It is not uncommon for small and independently owned businesses across all industries to require a minimum spend on credit card transactions.

While it makes your life more convenient to pay with a credit or debit card, it does cost every business owner money to offer you that service. It is a financial decision that makes sense if for every $1.99 purchase you’re getting charged $.30, in addition to the costs of the equipment, etc., and only two out of every 10 customers are utilizing the service.

Most of the bars and restaurants I have worked at never required a minimum spend to use a credit or debit card. The volume of business has always outweighed the costs, tenfold. If you ask the bartenders, however, nearly all of us would say we highly encourage enforcing a minimum spend rule, especially late at night.

And it’s not just on how much you are spending, general rules around minimum tips on open tabs are also a hot topic around the bar at 2 AM.

On a busy weekend night, when there is a line at every register, each bartender finds their groove. They are acknowledging who is next, taking multiple orders, cruising through the stress like the seasoned bartender they are. One person handing over a faded debit card for a $3 beer seven times throws a wrench into this.

No, it’s not putting a screeching halt on all service, and if it is, that’s a business problem, not a customer problem.

If you know you are going to be at the bar for a while, and you are going to be ordering your own drinks, and paying with the same card, just open a tab. It’s much more efficient to just say, “I have a tab under Martin, thanks!” Even with a common last name, I have never had an issue with there being two people with the same first and last name at the bar I am at.

Running your card for a single bottle of Bud Light seven times in one night is the equivalent of writing a check for bananas at the grocery store.

It is common practice amongst bartenders that if you see someone you started a tab for standing by your register waiting to order, even in a long line, you will tend to serve them first because you know it is more likely be a quick and easy exchange.

There are the outliers, who start a tab for one drink, and at the end of the night all that is on their tab is that one drink. Kudos to them.

Then there are the people who abuse tabs, which makes most bartenders wish they could enforce a minimum tip on credit cards. Many restaurants enforce this rule for parties of a certain size, why not apply this to tabs over a certain amount?

Everyone knows a social hero of the group, the one who is so “generous” and puts every round of shots on their tab. They have no problem racking up a tab. At the end of the night, one of two things are going to boil a bartender’s blood like no other: the hero left without closing the tab, or the hero’s generosity ends at buying the drinks, and the tip line on the receipt is pathetic.

If you lack the common sense or the means to leave an honest tip on that high tab you racked up all night, don’t expect to be a fan favorite the next time you walk in. Didn’t think the tab would get that high and you are tapped for funds? Check on your tab when you order a round. A simple “can you tell me what my tab is at?” can prevent that last call shock and awe. Ask your friends for cash before you put that round on your card. Be responsible.

If your bartender served you $200 worth of chilled shots across multiple rounds, they shouldn’t be penalized for your negligence.

The other heroic move is leaving without closing the tab. An emergency comes up, your car is getting towed, whatever. Those things happen every once in a blue moon. We quickly learn who the customers are who abandon their tabs before the lights come on. They do the walk of shame back in a day or two later and deliver an Emmy-winning performance. “Oh, you closed it? I was going to leave you such a good tip! Darn, I only have this dollar bill on me.” Save it. We have seen it too often, and we become very familiar with who you are so we can refuse to open a tab for you next time.

These people trump the previously mentioned heroes by a landslide. They send a message to the bar staff that their service is worth nothing. No one outside of a volunteer organization is going to say “thank you” for letting them working for free. Some cities and states allow enforcing a minimum tip on open tabs. Even if it is not 20%, it is something the validates the service bartenders perform.

This is where the critics will say I should be grateful for any business my customers offer and that they will not frequent the establishments where I ply my craft. Business owners are thrilled to have every transaction. Bartenders work for tips. Open a tab. Close your tab. Don’t be one of the heroes outlined here.  

Every bartender has a different reason for taking their turn behind the bar and learning the skill of mixology.

In most cases, a family member or a friend who has a connection at a bar or restaurant asks you if you’re interested in giving it a try. In other cases, you’re already working at a bar or restaurant and you want to work your way up from a hostess position.

Sometimes all it takes is seeing your first student loan bill after you start your entry-level job and you know right then that you need a well-paying part-time job.

The list goes on.

Some bartenders started in this industry just to make extra money and then get out when the time is right. Others started on a whim and decided to make it a lucrative career path.

Regardless of why you decide to get behind the bar, everyone starts the same way: nervous and naïve.

Of course, there will be people out there who argue that they were never nervous. They are lying to you. They were probably the arrogant new person who everyone else on staff dreaded working with for the first month.

Customers and curious applicants will ask, “do you have to go to bartending school to be a bartender?” Most establishments do not require you to go to bartending school. (Keep in mind that Training for Intervention Procedures [TIPS] certification is a completely different requirement.)

There is nothing wrong with a formal training; event and catering companies may even prefer it. That works for that sector of the industry. I worked at an event company affiliated with a bartending school, and we only staffed program graduates for our events. It worked for us; it worked for our audience. It does not work for most bars and restaurants.

Before you walk into your first shift at a local bar, do yourself a favor and release the death grip you have on the certificate. Being hyperaware of how many tumblers you should be using to make a Cosmo is not going to get you through the shift. In fact, clinging to the specifics you were taught are going to slow you down when you first get started.

