Some strange things have happened this week. A cab driver didn't harass me for using a credit card to pay my fare—and then held the door open for me upon departure. An employee at Shreve, Crump & Low (I was there only to replenish my stationary, sigh) gave me a hug when I told her I’d just cried after seeing one of the Marathon memorials. Passengers quickly ambled out of their seats during rush hour on the T and offered them to anyone else who might want to sit down. And even though it’s a pet peeve of mine, I withheld accusatory glares toward Hubway bicyclists who rode freely down the sidewalks, stepping aside and allowing my annoyance to pass instead.
This is the silver lining of tragedy: we feel the urge to reach out, to connect, and to be kind to one another. And that is a wonderful thing.
How long these exemplary attitudes last, though, is another matter. Boston has a notoriously gruff temperance—and while we may be Boston Strong, we’re not always Boston Nice. Need an example? Just visit your closest bar to witness at least one person waving a bill while clamoring desperately for a bartender’s attention, a group of bros in Celtics jerseys, and a heated argument over who’s paying what portion of the tab.
The question is, can we love that dirty water and clean up our acts at the same time? I spoke with three experts to find out.
•Peter Boyd is a bartender at Church of Boston and creative director of TallBoy Industries
•Chris McCabe is general manager of Alibi Bar & Lounge
•Thomas P. Farley, a.k.a. “Mister Manners,” is an etiquette expert, author, and founder of What Manners Most
Cash is king (but don’t wave it in the air)
Peter Boyd: Everyone uses a credit card these days. The bar has to pay every time the card is run, which costs the hospitality industry thousands of dollars per year—and it takes up more time. If you’re running a card on every drink, consider leaving your tab open; it’s my job to remember your face and what you’re drinking.
Chris McCabe: It’s one thing to split a tab six ways. It’s another to nickel and dime it, sit down with a calculator and figure out who had what, down to the last ice cube, while another reservation waits its turn to come inside. You’ve got to be respectful of the bartenders’ time if you want them to respect you. And that means no snapping fingers or waving money, while we’re at it.
Thomas P. Farley: How you interact with the bartender sets the tone for the rest of the evening. Be polite, and definitely don’t stiff the bartender. Know what you want before approach the bar, especially if there’s a long wait, and be prepared to pay or open a tab when it’s your turn. When it comes to buying a round for a group, be the first or second person to offer—don’t wait until the third or fourth round, when the night might be winding down. No one wants to go out with a friend who takes advantage of others’ generosity.
Ante up—dress the part
Peter Boyd: People should know ahead of time the kind of place they’re going to. Your friend’s favorite bar might not be your cup of tea. People are individuals in that sense. You can learn a lot about a bar’s ambiance by going out alone and observing how people dress and interact. Or, befriend someone in the industry, so that you’re not a charity case. It doesn’t matter who it is; you’ll get perspective and learn a lot about etiquette. Also, wearing heels never hurts.
Chris McCabe: There’s literally a sign in front of our hotel with our dress code, word for word—and still, people will argue with us about it. “Oh, it’s just for tonight,” they’ll say; when I try to explain if I let one person in with sneakers, say, and he goes to the bathroom, someone else will see it and complain about how I told him he can’t wear sneakers. With the summer coming, we relax things a bit, especially on the patio, but some people just need to get a clue. You can’t come here in a Celtics jersey, even if you just came from a game.
Thomas P. Farley: What you’re wearing sends a message to the world about what kind of person you are. Yes, Boston is a college town, but you’ve got to dress the part. Check online to see what the venue’s dress code is like, or ask around. Men especially tend to go more casual than women, yet dressing up can make you feel special, and it’s good manners.
Play nicely with others
Peter Boyd: I can tell within five seconds of a person’s first order what kind of customer they’ll be. Usually, the difficult people order Bud Light. I recently had a woman yell at me about how she was from Boston—and what’s the point? There wasn’t one.
Chris McCabe: Having a condescending attitude while dealing with the bar staff won’t make us want to help you. If you’re arguing with the doorman, it doesn’t make him or the manager want to go out of their way to pull you a favor. If this is how you act outside the space, how would you act inside? Also, if you’re with a big group and want to head out at an obscure time—like 11 PM on a Monday—give us a call so we have a heads up. We’re happy to have you, but we don’t want you to wait 20 minutes for a beer because we’re not prepared to offer the service you expect.
Thomas P. Farley: A crowded bar is not for the clausterphobic. Be careful where you put your hands. When it comes to bar stools, my general rule of thumb is that everyone stands until everyone has a seat—and even then, ladies get preferential treatment. Respect the space and neighborhood you’re in like it’s your own; don’t litter, don’t yell obscenities, and remember that people likely live in apartments around the bar—it’s not just your playground for claiming.
The bottom line
Going out is a shared experience, and good manners count just as much after dark as they do in the waking hours. All three experts agreed it’s important to be observant of your behavior, and if you catch yourself in the midst of an etiquette faux pas, forgive it, and then fix it. We all know—or have been—“that” guy (or girl) who's ruined a night out with the clink of one glass too many. Why risk it?
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