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Bar Etiquette


Morgan_Weber
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I looked for a topic that covered this and could not find one. If I missed it, please point me in the right direction.

What is the best and most effective way to communicate to a bartender that he poured a crappy drink and then over-charged you?

Last night my wife and I dropped in at Smith & Wollensky in Houston for an appetizer and a couple of drinks. The bar waiter approached us and asked for our drink order. I ordered a Sidecar and my wife ordered a Daiquiri. Bewildered, the waiter said that, "We don't have Daiquiri's". Although my wife was puzzled because she knew they had rum, limes, and simple syrup, she told him that she would just have a Sidecar as well.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the bartender grab a bottle of Remy VSOP and Grand Marnier. I thought this was a pretty premium choice of booze, for me not having specified, but I didn't say anything. The drinks came out and I took a sip--no lemon juice and its minimally sweet...certainly not balanced. Instead of making a scene then, I just asked for a water and some lemons. I got mine drinkable, but my wife, whose drink was considerably stronger, didn't have much luck.

Ultimately, I chalked it up to a bad experience and figured it was two $9-$11 cocktails and learned not to expect much from S&W's drinks. We asked for our check. The total for the drinks was $30. At this point I lost it. It's one thing to mess up an $11 drink, but if they're charging $15/cocktail, they better be damn good. (I understand that $15 for a cocktail in NYC or SF is average-ish, but this is Houston)

In this sort of situation, can I get a consensus on what an appropriate response would have been? I was basically fine until they charged $15/cocktail after not asking me if I wanted premium booze in the drinks. It was happy hour after all.

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I think the way I would have handled it is probably something along the lines of..

I would ask the bartender...

"I am sorry, is there a different house recipe for a sidecar that you use, because this one tastes different from what I normally have"

This avoids having it seem you are attacking him (even though he/she was obviously bad) and moves the blame to the house and this question should open it up to conversation. His/Her proper response would hopefully be something along the lines of and apology and asking you what was wrong with it and immediately correct it.

Unfortunately, I think you lost your chance of complaining about the price after you had the drink, it would be one thing if you didn't finish the drink. Did you notice if they had any well based cognacs in at the bar? Some bars don't have anything below Couv, but I agree, 15 bucks is overpriced.

At PDT we make a sidecar with Hine VSOP and Cointreau and only charge 12.

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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Kind of two issues at play here.

Where as I would be as diplomatic as possible I would certainly request a replacement at the earliest possible opportunity after receiving a poorly made cocktail. I think there's a statute of limitations on returning cocktails, however. After a while you just have to suck it up (pun intended) :biggrin:

The issue of the high price, like murder, has no statute of limitations. You should have been informed that premium booze would directly result in a premium price tag. Regardless of the establishment, cocktails will normally settle into that $9-$11 range you mentioned. They should inform you either on the menu or orally of the upcharge. You had every right to demand a discount on that point alone.

Steve

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Morgan... Not to put this on your shoulders, but it's a little naive to assume that this reataurant would have any real mixological expertise. This is especially true given the overall poor state of mixology in Houston, but I wouldn't assume that Smith & Wollensky in New York City would do any better. It's a sad fact that getting a well-made Sidecar (never mind a real Daiquiri instead of vaguely boozey slurpee) is by no means a gimme, even at an expensive steakhouse. You're way better off ordering something like a Martini or Manhattan, where you can specify exactly how you want it made.

Now... once the drink came in, your best bet would have been to call over the bar waiter and say something like: "Er... this isn't a Sidecar, and unfortunately it's pretty terrible. I'm sorry, but I have to send this back. Maybe I should just get a Martini instead?"

The chances are pretty good that the bar waiter didn't even know what a Sidecar is, but at some point before you got the drink someone should have told you that Smith & Wollensky doesn't exactly have a cocktail bar for classic cocktails.

