Before I begin, I must make a disclaimer, this guide is based mostly on my experience and the experience of other bartenders I have talked to, and is very midwestern (of the US) centric.
A bartender's job is to help create a good experience for customers. This means our first priority is being polite and relating to customers.Our second priority is keeping the peace; that is making sure that customers are not causing trouble for each other. Finally, we serve drinks. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if the customers wanted to just drink without the bar experience, then they would buy a bottle of thier favorite liquor and drink elsewhere, since it is cheaper.
Bartending is a stressful job. We often see the worst in people, anger, depression, and alcoholism. We stay at our jobs because we also have a chance to touch people's lives every day. It usually isn't a big event, but cheering someone up, or helping them celebrate, or even just making their day better is a rewarding experience. So the most important rule is to be forgiving of the bartender, especially if the bar is packed and the bartender seems stressed out.
Many customers seem to forget that bartenders are people, not just drink machines. I think this is the main reason why people don't receive the best service a bartender can provide. It is well understood that you as the customer, are there to drink, and that I as the bartender, am there to provide that, but if you treat me well the experience will most likely be better for you. If you follow the basic rules that I post below, hopefully you will have a better time.
It happens quite often that I will say to a patron, "How's it going?" and she replies "Yeah, can I get a bottle of beer." This is annoying, a simple "Fine", or "Good, how are you?", or even "Well I'm kind of thirsty" takes almost five seconds, and provides an opening for me to serve you better. My second question is inevitably "What can I get for you?", so if you take the extra time, I will be able to provide better service later.
Another frequent rudeness bartenders seem to encounter is people waving cash in thier face. Bartenders know that if you are standing at the bar without a drink, or a half empty drink and looking at them, you probably need service. Waving cash is rude, there may be other customers that have been waiting longer. We will get to you, hopefully in the order you arrived to the bar. (See the section below on serving order)
The polite way to handle getting a drink, is stand there patiently, perhaps with cash in hand, or on the bar in front of you (closer to your edge of the bar so I don't mistake it for a tip from someone else). A quick wave at the bartender is also acceptable. Bartenders take all of these as polite signs that you need a round when I have a chance.
As a bartender, I will try to start a conversation with you, if time permits. I won't interrupt a conversation you are having, unless you need another round, and even then it will be polite, and quick, and at a break in the conversation. If you do not wish to have a conversation, I understand, just politely let me know. If you give a cold shoulder, or ignore me, the quality of your service will go down.
Bartenders are working, and they get paid less than minimum wage,because patrons are expected to tip. Simply put, customers who tip get better service. Whether or not you personally agree with tipping, it is our main source of income. Since tipping is a major source of debate, I am only going to offer a couple of quick rules of thumb on this.
Always tip on the first round you buy, it makes a good impression. A common strategy is to tip well the first round, and then just leave a mediocre tip every round afterwards. This is fine.
Some people tip well every other round, this is also fine, because bartenders see this frequently and understand it. Another similar strategy: if it works out that you don't have appropriate cash to tip this round, say "Sorry, I'll tip good next round". I work on the honor system, and I'll pretend that you tipped me. So if you deliver the next time, bonus points are awarded for honesty.
Otherwise, just tipping every round is the normal policy, and just as good.
How much is an appropriate tip? This depends. If you are just getting a couple of beers, a dollar or two is just fine, depending on the price of the beers. If you are ordering a round of shots, and each one is different, and requires a lot of work for me to make, tip better. On a tab, tip around 20% of the bill. Just remember, for the most part, anything less than 50¢ is inappropriate at all times.
Many people, instead of tipping, buy an extra shot for me to take with them. This practice is not as common, but happens enough to mention. Personally I appreciate this, as do most bartenders, however many bars have policies against bartenders drinking while working. In fact in my town it is illegal, so ask before you do this, unless you don't mind taking an extra shot. If your bartender turns down the offer, it is not because they are offended or trying to be rude, it is because they can't.
If I am being rude to you, or providing really bad service, please do not tip. This is your way to send a message to the bartender to get his act together, especially if you have tipped on other rounds. When I don't get a tip, I review the transaction and then decide if the fault is mine or the customer is cheap.
The penalty box
If you are extremely rude, or piss off your bartender in some other way, you may find yourself in the penalty box. That is, you will be ignored, or at least given lowest priority. This is because there are people who are more deserving of my service, those who follow some or all of the guidlines above. After a while you will be given a chance to redeem yourself, when this happens just be polite and all is forgiven.
The penalty box is reserved for the worst offenders. I put someone in the box maybe once per night. It is a drastic measure that is for the most part counter productive to me, and I know this, however sometimes it is deserved.
For the most part, bartenders work on a priority queue system. The main factor is the amount of time you have been waiting to be served, however there are a few other factors that are also important. This is a rough (and vastly simplified) description of that order.
Regulars - these are the people that the bartender sees on a daily basis, those people who the bartender pours a drink for as soon as they enter the bar.
People sitting at the bar- people who have been drinking at the bar for a while also have a high priority, mostly because they are right there and who I have been talking to. This is mostly for convenience, but usually because they also are pretty good at following the guidelines.
Good tippers and polite customers - people who tip and are polite get jumped up in the queue.
Good tippers or polite customers.
Those in the penalty box.
Like I have said this is just a rough description. The actual decision of who to serve next is sometimes just arbitrary, or based on some other factor not explained here, but for the most part the model is correct. Please don't be offended if the bartender serves other customers before you, even though you probably should be next, we are human and make mistakes. After a round or two, you should be able to determine your spot in the queue, and decide if you would like to make it better or not, by following the above guidelines.
Following the above guidelines, you will notice other perks to your service besides a higher priority. I try to remember what people have been drinking, so that I don't have to feel like a jerk asking them what they want when they are there for thier 5th pint of Guinness. I also may give you drinks on the house if you have been a good customer. I am also usually much more willing to grant special requests.
I hope that this has been helpful to you. This guide isn't universal or complete, and your results may vary, but for the most part, this is how all of the bars I've been to seem to work, and how most bartenders see the world. If you are looking for another good guide that is very similar, and more relevant to the UK, check out this site. (Thanks to Random Number Generator Troll)