still think he was sending the wrong signal.) Anyway, I lost my regular status the nights he was working.
posted by sophie at 3:01 PM on December 9, 2004

Great thread folks! I practically live in a bar and I can say most of this is good advice. Being in a bar is like any other social situation, just drunker, so many of the same rules apply. Just be yourself, or if that doesn't work, be nice. Tip well and make friends with other regulars and everything should fall into place.

I gained regular status over a longish period of time. At first I didn't talk much to anyone. I just sat studying at the bar and smoking cigarettes. Eventually the bar tenders started to notice me and stop to chat. Over a year or so I became a fixture. I even get invited to company parties.

Being a regular is the best part of frequenting a bar. One can get free drinks and cigarettes etc, but what is really important is that staff starts watching out for you. If you get too drunk they'll check you and make sure you can get home. If someone starts to pick on you, they'll back you up. If you see a cutie, they'll help hook you up. Ultimately the bar beomes of social nexus like a community center.

The best bars to be a regular at are the small owner-operated neighborhood places. When I "go out" I head downtown and drink fancy drinks with college kids. When I want to have a quiet night I walk the four blocks to my local pub and sit over a few beers with a book or a nice converstation with a friend.

On preview: What sophie said. If you want to be a good regular flirting is ok, but trying to go any further is out of the question.
posted by elwoodwiles at 4:40 PM on December 9, 2004

One thing that can help is if you can "get in on the ground floor" at a new bar. I've managed to become something of a regular at a bar near me in just a few weeks time--because the bar's only been open a few weeks, and I've been in there two or three times a week.

OK, so I'm not at the "every third drink free" status I had at the bar I hung out at in the mid-to-late '90s. But still, all the bartenders know me. If you do start getting free drinks, 1) never ever expect free drinks, no matter how many you've gotten in the past; and 2) tip at least as well, if not more, for any free drinks as you would for regular drinks.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:34 PM on December 9, 2004

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