Generally speaking, most bartenders are more than happy to build any drink that’ll make a guest happy. But, like any other job—no matter how much someone enjoys what they do—there are things that just get under their skin once in a while. When behind the stick, every bartender faces the inevitable during any given shift: a soul-crushing drink order that leaves any seasoned pro feeling disheartened and forced to smile through the pain. It’s important to remember that in an industry centered around service, hospitality workers are still human, and parameters of common sense should be kept in mind when ordering. To help steer you in the right direction—and away from the wrong one—Best Life asked five veteran bartenders to share their most-dreaded drink orders, and here’s what they had to say.
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Last Words and Aviations
“Last Words and Aviations. If you stick to the classic, widely accepted specs without altering anything, they both just completely s***,” says London bartender Gergő Muráth. “[There’s a] complete lack of balance, clearly overwhelming ingredients, and for some odd reason, they both have inexplicable cult followings. Every single Last Word riff out there (especially the Paper Plane and the Naked & Famous) is miles better than the original, and every gin sour is head and shoulders above the potpourri nightmare of an Aviation—the only exception to ‘blue drinks are always better.'”
There’s no denying that White Russians are a classic. Sure, they’re not the most balanced drink, but they do have a time and a place—just not after midnight at a packed club.
“One time when I worked at a nightclub, someone ordered a White Russian at [2 a.m.],” says Katy Guest, an industry vet based in New York City. “I had all the ingredients to make it, but I just told the customer ‘no.’ Who trusts dairy from a nightclub at 2 a.m.?”
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In Utah, bartender Xania V. Woodman says that a vodka martini is simply “a chilled 1.5-ounce serving of vodka that will cost you more than ordering a chilled 1.5 shot of vodka because of the word ‘martini.'”
The glassware is, of course, also a differentiator in this equation. “There’s nothing I can do to make [a vodka martini] look better in the glass that it sadly halfway fills,” says Woodman. “When someone asks for it with an olive, I give them three in an attempt to displace volume and make it look fuller. But it’s the saddest, most embarrassing thing I have to make.”
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Mark Schettler, a bartender based in New Orleans, Louisiana, says a whiskey mint julep is a “stupid drink to order” in a cocktail bar. “[It’s] mint, sugar, whiskey, and ice—you can do that at home,” he says, noting that plantation owners popularized the drink when ice was scarce and having one highlighted their wealth and stature.
Not only does the julep represent a problematic time in history, but according to Schettler, it can also be extremely loud to make if you don’t own a crushed ice machine. “My bar is small. We literally couldn’t get a crushed ice machine if we wanted to, so we have an ice crusher instead (for making snowballs),” he says, noting it’s very loud. “When it’s broken, we have to muddle ice by hand—loudly.”
On top of this, Schettler adds, making one of these drinks can slow service down, and it will inevitably leave a considerable puddle of condensation (and, with it, a wad of soaked napkins).
Plus, “it takes forever to drink because it keeps diluting, which means you’re losing money as a business because the guest isn’t ordering a second or third drink at the pace you need them to be,” he says. “Often, I try to get them to have a Whiskey Smash instead. Because it’s not the muddling, it’s the everything-else.”
Off-menu orders (even the simple ones)
Going off-menu can be tricky territory—you’re usually in the clear if you order a relatively simple or classic cocktail (think martinis, Manhattans, sours, and the like). But sometimes what seems like a simple request can be overly complicated for a bartender to make. Every bar is different, so if you ask for something not listed on the menu and are met with anything but a “yes,” it’s important to be understanding and flexible for the bartender’s sake.
Megan Fraser, a bartender in New York, shared a recent experience with a guest during a busy service who insisted on ordering a drink that she had said she was not set up to make. “[I said,] ‘I’m sorry, we don’t make iced tea—I only have hot tea,'” to which the guest responded by asking her if she could just make hot tea and put it on ice. Fraser said: “The tea has to steep, and pouring over ice [makes] it likely to over-dilute. It will take a long time and probably won’t taste great.”
Bartenders and servers are often instructed to avoid saying “no” to a guest, so interactions like this one can translate to the kind of inconveniences that affect service overall. “Fifteen minutes later, when four new tables are getting drinks and I have to think about 10 different things, I will not be focusing on that gross iced tea,” she says.
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