September 28th, 2010

Bar Tabs and Running Shoes

The end of a night at a bar is usually the most painful event of one’s day, not because you drank too much but because you have to settle the tab. It’s an interaction that is usually uncomfortable and sometimes unnecessarily time-consuming, especially if the bar is overly crowded. Don’t fear, my fellow Houstonians, I have a few tips to get you through your check paying ordeal.

1. Getting the Attention of Your Bartender or Server

DO: The first step to paying is to actually get the attention of the person who has the power to settle your debt. This is actually one of the harder steps of the evening and usually involves staring for an obnoxiously long time at the person serving you. If you stare just long enough you’ll eventually catch their eye. Make sure you raise your eyebrows or your entire head to let them know you need their undivided attention.

DON’T: Reaching across the bar snapping your fingers in the attempt to draw attention to yourself is frowned upon. This is the worst kind of attention because all you’re doing is distracting me from my mission. You’re not worth my time, you snappin’ fool. Any self-respecting bartender is going to decide that you’re not worth their time either.

2. The International Symbol For Check

DO: If a bar is loud (which they are most of the time) communication by sound is a terrible way to get your check. You are better off miming what you need. Take this time to appear like you’re scribbling feverishly on your hand. The catch is to make sure that you still have the attention of your server as they are easily distracted by the prospect of more money from serving more drinks to a different table.

DON’T: You’ve decided that the plastic you handed over to the staff might run the risk of over-drafting your account. Now you must pay with the spare bills and lint in your pockets. Don’t wave said bills and lint in front of the nose of the bartender. For one you won’t be able to use the “sorry, I paid with a card” excuse to the homeless man peeping you in the window. Second, you’re sullying my old fashioned with your pocket debris.

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3. Persistence

DO: If you have trouble with the above two tips, you may have a problem with your server. They may be so busy that they are having a hard time keeping up. Or, and more likely, they just don’t like you. Maybe they think you’re a bad tipper, maybe you smell, I don’t know, but your best friend in such situations is persistence and lots of it.

DON’T: Being the obnoxious drunk who continually bugs the waitress or bartender for their check is never a good look on anyone. If after a few attempts to get their attention, a verbal attempt is warranted. If that doesn’t work, have a friend pose as you to get the check. If they’re successful, then you weren’t being helped for one of the reasons above.

4. Actually Paying and Tipping (Or Not)

There are a few different trains of thought when it comes to paying. Some folks tip the absolute minimum, usually $1 a drink. I recommend more along the lines of 25% or more, especially if you are a frequenter of the bar. Such an amount puts you in good standing with the staff and they’ll remember you.
a. If you forget to close your tab, which is an all too common problem, you have even more options. Some bars charge a 20% surcharge for leaving the card. In this case, I choose not to tip because come on, that’s kind of “we’re being jerks” charge. “We served you a lot of booze, you got drunk, forgot your card and now we’re really screwing you” I would also recommend not returning to this bar.
b. The last option and probably the hardest to pull off is the walking of a tab. If a bartender is willing to let you open a tab without a card, then by all means, run. There might be no such thing as a free lunch, but you just got yourself a free drink. If you couldn’t pull this maneuver off then…

DON’T: There isn’t a “don’t.” Pay or run*, those are your two options. Hurry up and decide because the bouncer is on his way to force the issue.

I think that pretty much sums up the “closing your tab” at bars here in Houston. Have a suggestion or experience you’d like to share? Post it in the comments!

* = Don’t actually run out on your bar tab. That’s just sad and pathetic. Being too drunk to close out is a whole different story that we fully endorse.

— Stephan

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