Eating at the Bar

There’s something to be said for eating at the bar.  But there’s a certain way to go about it.

First, when you walk through the front door of the restaurant, scan the room just above all the seated patrons’ heads.  Then walk straight towards the bar and sit down without looking back.  This will give you an aura of confidence and make people wonder if they were foolish to call ahead for a reservation or trust the waitstaff.  Sit away from the service station, where the waiters come to pick up their drinks, or else you’re going to get distracted or overlooked by all the frenetic flapping and bitching.

Now you’re all settled and you’ve got the barman’s attention.  This is good.  A bartender is almost always better than a waiter because you can stare them down and bring them to you.  Plus they know that a diner at the bar is going to produce a bigger tip than some fleeting people having pre-dinner drinks.  Tell him what you’re thinking about ordering: red meat, fish, or poultry, and ask him to recommend a good pairing.  If he knows his stuff, you’ll have the distinct advantage of being prepared.  If he doesn’t know his stuff, you’ve at least set the bar for what kind of service you expect, and he’ll hopefully try to keep up.

Don’t order an appetizer before you make your entree order.  That’s just asking for trouble.  Order them at the same time to ensure a continuity to your meal.

While you’re waiting for your food to arrive, turn at a forty-five degree angle towards the room.  Don’t all the others look like high schoolers in a cafeteria now?  You’re perched, steadfast, a couple feet above them, looking down, surmising.  Don’t get too judgmental; just let them know you’re there.  Take the straw or stirrer out of your drink.  Toy with the Tabasco bottle.

When the plate comes, take your time eating.  Just because you’re at the bar doesn’t mean you have to rush.  Go ahead and have another beverage.  Savor your meal.  Get to know the bartender, get him involved in your experience.  Once you break the ice, he’ll be more than happy to tell you about what goes on in the kitchen, some funny customer service stories, or where the party is later.  This is the enjoyable part.  You’re a different breed now, not just a table number that needs to be turned over.  You’re a fixture, at least for the near future, a relaxed uber-customer, open to anything.

When you finish eating, decide quickly whether you’re going to stick around or not.  Depending on the time, there may be some dedicated drinkers around you now, people with stories, opinions about the pope, or questions about your lifestyle.  You’ve got the bartender on your side now.  Go ahead, talk.  Soak up the atmosphere.  You’ll know when it’s time to ask for the check.

A few guidelines.  Eating at the bar is good if you’re alone, great if there are two of you, and delicate if there are three.  If you’re part of a foursome, then you belong at a table.  Don’t do shots.  Don’t get a doggy bag.  Don’t stare at the television.  This is all about vantage points, catching the vibe, a deeper understanding of the restaurant.  Taking your time and collecting wisdom, whether it’s demographics, social structures, or pretending you’re in one of those sped-up Japanese movies about crowds.

If you like the place, get the barteneder’s name, his regular shifts.  Next time you come back, even if you don’t eat at the bar, stop by and say hi, shake his hand, tell him where you’re sitting.  This isn’t about being a regular, just about getting treated like one.  Why should you expect to be just like everybody else?