Bartenders Reveal Their Most Frustrating Aspects: Why So Stingy with Menus?


bars, why are you so miserly with menus? Whenever I'm sitting with a group of friends, it inevitably goes down like this:

“When you're ready, I'll help you with your drinks.”

(Five seconds later, the guest returns, asking for a menu.)

“Excuse me, can we have a little more time to look at the menu?”

(Flipping through the menu. Thirty minutes pass.)

“Does this order ever come back?”

We are never ready to order a drink because we haven't had a chance to look at the menu. We haven't had a chance to look at the menu because we are a group of four and were given a single drink menu to navigate, consisting of food menus, dessert menus, and special menus. Was this a promotional postcard? Then we had to navigate around like an attacking line drawing stalking the game book, some reading side by side, some upside down, with a list of made with esoteric ingredients (zucca?) and stale names (“I really want to order a Rye ‘Gosling' Manhattan?”).


Are bars tightly clenched with menus and laser-sprayed ink due to some environmental pet reasons maintained by a former member of the Entourage? Or is this just a psychological experiment to test our ability to work together for the common good of being drunk?

Bar owner Ryan Fitzgerald claims, “Bar owners and managers have better things to do with their time than pressure, cut, and fill menus.” He asserts that at San Francisco bars like ABV and Over Proof, he happily offers his own menu to every guest, but confesses to putting in “a lot of effort” to get them back after ordering a round. Other bartenders explained to me that they offer very few menus, especially to facilitate conversation on a date. “Ooh, that looks good,” and you're ordering a $50 Scorpion Bowl for the next thing.

The same applies after placing an order. “The Old Barmen of the Glass” and mixology expert for Bar Rescue says, “I'm getting away from menus for you to socialize and drink.” “When left up front, customers focus on the menu.” (Then, with some people I'm forced to drink with these days, menu focus is my saving grace.)

Worst of all, when you're yourself, at the bar, and stuck with an above-menu. I usually pull up the bar's website from my phone, but that has its own issues. A few weeks ago, at a famous cocktail spot in Asbury Park, I couldn't get a drink menu, something I've done a lot. The variant looked pretty good, so I ordered it. The bartender said they didn't have it. Okay – I thought they must have . Instead, I asked for a Tipperary. “Which menu are you looking at, man?” the tender stumbled, eventually pointing out that their own website menus weren't completely up to date.

In today's cocktail bars, speed has become crucial. The best points of the craft cocktail revolution have taken people from quiet, 12-person neo-conversationalist bars to “high volume” neighborhoods, where they can order as fast as possible massive “high volume” drinks. Unfortunately, there still aren't enough menus to work.

Fitzgerald says, “More importantly, these menus need to be free of stains, clean, and free of food or drink.” “The truth is, most guests don't give a damn about menus. They're happy if they look shitty, but they turn them into coasters after the second round.”

Of course, many of today's top bars are offering drink lists suitable for display in your personal library, turning this into an art form. The Dead Rabbit of New presents a graphic novel form menu to guests; its sister BlackTail offers an 88-page book with a short story tied to Cuba. Trick Dog's current menu resembles a Seussian rhyme book. The mat-finished, hardback menu – thin and large, almost looks like a beautiful high school textbook – from Baldwin Bar has a design as fancy as its drinks. When I visited last, I decided to take it as a keepsake. I paid for the menu, but apparently many others don't have them.

“Kleptomania is suppressed in most of us, but alcohol tends to reduce suppression,” says Pch, Rob Pate, a cocktail bar owner in Austin. “The reason most bars don't provide many menus is that most menus are stolen. You can chain the menu to the tables, but you'll lose a bunch of stuff that your interior designer chased after.”

Pate found a solution that allows each drinker to have their damn menu. “Now we use a large-format menu that you can't put in your wallet or pocket,” he says. “I know because many people haven't succeeded.”


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