This month, VinePair is exploring how drinks pros are taking on old trends with modern innovations. In Old Skills, New Tricks, we examine contemporary approaches to classic cocktails and clever techniques behind the bar — plus convention-breaking practices in wine, beer, whiskey, and more.
While many cocktail trends may come and go, toasting with a round of shots is unwavering in its popularity. But as with most drinks traditions, there is a certain etiquette bar-goers should follow when ordering shots. We asked NYC bartender Constance Zaytoun about how patrons should navigate ordering and taking shots at their favorite dive bars, cocktail lounges, and restaurants.
When it comes to celebratory shots — to commemorate a birthday, promotion, or otherwise — bartenders are typically excited to join in on the excitement. “Those are the most fun,” Zaytoun says.
But if you’re drinking with a large group, try to keep the special orders to a minimum. “If you know it’s a busy evening in particular, what makes our lives a little easier is if your group is ordering the same shots,” Zaytoun says. Between chilling spirits, rimming glasses, and choosing the right garnishes, there’s a lot a bartender has to consider when pouring multiple liquors for more than six people. If your group is asking for everything from whiskey and vodka to tequila and mezcal, Zaytoun says, “you’re giving your bartenders a hell of a time.”
Shooters, or any shots that involve multiple ingredients and steps, are a bartender’s least favorite to pour — especially layered shots, which take even more time to concoct, Zaytoun says.
Still, groups looking to celebrate without over-consuming are bartenders’ favorite ones to accommodate. Rowdy, late-night crowds, on the other hand, are less welcome. The most annoying? If a group is “too blasted to serve,” she says. If a party shows up right before closing and “they’re already two sheets to the wind, that’s when it gets difficult,” and bartenders are forced to gauge a group’s level of intoxication while also getting ready to lock up.
If you’re part of the former group, you may find yourself chatting it up with a bartender and hoping they’ll join in on the fun. But for some bartenders, drinking with guests is a big no-no. “I think it depends on the bar atmosphere,” Zaytoun says, noting that higher-end bars look down on employees drinking on the job. But, she says, the gesture never goes unappreciated. “I love the ask. It’s always most kind. Just don’t be offended if we can’t take you up on it at that moment.”
Speaking of high-end watering holes — especially restaurant bars — don’t go in expecting to be poured shots of bottom- shelf spirits. “If you’re looking for Fireball, there’s a pub down the corner that I’m sure has it. You need to go there,” she says. At fancier establishments, high-quality tequilas and whiskies — most notably Jameson — are the most commonly ordered shots.
But if you’re ordering to impress, a beer and a shot is “a bartender favorite, because it’s easy,” Zaytoun says. In fact, she says that a beer and a shot is a common industry order — especially after a long shift. “You’re hot, you’re sweating your ass off, so you want a cold beer. And then you want a shot on the side, usually whiskey.”
So the next time you’re at a bar — whether you’re taking a shot or shooting your shot — remember to watch your intake and order wisely. Your bartender (and fellow patrons) will thank you later.