The Dark Art Of Getting Served At The Bar

Thursday, April 16, 2009 7:20 | Filed in Life

I came across an article on the BBC with precisely this title so I obviously had to wander over and read it. I wasn’t aware that it was actually a ‘Dark Art’. I thought it was mostly common sense…

Basically, they advise:

  1. Getting to the bar — the ‘roll around’ (when standing directly behind someone being served, just as they step out, you ‘roll’ into the space they have vacated to ensure no-one else gets there first)
  2. Make eye contact
  3. ‘To flirt or not to flirt’
  4. Don’t tap coins on the bar to show you are waiting
  5. Play mind games
  6. Don’t wave money in the air
  7. Don’t make comments about how ‘dying of thirst’ are or whinge that it is taking ages to get served
  8. Offer the bar staff a drink
  9. Avoid rush hour
  10. Go somewhere else that is quieter

Now I have some experience in these matters, as not only have I been to pubs more than once (I think maybe half a dozen times in the last five years, at least), but I also spent a couple of years working in busy city-centre bars, so I have some idea of what is actually involved.

And my advice would be that much of the advice from the BBC magazine is either pointless or of little value if you are in a new bar and you want to get served now. Sure, you could go to the bar at two o’clock on a wednesday afternoon and it would be quieter, but chances are you like the atmosphere of a busy night, and your mates are less likely to want to take a wednesday afternoon of just because you don’t like busy pubs. So that’s #9 buggered.

This also brings up point #10. Normally, whenever I am out, I could find a quieter pub to go to. But there’s generally a good reason why some pubs are busy and others quiet. The busy ones are generally better. So you wouldn’t actually want to go to the quiet ones. So this one is a bit of a waste of time too.

Points #4, #6 and #7 are for the most point very valid. Don’t annoy the bar staff. In one pub I worked in, the bar staff had an informal rule (as indeed did the licensee) that anyone being irritating to the bar staff would only be served once everyone else was served first, regardless of how long they had been stood there. So yes, smile, make eye contact and be friendly. You’re onto a winner with point #2.

Point #1 can work too. Watch as someone steps away from the bar, offer them a space to move into, and then when they move into the space you have just vacated, you move into theirs. But you don’t actually need to be sneaky about it. If there are people standing at the bar with their drinks, you can always try “can I just squeeze in there for a minute to get served, mate?”.

The BBC’s psychological mind games (#5) involve indicating (usually by pointing) that the person next to you is next to be served. The theory is that they will be served first, but you will be remembered as polite and helpful and will be served after them. This works best if it is actually their turn to get served. If there are a big bunch of people who have been waiting much longer, the bar staff might well think that you are trying it on, and you’ll fall into the annoyance category again.

But if it was actually the other person’s turn, then this may well work. Only I hardly see it as ‘mind games’. It’s just being polite and treating people nicely. Hardly a dark art of psychological warfare. Unless of course the compilers of the list are actually incapable of being nice to someone else without there being something in it for them

This leaves us with the issue of flirting, and offering the bar staff a drink.

I’ll start with the drink. If you are pleasant to the bar staff, and they like you, they will be more likely to serve you quickly. But to do this, you have had to have built up a previous server/servee relationship with them. You can’t just wander into a new bar and announce that if the bar staff serve you right now you’ll buy them a drink. This is being a cock of the highest order, and will see you disliked (okay, you might get served quickly that time, but see how long you wait if you’re not prepared to buy them a drink next time).

So buying the bar staff an occasional drink (or contributing to a ‘tips jar’) might well see you liked. But it won’t help you that time; you actually have to have been served before you can do this. This is all about building up a rapport with the bar staff. When it’s not too busy, actually engage them in conversation. Talk to them. Take an interest. Be nice to people.

For me, this “building a rapport” is point #11 and is a crucial one that the BBC have missed. When you are working behind a bar, and you are scanning a sea of faces without any real idea of who is next, you are more likely to gravitate towards someone you actually think is pleasant and friendly than to someone you don’t really know. It also means that bar staff sometimes spot you and call out your name to ask if you are being served. Again, it’s not really a ‘dark art’, it’s just being nice.

Then we come to flirting (#3). There were different opinions on this. A CAMRA member believed that a “seductive flicking of blonde hair is guaranteed to arrest the barman’s attention”, whereas a barman suggests that they know people just want to get served, and so it doesn’t work. There is a simple answer to the confusion here. It depends.

Chances are, an attractive female will be served faster by male bar staff, particularly younger male bar staff in busy city-centre pubs. These bar men might well know that the customer is just trying to get served faster, but the customer deliberately offering a titillating flash of cleavage (pun intended) is just a cheaper version of tipping the barman. Barman gets a bonus, customer gets served faster. Cynical, but as both sides are generally pretty much aware of what’s going on, neither of them are being exploited. Like it or not, sex sells.

But there are lots of bar staff who will try to serve the person they believe is next. There are also female bar staff. There are also gay bar staff, so you shouldn’t presume that this category is one which only applies to women. A little light flirting with the bar staff, particularly ones you already know (so it’s light hearted banter rather than something creepy) can work too.

But another option is simply to drink somewhere where the majority of the clientele are uglier than you. Obviously, this is easy enough for me (I’m not aware of having ever found a pub where any of the clientele are more radiantly beautiful than me, but that might not be so easy for ordinary people). But this returns me again to my #11. If you have built up a rapport with the bar staff, and they like you, you’ll get served faster.

Be nice, be likeable. And get me a pint of Marston’s Pedigree while you’re up there, would you?

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

1 Comment to The Dark Art Of Getting Served At The Bar

  1. Gary Miller says:

    April 16th, 2009 at 8:46 am

    I always find that shouting “Hey, isn’t that Angelina Jolie over there?” guarantees spontaneous head turning. This allows you to get to the bar whilst all else are distracted. Of course, this only works if the majority of those waiting are male and if the staff are female.

Leave a comment