The Scientifically Proven Method To Get Your Bartender's Attention

If you need any proof that life isn't fair, head over to a crowded bar on a Friday night and wait for your turn to order a drink. Inevitably, you will see some enterprising newcomer float their way up front, magically get the bartender's attention, order, and be on their way in the time it took you to shuffle forward about 3 inches. What gives?

Your Bartender Doesn't Hate You (Probably)

You're not the only one who has trouble getting a busy bartender's attention. It's so common that psychologists have investigated the phenomenon. In a 2013 study, German researchers recorded real-life interactions between bar patrons and their bartenders. After watching the various signals that patrons used to grab bartenders' attention, they identified the most effective ones.

The number one signal is positioning yourself directly at the bar counter. The number two signal is to looking directly at a single bartender. The researchers then replicated these results by using a robotic bartender. The robot clearly detected these social signals in a noisy, crowded room and promptly took their drink orders.

How to Get Better Bar Service

There are more ways you can speed up bar service beyond standing directly at the bar and making eye contact with your bartender. The easiest way to ensure good service is to become a regular. If yours is a familiar face at the bar in question, bartenders are likely to notice your presence a fraction of a second faster than they would a complete stranger. The human brain is constantly shifting through information like this, and it prefers to hold on to patterns that it recognizes.

Another tried-and-true method for improving bar service is a product of simple economics: leave bigger tips than any other customer at the bar. This might not be the advice you wanted to hear – bars mark-up their drinks enough as it is – but if you consider it an economic decision, it may make sense for you to spend more money in exchange for spending less time waiting in line. The opportunity cost of a 25% tip might be worth the amount of time you get to spend actually enjoying your drink, considering you're already paying 20% to 30% more than what you would pay to enjoy the same beverage at home. The drink itself is only tangential to the value of the experience of drinking it in the atmosphere the bar provides, so there's no real reason not to splurge if you can afford it.

What Doesn't Work?

Anything that implies the bartender is incompetent or unaware is probably not going to fly. Most gestures and speech are unnecessary and often unsuccessful. Yelling at the bartender is likely to get you mentally booted to the back of the line, and waving money around encourages behavior bartenders generally want to minimize. Bartenders have a hundred things they should be doing at any given moment, so being indecisive about what you want to order is pretty certain to result in sporadic service.

The fact is that a busy bartender is serving a large number of people at any given time. Assuming it takes a minute to prepare a drink, on average, and each person finishes their drink in about 10 minutes, you have a bartender-to-order fulfillment ratio that will generally fall into a Poisson Distribution as more customers arrive, others leave, and the number of bartenders working remains the same. The fact that bars generally don't subscribe to queuing strategies the way supermarkets do means that every bar patron is essentially at the mercy of the invisible clock ticking in the bartender's head – but it's still better than if bars made you pull a ticket for service like you do at the DMV.

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Written by Austin Jesse Mitchell December 29, 2016

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