The most valuable resources in training to become a bartender are your peers. They know the bar, the crowd, and the newbie jitters. Watch the veterans. Study them. Befriend them. Take their advice, whether you asked for it or not. The experienced staff are going to show you how to make an Old Fashioned, and a Skittle Bomb, and a hundred other drinks you forgot how to make or simply have never heard of. While they’re listing off the ingredients and the portions, they are also going to give you the most valuable tips you will ever receive.

Your peers are going to smile and wave to the demanding couple that just walked in and under their breath they will say to you, “they are great tippers, but they absolutely hate garnish and only drink out of a chilled glass.” That just made the difference of starting off your first encounter on the right foot or getting laughed at.

When it is time to get thrown into the fire, jump!

Jump in with both feet and don’t stop moving. Take that literally: do not stop moving. This is not a spectator sport. Even if you don’t know what to do next, keep moving. If the registers are all occupied and a customer is not waiting, look around and take notice of what is running low and what is out of place.

A lot of new bartenders say that being thrown into the mix was the best way they learned. Part of it is repetition. On a busy Saturday night, making nine rounds of Mai Tais is a sure-fire way to never forget the recipe. Another part of it is making mistakes that you don’t want to repeat. After re-making a vodka and soda a handful of times because you forgot to ask which type of vodka they prefer, and they didn’t specify, will teach you to always ask before you pour. You will build your routine, which ultimately builds your confidence (and speed).

Take the “slow” shifts. There are bartenders that only work Friday and Saturday nights. Ninety-nine percent of these bartenders did not just slide into that shift. They started with a Saturday lunch, or a Tuesday night spot and worked their way up. Don’t turn your nose up at the day shift. Those bartenders are in league of their own.

Put in the due diligence on a “slow shift” and suddenly you’re making weekend night money in an afternoon. Congratulations, you can take the weekend off.

Don’t get bogged down with the written rules. If you want to become a bartender, come into work ready to roll up your sleeves and let your guard down. Take whatever shifts you can. Be prepared to make mistakes. Don’t stop moving. Listen to and watch everything your experienced co-workers say and do.

And, most importantly, play the part.

There are two types of check splitters:  the dinnertime check splitters, and the “after 11 PM, two vodka sodas” check splitters. There is a clear lesser evil between the two, and I will give you a hint: it’s not the two people who will undoubtedly ask for extra lime.

Scenario: You’re out to dinner with a group of friends. Let’s say there are no more than eight of you—maybe one or two couples in the mix. You’ve had a great time over appetizers, entrees, and a few rounds of drinks, and now it is time to head home. You pass the bill around the table to divvy up. You set the bill holder down on the edge of the table for your server to pick-up. Your server opens it up and sees what you think is a well thought out map key of symbols and color coding next to each item on the tab and the corresponding credit card or cash amount to pay with.

This oh-so-thoughtful game of Pictionary translates to your server as follows:

Thank you for your service all night, but the thing is, we hate you. We couldn’t add this up ourselves on our trusted smartphones because we were too busy checking in on Facebook, and side texting the other people at the table about where we are going next when we ditch this group of duds who wants to call it a night at 8 PM. We could have told you from the get-go that we wanted separate checks, but we didn’t want to be that table, ya know?

After the dinner rush packs up their take-out boxes — with leftovers that will likely be forgotten at the restaurant –, in walks the late night gaggle of “umm, separate?” drinkers.

You know who you are, and you know we will not be friends after you say this when you order the second round of the same thing, with the same friends, handing me the same debit cards to split the drinks that are all priced the same.

If you are out with a small group of friends—say no more than four people in your group—and you know you are going to be out for a while, likely drinking the same or similar beverages, why can’t you rotate the rounds? If four drinks might break the bank, well then maybe you should consider a night at home. But even in that case, there is an alternative. Instead of handing your bartender four cards, can’t two of you just split a round.

The worst of the worst is a toss-up between the duo who insists on splitting each round, and the group who hands over a mix of cards and cash. Give the cash to your card-wielding friends. Venmo each other. Just have this figured out before your bartender comes over with your drinks and feels the pain of watching paint dry while waiting for you to figure out the science of splitting a tab.

As bartenders and wait staff we completely understand that splitting happens. We do it ourselves. But when it comes to splitting, there is a fine line between being frugal and being obnoxious. There are some basic Do’s and Do not’s.

  1.       DO NOT create symbols and color coding with each item on the bill after the meal. If you know in advance your group is incapable of saying “just split it evenly” across however many cards you have, let your server know that you will need separate checks before you put your order in.
  2.       DO go ahead and list out the cards and dollar amount if you’re handing your server more than three credit cards to run at dinner time. Shouting out the array of charges won’t help.
  3.       DO NOT hand over a mix of cash and cards to your bartender in the middle of a late-night rush. This may fly at dinnertime, but not after the kitchen as closed. Be a dear, give your friend your cash. Let’s make this quick and easy.
  4.       DO have your payment figured out before we come back to you. Know if you are splitting, and how.
  5.       DO strongly consider Venmo. If you already have it, bless you.
  6.       DO NOT assume someone else will leave the tip. That’s a sure-fire way to mark yourself on the do not serve list for the rest of the night.
  7.       DO realize that if you’re staying for multiple rounds it makes sense to just rotate who pays for which rounds. If you’re with a friend who totally takes advantage of this rule, maybe you should just order when they go to the bathroom. Or, novel idea, maybe you just shouldn’t go out with them.