Serious Eats: Drinks

Ask a Bartender: The Bartender Secrets Customers Don't Know

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Tommy Shani, Upstairs at the Kimberly Hotel in NYC

As with all professions, bartenders have insight into their workplaces that the rest of us can't match. But given that the rest of us hang out at their workplace, we might benefit from learning a tip or two. We asked bartenders across the country: What's one bartender secret that customers don't know?

Here's what they had to say.

"We listen to everything, but say nothing. Most bartenders have great hearing." — Alan Horridge (La Dolce Vita)

"Most cocktails use the same ratios. I use the same ratio for a Sidecar as I would a margarita, just switching out the liquor and changing the lime to lemon juice. This is how most bartenders learn how to execute so many cocktails." — Kiel Schecich (SideDoor)

"Bartenders interact with all kinds of different people. You learn how to profile people very easily. You can learn a lot about a guest during your first very interaction with them." — Jay Powell (Coal Fired Bistro)

"Everybody orders gimlets with fresh squeezed lime juice. Rose's lime juice has this stigma attached to it. I think the secret to a perfect gimlet is fresh lime juice with a tiny splash of Rose's. Shhhh!" — Holly Hart (A.G. Kitchen)

"Don't 'buy the bartender drinks'. I know tons of bars who fill a bottle in their well with water and pretend it's vodka [for this purpose]." — Jason Lakow (Amali Restaurant and Bar)

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Jesse Cornell at Sbaga in Philadelphia

"You should never be afraid to ask me questions. I'm extremely passionate about what I do and can nerd out about beer, liquor, cocktails and bar gadgets for hours. If you're curious about something, just ask—but please pick your moment. I love talking shop, but not when I'm slammed."  — Jesse Cornell (Sbraga)

"We hear everything patrons say at the bar though they often talk as if they were alone in their living rooms... or in bed. We also like to bet on outcomes of first dates. (There goes our OK Cupid dating business!)" — Michael Lazar (Hog and Rocks)

"One thing I wish people understood more, was the concept of what a service well is. A service well is where all the drinks for guests sitting at tables come from. It is not a good place to try and walk up and order drinks from." — Steve Yamada (Bar R'evolution)

"We don't care what type of glassware you drink out of or the color of your cocktail. None of them make you more or less macho/girly. It's only when you comment or whine about it that you look like a wuss." — Pamela Wiznitzer (The Dead Rabbit)

"I love making cocktails with exotic ingredients, but when I go out, I mostly just want a shot of Mezcal." — Jason Eisner (Gracias Madre)

"Drinking water at the bar makes the customer more likely to order more drinks." — Andy Nelson (Jackson 20)

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Sean Still at Mercadito Chicago

"I think most customers don't realize that just because we work as bartenders doesn't mean we don't have other things going in our lives. Most of us do have college degrees or even masters. We do this as a passion and we can make good money doing it. You don't look at a chef and say 'poor chef.' Don't look at your bartender and do that. We have an incredible database of knowledge just to ensure a customer's happiness." — Sean Still (Mercadito Chicago)

"A trick of the trade: Bring cash when going out with a big group." — Meaghan Dorman (Raines Law Room)

"We all take our work home with us, the good nights and the bad ones. If we're going out for a beer after service, or just going home, we're talking, or at least just thinking about what happened that night. I've spoken with a lot of bartenders about this, and found that most of us dream about being behind a bar." — Rene Hidalgo (Lantern's Keep)

"Gin is the original flavored vodka..." — Jeff Faile (Iron Gate, Red Apron, Birch & Barley)

"I'm always surprised when guests try to order from me when I'm not looking at them. If I'm making a cocktail, I can't hear your order. When it's your turn, you'll know that I'll show the same amount of attention to your cocktail." — Beau du Bois (The Corner Door)

"No matter what other bartenders SAY they do, we DO totally look at the tip the customer leaves." — Cari Hah ( City Tavern )

"Well that's the thing, it's a secret. I could tell you but I'd have to hang up my suspenders." —Mike Ryan (Sable)

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