Ordering like a local in any language is a hard task. Not only do you need to have the colloquial vocabulary to sound as natural and comfortable as a native speaker would, you also might find you need an expansive knowledge of current events or cultural reference in order to be ready for any unexpected questions or playful jokes that come your way.
When ordering in pubs or restaurants, a lot of us like to have fun with the staff; trying to give them a laugh or two while they’re working hard. Because of this, it can be seen as quite rude to simply begin an interaction by telling the bartender what you want (unless you are in a really busy place and you can see that the staff are all under stress to work faster). To avoid rudeness, it is always recommended to ask the bartender how they are doing and try to create a little bit of back and forth conversation before ordering. This way you can not only practice your English, but you will also brighten up your bartenders day a little.
So what might that conversation starters look like?
Here are some casual ways to ask someone how they are doing while at work.
“Hey there, how you doing?”
“How are you guys doing today?” Or “Hey, how’s it been going today?”
Some people may also combine these with gendered greetings, for instance “Hey man…” “You alright love?”, however today we are starting to see these types of gendered greetings phased out of unfamiliar relationships, such as staff and customer relationships, as some people may find it inappropriate.
Your bartenders response may come in many forms, obviously depending on what you asked them. They may say something along the lines of,
“Yeah not bad today” or “Yeah it’s been quite steady today” indicating that they day had been not too busy.
They may also respond by straight away asking you the same question,
“Not bad and yourself?” Or “I’m not bad thank you, how are you?”
In this case, obviously, you will probably answer back something similar and quick. However, most bartenders are pretty good talkers so if you wanted to strike up a conversation here you could tell them how your day has been or what you have been up to and they will likely engage you in a proper conversation.
Here are some ideas of things to talk about that will help you create a comfortable relationship between you and a bartender:
British people love to talk about the weather, so you can’t go wrong with this one. This is especially true when we have been experiencing the typical rainy grey days that are synonymous with the UK.
We also love sarcasm, so a friendly conversation starter on a grim and rainy day could be something like,
“Lovely weather today!”
Or in response to the question, “What have you been up to today?”, you could answer,
“Just enjoying the fine weather we’re having!”
If this is the first time you have been to this particular bar or area, don’t be afraid to say so. The bartender may have recommendations for other interesting places nearby or might offer you some insight into the history of the pub; how long it’s been there, what the specialities are etc.
On top of this, it’s also a great way to ask for recommendations of new drinks to try.
People always love to talk about themselves. Asking someone where they are from can be a great way to start an interaction with someone and find out more about different parts of the city and different parts of the UK and Europe as lots of bar staff will come from far and wide and often have interesting stories to tell.
In a similar vein to above, talking about your work/university will often induce more questions from bar staff, especially if they are not that busy. If you are asked, “What’ve you been up to today?”, you could answer back by talking about your classes or that assignment you have been working on or your busy day at work and that will often entice your bartender to ask a follow up question about what you study or do for work. You can also ask this question back, as many bartenders are studying or working other jobs on the side that might be connected to their passions.
Having a good rapport with your bartender can help you feel more comfortable in your local pub or a new bar entirely. It can help you improve your ‘small talk’ and colloquial English and support your development of UK knowledge and the different types of people you can find here. We hope that on your next visit to a bar or pub, you might be inspired to push yourself to have some light conversation before heading back to your table and settling back in to your circle of friends.
We’d love to hear your experiences interacting with bar staff! Have you been able to break the barrier? Did you find it difficult to understand accents or colloquialisms? Let us know in the comments below!