--

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Morgan... Not to put this on your shoulders, but it's a little naive to assume that this reataurant would have any real mixological expertise.  This is especially true given the overall poor state of mixology in Houston, but I wouldn't assume that Smith & Wollensky in New York City would do any better.  It's a sad fact that getting a well-made Sidecar (never mind a real Daiquiri instead of vaguely boozey slurpee) is by no means a gimme, even at an expensive steakhouse.  You're way better off ordering something like a Martini or Manhattan, where you can specify exactly how you want it made.

Now... once the drink came in, your best bet would have been to call over the bar waiter and say something like:  "Er... this isn't a Sidecar, and unfortunately it's pretty terrible.  I'm sorry, but I have to send this back.  Maybe I should just get a Martini instead?"

The chances are pretty good that the bar waiter didn't even know what a Sidecar is, but at some point before you got the drink someone should have told you that Smith & Wollensky doesn't exactly have a cocktail bar for classic cocktails.

I somewhat agree with the notion that there are places where you're taking your chances in ordering particular cocktails (or dishes, for that matter), but this intrinsically pisses me off, too. If a bar/restaurant, etc. is going to offer and charge you for something, they have an obligation to do it properly. If they don't have the capability to mix a simple cocktail (which while it may be somewhat obscure, a Sidecar is a simple formula) then they should offer beer and wine only.

This also opens up another subject that has long baffled me. Why don't bars, as a rule, list prices for their drinks? Cocktails almost never have advertised pricing, and even wine and beer is sometimes unstated. I HATE having no idea what I'm paying for something.

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Morgan... Not to put this on your shoulders, but it's a little naive to assume that this reataurant would have any real mixological expertise.  This is especially true given the overall poor state of mixology in Houston, but I wouldn't assume that Smith & Wollensky in New York City would do any better.  It's a sad fact that getting a well-made Sidecar (never mind a real Daiquiri instead of vaguely boozey slurpee) is by no means a gimme, even at an expensive steakhouse.  You're way better off ordering something like a Martini or Manhattan, where you can specify exactly how you want it made.

All I can do is shake my head in agreement with you. For some reason I thought that I'd be fairly safe in ordering the Sidecar here. Oh the lessons that we learn...

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So now, I'll say what I did in response. When I got the check, I looked it over and dealt with my shock. As it was a nice day, we were sitting on the patio that opened into the bar. I took the check and my credit card to the bartender and had him close it out. As he was doing so, I asked if they always use booze like Remy VSOP and Grand Marnier in a typical house drink without telling the patron. He answered 'yes' they always use those liquors. As politely as I could, I told him that the drink was one of the worst representations of a Sidecar that I've ever had, and that if S&W is going to be charging $15 for a cocktail, then they should learn how to make them properly. To which the bartender responded with a, "Well, I didn't make your drink, but we have a recipe list that we go by." I then asked to see it. In the recipe was Remy VSOP, Citronage (which is definitely not Grand Marnier), and sweet & sour (which I could assume is a mix or a house-concoction of citrus and sugar).

He had me in a tough place because apparently I wasn't talking to the person who actually made the drink. I then told him that it was transparent when the drink was brought to me which meant two things--it didn't have juice in it, and it wasn't shaken...it was made in the glass that it was served in.

The bar waiter was standing there the whole time, and I felt bad for not having said anything to him about it earlier. To show that I wasn't pissed at him, I overtipped (which I'm sure a percentage made its way to the bartender, but I wanted to take the highest road I could at this point).

Now that I had sunken down to the level of being a jerk to some degree (I'm not proud, but it is what it is), I wrote down a decent Sidecar recipe and handed it back to him and said, "Try this next time." [shakes head in embarassment for admitting that I actually did this].

One more thing to admit. About half way through my wife's incredibly dry Sidecar, she remembered that she had a packet of Splenda in her purse :wacko: . Yes...my wife, who is really picky about her drinks as well, resorted to putting Splenda in the cocktail, to get it a little sweeter... (you're probably saying, "she's picky about her drink and 'helped' it by putting Splenda in it? Picky people don't put Splenda in cocktails, but yes, it was that bad).

