bar etiquette

The Ultimate Bar Etiquette Guide for Bartenders

Aine Hendron
24 Sep 2021

The unspoken rule of thumb in most hospitality jobs is ‘it’s not what you do, but how you do it’. Bar work is no exception. Depending on the type of bar you work in, guests will have certain expectations of your actions and attitudes. Your etiquette reflects on the bar as a whole and contributes to guests’ opinions and experiences. 

Etiquette expectations will vary from venue to venue, depending on the formality and the type of bar you work in and your management team. However, there are some rules that all bartenders and servers should follow, whether you work in a cocktail lounge or a sports pub. 

Mise en place

Mise en place (rhymes with ‘cheese on sauce’), is a French term that means “to put in place”. It describes all of the preparation in the bar before the doors open for business [1]. Before customers arrive, you’ll want to make sure that both sides of the bar are completely ready for service. 

Organise your workspace

There can’t be an ‘organised mess’ when operating a bar. Cleanliness and tidiness are important for three reasons: hygiene, health and safety, and customer satisfaction. A messy bar area will slow down service and cause chaos, which doesn’t benefit anybody.

Bar tools

Everything should have a designated place behind the bar for optimum efficiency. Have tools and equipment sitting ready for your first order before your guests arrive to ensure prompt service, and return them to their rightful place when finished. 

In a fast-paced environment, things can go wrong quickly, so it’s important to take all precautions against injury. All knives and cutting boards should be kept in a designated station, as should lighters, corkscrews, ice picks, graters, peelers, and any other sharp or potentially dangerous tools, for safety reasons. 

Equipment and machinery

Good etiquette goes beyond being gracious to customers. It extends to how you treat your co-workers, too. A considerate bartender will check over all of the equipment and machinery when preparing for work. Make sure that fridges and freezers are set at the right temperature and that they’re well-stocked. Check that the ice machine is filled, and empty the dishwasher and washing machine. 

The old saying is true: if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Spotting issues with machinery at the beginning of the shift means that you can take control of the problem with a lot less stress than if you were to realise midway through a busy service. 

Customer areas

On the other side of the bar, the customer area should be clean and tidy. This is for the same three reasons: hygiene, health and safety, and customer satisfaction. When hosting customers in a venue, safety protocols are paramount, especially when alcohol is involved. Before doors open, you must be confident that the following cleaning and maintenance has been done:

  • Remove any clutter blocking fire escape exits
  • Clean all tables, chairs, and touchpoints
  • Make sure that tables and chairs aren’t wobbly or unbalanced
  • Brush, mop and dry mop floors - check specifically for broken glass and spillages from the night before


Set the tone prior to customer arrival for a great hospitality experience. Make sure the music and lighting are at the appropriate levels, and that any aspects of the venue’s decor are adjusted accordingly. 

Interacting with guests

A large part of the atmosphere in a bar boils down to the people inside. People come to a bar for a good time, and as an employee, you must do your part to make sure that your customers are happy.

Create a rapport

The way you speak to guests will largely depend on how formal the bar you work in is. If you work in an up-market martini bar, you must remain respectful and professional, and limit discussions to drink recommendations. If you work in a more relaxed bar, you’ll be able to converse with customers and even have a joke with them. Studies have shown that using humour and can help us connect with others, builds trust, and increases our likability - great for the tip jar [1]. 

Regardless of the setting, servers and bartenders alike should always remain polite and well-mannered to customers. 

Patience is key

Working with the general public can be frustrating, especially when alcohol is involved. Couple that with a fast-paced, high-pressure environment with loud music and low lighting. The most fundamental element to having good bar etiquette is to remain calm under the stress. It’ll improve teamwork skills and help when dealing with difficult customers

Become an expert mixologist

It’s a very rewarding when you make a recommendation and the other person likes it. Having a good understanding of what flavours compliment others, and which drinks people usually like if they’ve tried another one and liked it will go a very long way in your favour as a bartender. Your confidence in making personalised recommendations will grow as you gain a better understanding of flavours and gain experience behind the bar. It will also help you work faster, more efficiently, and is sure to impress your manager or employer. 

Speed and efficiency

Move quickly, but don’t rush. The more you get into the flow of bartending, the easier it comes. The main benefit of this is that you’ll be able to serve more customers in a shorter space of time, which prevents long queues and is better for overall customer service

Since most servers aren’t allowed to leave until the bar is cleaned and ready for tomorrow’s service, you’ll want to get all cleaning tasks done promptly after doors shut. Apply a CAYG (clean as you go) method while working and encourage your co-workers to do the same. 

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