Ask Your Bartender: Running a Tab

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(I couldn’t find an appropriate photo, and I wanted to get this out there before I head to work tonight. Sorry – JM)

Hey Bartender

I went to the bar last night with a coworker, whom I was treating to drinks on my tab. When we got the bill, it was very high, so we asked to have an itemized list of the drinks we were charged for. That’s when another bartender told us that some girl had been charging Jack and Cokes on my tab, without my knowledge.

Well, long story short, our bartender, a young girl, came right back WITHOUT an itemized list, but with a smaller bill, excluding the Jacks, I guess. While outside, her friends said, “Do you think that girl (me) knows that we drank on her tab?”

So, now I am very leery of starting tabs, especially at my local, favorite bar. Got any suggestions to prevent this from happening in the future?

Thanks,

Kat

Hey Kat

It sucks, doesn’t it? When you enter into a trust-based relationship with a professional, there is an unspoken agreement that, to me at least, feels somewhat binding. What you’re saying, in effect, when you hand your card over to a bartender at the beginning of the night is, “Hey, bartender. I promise not to get so wasted that I leave this bar without signing my tab, stiffing you on the tip, or arguing about every single drink I promised to buy.”

What the bartender is saying is this: “Hey, customer. I promise not to be a gigantic motherfucking douchebag and charge you for a bunch of shit that you didn’t ask for.”

Kat, my dear, your bartender reneged on the contract. So, yeah, I’ve got a couple of suggestions to prevent this from happening to you in the future:

1. Don’t ever set foot in that bar ever again. I’m serious. A bar that can’t be trusted with a simple thing like your tab can’t be trusted with your safety. If they can’t keep a girl from charging her drinks to a stranger’s tab, do you really think the bartenders at this establishment are vigilant enough to prevent someone from slipping something in your drink, diffusing a potentially dangerous confrontational scene or handling any of the other potentially scary situations that can present themselves to female patrons in bars? My advice is to steer clear of this joint, and any other establishments owned by the same proprietors.

2. Only carry cash and never run a tab. Yeah, it sucks. Never mind the fact that you have to find an ATM, you also have to be walking around with a bunch of cash in your pocket. But think of it this way: even if you were to be robbed of your sixty dollars, or even if it fell out of your pocket onto the street or bar floor, wouldn’t that one time still be cheaper than letting everyone in the bar walk all over your tab?

3. Print this post out and hand it to the bartender in question. Then I’ll address the bartender personally. You ready? Okay, here we go:

Dear Bartender I’ve Never Met:

Hey, dumbshit. Some of us are trying to make a career out of this. And you’re fucking it up for the rest of us who actually take our jobs seriously. Did you really think it was okay to just throw a bunch of shit on my friend Kat’s tab without checking with her first? Do you think that anyone else, in any other business in the world, would let that kind of shit slide?

Here’s what advice I’m giving Kat: First, I’ve suggested that she never, ever set foot in your bar again. You’re reckless, unsafe, and a disgrace to the profession. However, if she decides not to heed my advice and does happen to pop in for a drink, I’m recommending that she pays for each drink, with cash, each time. And when she does, I want you to know that she’s only doing it because she doesn’t trust you.

Good luck to both of you. My readers and I all know you’re going to need it.

28 Replies to “Ask Your Bartender: Running a Tab”

  • TwoBlindPigs says:

    Please do hand it to the bartender and let us all know what the response is!

  • Brian12566 says:

    As a member of the NYPD and frequent filler-outer of ID Theft reports via credit cards at bars. I highly highly recommend cash. Sure it sucks to drop the 100 cash on the floor. But consider the alternative, your card goes missing it could be much more expensive. Perps have caught onto the hide-under coats trick. Perps also take the purses from under the table, walk down to the subway and purchase hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of Metro cards(subway) and then in turn sell them. So, before you even know it, your credit card has been removed and you just bought 5oo bucks worth of subway rides.

  • KMAPLC says:

    I agree with many of the previous comments and feel for Kat. I assume you love this bar and feel somewhat safe as a female in that establishment. As a former bartender I know people are thinking I was tyring to screw them. I had the benefit of working Sundays, giving me time to get to know my regulars and be more detailed on the tabs I would write out by hand. And whenever a large group does come in and drinks under one tame I always do a detailed list of their orders to help them and myself at the end of the nite. This is the same advice I have given to new bartenders and waitresses at my old bar.

    As a cusotmer, I never start a tab in a place I have never been before or don’t know a bartender or manager personally. If I feel the must b/c of the crowd I use Amex. It seems this Credit Card company is more helpful to their members when issues of fraud arise.

    I suggest you DO GO BACK, insist on using a waitress and paying cash for each drink. Or sit at the bar and use another bartender if possible. Get to know the rest of the staff, you can quickly tell who there are friends or just plain co-workers. Seek out the manager / owner and start up a conversation and breifly mention the situation but not the person unless they push upon you to point out the person.

    Best of Luck

  • Nicole says:

    This post is simply awesome. Just found your blog from the Foodbuz awards and proceeded to tweet this and send the link to my husband. I very much agree with you, but also think DC Buck has a wonderful point. It is outrageous what that bartender did.

  • Thanks, Nicole. And don’t forget to vote – wink.

  • Mike says:

    I’ve been in London quite a bit for the past couple of months and the tab system works a bit different over here (at least at most of the pubs I’ve been at). When you start the tab you get a card with a number on it. When someone wants to order and put it on the tab they just have to bring that card up. That seems like a pretty easy solution that works well (especially since most of the time when I’m doing this its a company thing where one person is paying but they won’t be responsible for ordering for everyone all night).

  • Amanda says:

    I hate to see posts like this where both parties are so ignorant of A: True Bar Tending B: Conscious Drinkers.

    Sad that there are so many ignorant people in this world.

    You’re worried about starting a tab? Then don’t, obvious answer.

    Sorry you are a dumb ass.

  • Dave says:

    Depending on how much time has elapse between the charge and the inquiry you might be able to cancel the payment. If the person running your tab fails to come up with an itemized list of charges or separate the over charges then I would recommend cancelling the charge and let them take you to claims court. After all the bartender may have charged for drinks that were never served. That’s called credit card fraud. A red flag is that you are not given the itemize ticket to peruse prior to them running your card.

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