JOH_9414 flickr photo by star5112 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Often, working as a bartender or a cocktail waitress/waiter, we are enveloped in a sense of romanticism about the job – and we do have a great job! We have the ability to make decent sized tips, we get the opportunity to meet many great customers and learn about their life stories, we even get to learn how to make a few new cocktails from customer requests or from our peers within the industry.

Unfortunately, that romanticism can run out pretty quickly when faced with the less savory side of the business. If you’re constantly getting unwanted attention and customers flirting with you, it can become frustrating, awkward and sometimes downright scary.

Here are some tips to deal with unwanted advances and (hopefully) prevent them from happening altogether.

Obviously, each individual case is different, but in the bar that I operated and worked in, the bartenders received many levels of flirting from their customers. Some wanted and some unwanted.

Responding to Common Advances:

“You’re very handsome/pretty”

Although, I’ve never actually been called ‘pretty’ before, I have been called handsome plenty of times as I ended up covering for my employees when they couldn’t make a shift…and yes, the lights were dimmed!… This type of ‘small talk’ or flirting can be expected in a bar environment and is often meaningless. If it escalates, it might be time to deal with the situation more proactively.

“If only I were ten years younger…”

This type of flirting was the kind I enjoyed the most. It was more of an admiration fact that someone older than me thought I was worth the effort to say that. I took this type of flirting as meaningless also, but a few of my employees that were female were hit on by older men and did confide in me that they were left with an uncomfortable feeling when their patrons began to speak more vulgar with them.

Now, honestly if you’re a bartender, regardless of being male or female, please and I repeat… please confide in your managers or supervisors when you feel uncomfortable when a patron is making you feel uneasy. Because, just as much as we like to see a full bar we also value the time and effort put forth by our employees and we will do anything to make you feel protected and comfortable.

“Do people often tell you how attractive you are?”

…Again, the lights were dimmed… But, it was during this conversation that I realized I needed to cut a customer off for the first time because shortly after she kept asking me for my number (which my snarky side passed her a business card the first time), then when it wouldn’t work with me, she continued to ask my employees for my number.

Luckily, everyone working in the bar were already trained previously not to disclose any personal information of cohorts, (including last names.) We also implemented a code-name system, where all the bartenders went by aliases while at work so that they couldn’t be ‘looked up’ outside of work by their patrons.

“Can I get your number?”, “What are you doing after your shift?”

There were only a handful of times I interjected between my bartenders and my patrons, these lines were the ones that stuck with me the most. Now, if a bartender wants to meet with a customer outside of work, that is up to them, but it was our policy in-house that no private information be shared with patrons and I enforced it strictly.

There was a time when I happened to be going over till reports at a counter near the bar and I heard a patron ask loudly for one of my bartender’s numbers and I was shocked to see her actually writing something down for him! I quickly interjected by calling her over to my counter to remind her of our policy, she tried arguing with me that she wanted to make sure he bought more drinks. Although her sentiment was nice, I reassured her another $2 beer wouldn’t make us or break us.

Another time, I was filling in for an employee that had called in sick (on New Year’s Eve of course…) I was working with just one other woman. At that time, we had a round bar and we would split it up in sections, she took half of the circle and I would take the other half, and at times we would bounce over to help the other side out. I asked her to bring me a couple of oranges from her station since she wasn’t using them as quickly as I was. When she got to my station the man I was making a Brandy Old Fashioned for piped up and started calling her pretty. I nodded in agreement with him as I continued to make his drink…no big deal still.

..A few minutes later he’s asking her if she’s married, or if she has a boyfriend, kids, dogs… all kinds of random, personal questions. When he asked her what the plans for the rest of the evening were as we planned to close just after the ball drop, I stepped in, saying we were doing extensive cleaning of the bar and restaurant and thankfully stopping the conversation from going any further.

“Can I get a hug?”

Another in-house policy was to never touch your patrons. As the operator, I would shake my customers hands, pat them on the back when they came with good news and even offered them drinks on the house, but I never allowed my employees to touch the patrons.

There was an awkward situation when a young college student requested a hug instead of a drink from one of my cocktail waitresses, she actually took the order down on a receipt ticket and brought it to me, we had a good laugh at it for a couple of seconds but she reiterated that the young man was serious. So, using the “I need to see ID” line I walked over to his table to check his ID and I bought him a drink on the house after confirming he was of age, I also let him know of our policy and legal standings that we cannot just offer or sell hugs. Everyone left happy, so I considered that a victory.

Not every bar will be as closely structured as the one I operated out of. Nor will every manager or supervisor be able to watch over his or her employees like I had the ability to do.

My office was right next to the bar so I was always within earshot of them, and since my profession was in the bar industry I would frequently work behind the bar providing feedback and mixing tips to my employees.

Preventing Advances Before the Start:

With that being said, prevention is better than the cure! Here are some tactics and tips you can practice on your own to help prevent situations like the above occurring at all:

Wear a Fake Wedding Ring (If you aren’t married)

If you’re not married already, simply put on a ring at work to make it appear that you are. I always kept a few cheap bubble gum machine rings in a drawer next to the till so that employees could slip one on if they felt a patron was getting too ‘intimate’ in their nature of speaking with them. Mix them a drink and hand it to them with the hand that your ring is on and 75% of the time they’ll move on to another subject.

Change the Subject

Become a sports or weather expert if you’re not already. They say you look pretty, ask “How about them Texans?” If they say they want your number say “What do you think about the storm up in Canada, will it hit us too?”

As you practice those transitional phrases you will learn how to speak faster and learn to speak in a way that grabs your patron’s attention away from what they’re talking about. Consider having 3-5 standard “redirection” phrases that you can use when needed – so you won’t have to think of something new when you’re on the spot.

Minimize your Use of “I”

Stop saying “I”. Instead, say “We”. Talk about the bar as a whole. This type of speech will also make your patrons feel that you are not single or on the ‘market’ and can help keep people from trying to flirt with you. Being the operator of the bar I always spoke in a sense of “We” and requested that my employees also speak in a similar manner. I feel as though this helped reduce the amount of times my employees received excessive flirting.

Engage your co-workers in Times of Need

Don’t be afraid to let your co-workers know if someone is bothering you… and PLEASE let your superiors know. We want to know. We want you to feel comfortable and to have fun at work. (Where else can you go to work have a mini party every day?) You can joke and have fun with the patrons and your boss and work should go by in a flash…at the same time you are serving your patrons a crafted beverage that has your heart and soul mixed into it.

Letting your coworkers and manager(s) know about an uncomfortable situation also lets someone else interject, often reducing the awkwardness in the situation or letting someone else be “the bad guy.”

Remember…you’re in an entertainment industry but you’re not in an industry to oblige outside of your will.

Just because we’re in an industry where we must make people happy and smile while we serve them the best cocktail ever made, every single time, does not mean we have to oblige our patrons outside of our own happiness or free will. It is our duty to provide ourselves with a level of self-respect and confidence that emanates towards our patrons.

With a bit of planning ahead, you can avoid many advances and address the others quickly. Consider talking to your manager about implementing “no touching”, “no personal information”, and maybe even a “first names only” rule at your bar. It can make the difference between an employee feeling uncomfortable and unsafe and letting him / her really enjoy their time on shift.

JOH_9414 flickr photo by star5112 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Tim Raymond

Tim is a former bar owner and head bartender in Wisconsin, he currently works as an SEO and Social Media Specialist, spending the rest of his time shooting pool and teaching martial arts.