Now comes, one of the hottest moments in our marriage thus far. My rant with the bartender was over and we were getting up to head out, when she told me, "just a second." I had no idea what she was doing as she scooped up all the lemon slices on our table and put them in her spent cocktail glass, now garnished with an empty packet of Splenda. She proceeded to the bar and called the actual guy over that made our drinks. He came over and she slid the glass across the bar and he said, "What is this?" She responded, "It is what I had to do to get your drink down." As I stared in stunned silence, she turned around and walked out...

Never have we done anything like this...today, we're both still a little embarrassed about our actions which is why I wanted to get a general consensus on better ways to handle situations like this in the future.

edited to add one detail I previously forgot.

Edited by Morgan_Weber (log)
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I once had a regular who was so tired of not getting manhattans the way he liked them he printed up business cards with his name and the EXACT recipe for his manhattan. He just gave one out everytime he ordered his drink.

I always thought that was a pretty creative way of handling it. No confrontations, and very few cocktails not to his liking.

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So now, I'll say what I did in response.  When I got the check, I looked it over and dealt with my shock.  As it was a nice day, we were sitting on the patio that opened into the bar.  I took the check and my credit card to the bartender and had him close it out.  As he was doing so, I asked if they always use booze like Remy VSOP and Grand Marnier in a typical house drink without telling the patron.  He answered 'yes' they always use those liquors.  As politely as I could, I told him that the drink was one of the worst representations of a Sidecar that I've ever had, and that if S&W is going to be charging $15 for a cocktail, then they should learn how to make them properly.  To which the bartender responded with a, "Well, I didn't make your drink, but we have a recipe list that we go by."  I then asked to see it.  In the recipe was Remy VSOP, Citronage (which is definitely not Grand Marnier), and sweet & sour (which I could assume is a mix or a house-concoction of citrus and sugar). 

He had me in a tough place because apparently I wasn't talking to the person who actually made the drink.  I then told him that it was transparent when the drink was brought to me which meant two things--it didn't have juice in it, and it wasn't shaken...it was made in the glass that it was served in. 

The bar waiter was standing there the whole time, and I felt bad for not having said anything to him about it earlier.  To show that I wasn't pissed at him, I overtipped (which I'm sure a percentage made its way to the bartender, but I wanted to take the highest road I could at this point). 

Now that I had sunken down to the level of being a jerk to some degree (I'm not proud, but it is what it is), I wrote down a decent Sidecar recipe and handed it back to him and said, "Try this next time."  [shakes head in embarassment for admitting that I actually did this].

One more thing to admit.  About half way through my wife's incredibly dry Sidecar, she remembered that she had a packet of Splenda in her purse  :wacko: .  Yes...my wife, who is really picky about her drinks as well, resorted to putting Splenda in the cocktail, to get it a little sweeter... (you're probably saying, "she's picky about her drink and 'helped' it by putting Splenda in it? Picky people don't put Splenda in cocktails, but yes, it was that bad).

Now comes, one of the hottest moments in our marriage thus far.  My rant with the bartender was over and we were getting up to head out, when she told me, "just a second."  I had no idea what she was doing as she scooped up all the lemon slices on our table and put them in her spent cocktail glass, now garnished with an empty packet of Splenda.  She proceeded to the bar and called the actual guy over that made our drinks.  He came over and she slid the glass across the bar and he said, "What is this?"  She responded, "It is what I had to do to get your drink down."  As I stared in stunned silence, she turned around and walked out...

Never have we done anything like this...today, we're both still a little embarrassed about our actions which is why I wanted to get a general consensus on better ways to handle situations like this in the future.

edited to add one detail I previously forgot.

Your wife sounds like my kind of woman! Ladies as we are, we can only be pushed so far.

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I once had a regular who was so tired of not getting manhattans the way he liked them he printed up business cards with his name and the EXACT recipe for his manhattan.  He just gave one out everytime he ordered his drink. 

I always thought that was a pretty creative way of handling it.  No confrontations, and very few cocktails not to his liking.

Jesus I should totally do this. BRILLIANT! HAHAHAHA!

To the main point, you have every right to complain about a drink. However, as someone said earlier, you just have to do it right away. Be diplomatic about it and it should be a lot better next time. I do hate that more times than not we all have to be let down by these sorts of things and feel guilty about saying something.

