You won’t see a sign on the wall announcing it, but a bartender has some leeway to give away drinks. There’s no guarantee, but here’s some ways to increase your chances of getting “buybacks.”
1. Order consistently
- If the bar’s crowded, the bartender’s more likely to connect you to what you’ve been buying if you order the same drink each round.
- A bartender may not always remember a face or name, but will always remember making a manhattan and a whiskey sour on the same ticket four times.
- Unless you’re a known regular, tip as you go.
- Tip in cash, even if you’re on a tab and even if you’ll be paying with a credit card. That puts your tipping on record, and servers prefer tips in cash anyway.
3. Don’t be a jerk
- Go out of your way to ingratiate yourself with the bartender.
- Thank him or her for the attention, hand out a compliment on the drink preparation or (if it’s not too busy) strike up a light conversation.
- Sympathize subtly with the beleaguered bartender. The idea is to establish your non-jerk credentials.
4. Be grateful
- Always tip your usual amount on the free round.
- Most bar customers don’t, thinking free means completely costless. That drives bartenders crazy.
- You still come out ahead when you tip your buyback, and you greatly increase your chances of getting another one.
5. Think like a bartender
- To competent mixologists, the bar area is their personal fiefdom: it’s not a democracy, and it’s not always fair. Once you realize this mind-set, you’ll get better service.
- The bartender decides who’s served and when. If you feel you’ve been slighted, don’t make an issue out of it if you want to drink at all.
- The bartender has a lot to consider that’s not always obvious to you. For example, he may be eyeing up those pushy 20-somethings to see if they’re to drunk to serve.
- When you sit down at a bar, take a few minutes to absorb the vibes. Reserve judgment until you have a take on where the bartender’s coming from — their quirks, concerns and competence.
In general, bartenders give free drinks to customers who: 1) have been ordering multiple rounds, 2) have been tipping well and 3) aren’t acting like jerks. But even if you qualify on all three counts, you have to help the barkeep know it.