Every little neighborhood and region in the Charleston area has its own socioecono dynamic working within the bar scenes — from the waterfront restaurants and the roadhouse biker bars across the country to the collegiate beer halls and fancy taverns in historic downtown. Each has its own style and manner of serving and enjoying drinks. The annual influx of foreign students, tacky tourists, and Carolina frat boys also complicates the game of ordering drinks, handling the transactions, and behaving with civility.
Certainly, most well-practiced bargoers have endured the awkward experience of standing at a crowded bar counter (or a row or two back) wondering what it might take to get the bartender's attention and order a drink. Likewise, many veteran bartenders in the local tavern have endured the terrible experience of handling obnoxious customers determined to do and yell anything to get another round. It could be an awful situation ... but it doesn't have to be.
TIPS FOR THE ASPIRING BAR PATRON:
Before approaching the counter and the busy barkeep, know exactly what you want. If you're not sure, check the menu, ask a friend ... hell, just blurt out the name of the cocktail your parents usually drink. The bartenders are usually glad to help describe their specialty drinks or imported beers; just have a clue before you bother them and hold up the process. Blankly asking, "what beers do ya got?" while looking directly at the taps or the display of bottles and cans in the coolers doesn't help things. The "ever-expanding drink order" where a patron keeps making last-minute additions just as the original order is being served ... well, that's a major pain in the ass, too.
Leaving a nice tip (at least a buck or more per drink) upon the first round almost guarantees a nice spot in the bartender's heart — and they will remember the gesture the next time you order. Tipping well and consistently demonstrates that you're appreciative of the bar service — and they'll appreciate that. Leaving a lousy tip (a bit of loose change, a few quarters on high tab, etc.) — or not tipping at all — demonstrates a sense of entitlement, cluelessness, and arrogance — just the thing to ensure slow, lower quality service and a hastily-prepared (or weak) drink.
Be Polite and Patient.
Good bartenders are observant enough to know how to handle their counters at the right pace. Most of the time, all a patron needs to do is make eye contact and communicate in direct, simple terms (a clearly stated "Another Anchor Steam, thanks," a quick point of the finger to the empty bottle in hand, or a firmly announced "Beam and Coke!" would do the trick). Whistling, waving your hands, snapping your fingers, banging an empty bottle on the counter, or dangling a $20 bill in the bartender's direction is a big no-no. Don't be an idiot and insult or belittle the girl or guy who controls the action at the bar.
Understand that ID is Required of All.
You know what? By state law, one must be 21 to drink — and be able to prove it with a valid driver's license or ID. Some clubs allow persons 18 and older to enjoy the music or events, but stamp their hands or fasten wristbands to indicate they can't buy alcohol. If a door person, bartender, or manager asks a patron to provide proper ID in their establishment, they're simply doing their jobs. If they spot a fake or expired ID and take action, there's no excuse for any whining or moaning on the patron's part. It's a big rule in the game: if you don't have ID, you have no business trying to order a drink.
Be Fair, not Demanding.
Blurting out your bartender's first name and demanding they "make it strong this time" is a great way to earn shitty service — and you'll deserve it! If you have a legitimate issue to bring up — an odd pint of ale or lager that poured flat or tastes oxidized, the chipped cocktail glass, etc. — address it with respect. Any decent bartender will see to it that you get what you need in a timely fashion. Yelling out complaints and obscenities will get you nowhere fast ... especially when a bartender just hustled to make you and drunk pals 10 individual shooters requiring multiple steps.