Luckily your experience was bad enough that next time you'll know all the questions to ask ahead of time. Or...hahahaha...just bring your drink card with the recipe so they know what to do. Man that's awesome.

"A woman once drove me to drink and I never had the decency to thank her" - W.C. Fields

Thanks, The Hopry

http://thehopry.com/

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In general, it is my experience that one should never ask for a drink involving citrus juice without first asking whether the bar uses fresh citrus juice. If they don't -- or if they don't know what you're talking about or seem confused about why you're asking and why you care -- that tells you a lot about the bar's cocktail program.

--

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In general, it is my experience that one should never ask for a drink involving citrus juice without first asking whether the bar uses fresh citrus juice.  If they don't -- or if they don't know what you're talking about or seem confused about why you're asking and why you care -- that tells you a lot about the bar's cocktail program.

this is a problem for me because sours are one of my favorite types of drinks. And you're right. Virtually every bar will not use fresh juice.

when I get some more time, I'll post about a "Manhattan" I had recently.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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In general, it is my experience that one should never ask for a drink involving citrus juice without first asking whether the bar uses fresh citrus juice.  If they don't -- or if they don't know what you're talking about or seem confused about why you're asking and why you care -- that tells you a lot about the bar's cocktail program.

That is a GREAT point.

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When returning a drink i find that only two or three sips should be taken out of it. Then I take the "blame" for the cocktail being wrong. "Excuse me. I am so sorry but this drink is too Sweet/Dry/Stong for my palate, could you please have the bartender addd some Lemon/simple/both?" This way the bartender won't throw the drink out and start again on another abomination that is overly something else.

If I had gotten a clear Sidecar, I it would be asking to see the winelist.

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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Service-wise I'd be more concerned that the bartender never checked back with you to see how your drinks were. If I saw someone messing with their drinks at my bar I'd be mortified and try and fix the issue immediately. That's easier to do at an eight seat bar. How busy was it? Just seems odd to me that you were left to your own devices like that and the bartender never asked if your cocktails were to your liking. That would have opened the door to a civil exchange that should have remedied the problem.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Service-wise I'd be more concerned that the bartender never checked back with you to see  how your drinks were.  If I saw someone messing with their drinks at my bar I'd be mortified and try and fix the issue immediately.  That's easier to do at an eight seat bar.  How busy was it?  Just seems odd to me that you were left to your own devices like that and the bartender never asked if your cocktails were to your liking.  That would have opened the door to a civil exchange that should have remedied the problem.

There were about three tables of people in the bar--probably 7 people total...

The bartenders were by no-means getting slammed.

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I once had a regular who was so tired of not getting manhattans the way he liked them he printed up business cards with his name and the EXACT recipe for his manhattan.  He just gave one out everytime he ordered his drink. 

I always thought that was a pretty creative way of handling it.  No confrontations, and very few cocktails not to his liking.

Heh. Maybe I should do this too.

A couple of weekends ago, I ordered a manhattan in a dance club--I know, I know, but I like to be foolish that way--but at least the bartender confessed to me, with no ego whatsoever, that he had no idea how to make one, and then when I gave him the recipe he followed my instructions to the letter. I got one of the better manhattans I'd been served in recent memory, and the young bartender was all agog about having learned something new. (How the hell he got employed as a bartender without learning that one I shudder to think--but then I bet all he's ever called on to make in this town, and in that bar, is Margaritas, Long Island iced teas, and overly sweet shooters). I even wound up suggesting to him that maybe someday I could host a classic cocktail seminar in that bar--teach a whole new generation that a martini is not just any old assortment of crap in a martini glass, and is definitely NOT a sweet drink. :wacko: It would be a boon to humankind.

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..... I even wound up suggesting to him that maybe someday I could host a classic cocktail seminar in that bar--teach a whole new generation that a martini is not just any old assortment of crap in a martini glass, and is definitely NOT a sweet drink. :wacko: It would be a boon to humankind.

And did he like that idea?

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..... I even wound up suggesting to him that maybe someday I could host a classic cocktail seminar in that bar--teach a whole new generation that a martini is not just any old assortment of crap in a martini glass, and is definitely NOT a sweet drink. :wacko: It would be a boon to humankind.

And did he like that idea?

He seemed pretty enthusiastic about it. But he was bar staff, not bar management, so who knows what might happen when/if I find time to run the idea past the Dudes in Charge...

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Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the bartender grab a bottle of Remy VSOP and Grand Marnier.  I thought this was a pretty premium choice of booze, for me not having specified, but I didn't say anything. 

In addition to your stated problems with this drink, isn't a Sidecar made with triple sec/Cointreau - the use of Grand Marnier doesn't make any sense at all in a Sidecar.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the bartender grab a bottle of Remy VSOP and Grand Marnier.  I thought this was a pretty premium choice of booze, for me not having specified, but I didn't say anything. 

In addition to your stated problems with this drink, isn't a Sidecar made with triple sec/Cointreau - the use of Grand Marnier doesn't make any sense at all in a Sidecar.

Yes, traditionally I believe it is triple-sec or Cointreau, but I wouldn't say that it doesn't make ANY sense in a Sidecar (although, I have never grabbed it when making my own), afterall it is an orange-infused brandy instead of orange-infused grain alchohol. All that to say, I'm sure such a mental argument never crossed this bartender's mind. He probably just looks at Grand Marnier as the fanciest 'orange stuff' in the bar.

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Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the bartender grab a bottle of Remy VSOP and Grand Marnier.  I thought this was a pretty premium choice of booze, for me not having specified, but I didn't say anything. 

In addition to your stated problems with this drink, isn't a Sidecar made with triple sec/Cointreau - the use of Grand Marnier doesn't make any sense at all in a Sidecar.

I don't see why it couldn't work. Personally, I prefer a Sidecar made with Gran Gala to Cointreau.

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Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the bartender grab a bottle of Remy VSOP and Grand Marnier.  I thought this was a pretty premium choice of booze, for me not having specified, but I didn't say anything. 

In addition to your stated problems with this drink, isn't a Sidecar made with triple sec/Cointreau - the use of Grand Marnier doesn't make any sense at all in a Sidecar.

I don't see why it couldn't work. Personally, I prefer a Sidecar made with Gran Gala to Cointreau.

Okay, I retract my comment.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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  • 3 months later...

"...it's a little naive to assume that this reataurant would have any real mixological expertise. This is especially true given the overall poor state of mixology in Houston, but I wouldn't assume that Smith & Wollensky in New York City would do any better. It's a sad fact that getting a well-made Sidecar (never mind a real Daiquiri instead of vaguely boozey slurpee) is by no means a gimme, even at an expensive steakhouse. You're way better off ordering something like a Martini or Manhattan, where you can specify exactly how you want it made."

I am not sure why you guys are surprised by all of this.

I find that it is almost impossible to get a decently made drink anywhere, at all. I travel a lot, so I have been in basically every major US city multiple time, and also a lot of European cities and even south pacific islands.

The number of bartenders, percentage-wise, out there who care about their craft - worldwide - is a single digit number, definitely.

I go into most bars, when with friends, assuming that the drinks are going to be mediocre at best.

When I get to pick the place, there are only a few places I will go to in Chicago (where I live) anymore: Violet Hour, Weegees, Nacional 27, maybe one or two others.

You're going to get a crappy drink in virtually every plush hotel lobby bar, in every corner sports bar, in every fancy restaurant bar, in every trendy 20--somethings bar, and in every dance club bar.

With very few exceptions.

The solution here is not to complain about the bad ones (they are the rule, not the exception) but to promote and revel in the good ones, so that they survive and so that we can direct traffic towards them, supporting their mission, and keeping them in business.

-James

My new book is, "Destination: Cocktails", from Santa Monica Press! http://www.destinationcocktails.com

Please see http://www.tydirium.net for information on all of my books, including "Tiki Road Trip", and "Big Stone Head", plus my global travelogues, and more!

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