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Pull up your barstool if you’ve ever been stumped by that age-old question: is the girl or guy tending the bar actually flirting with me, or simply trying to lock in a good tip? Maybe she is just being nice and polite. Maybe those looks he’s giving me aren’t suggestive and I’m totally imagining things. Maybe I should stop smiling so much before I get caught by my wife/partner/best friend who I secretly quite like but haven’t found the perfect moment to say so yet. We feel your pain. And the good news for all those who joined us at the bar is we are here to help. Take a few hearty gulps of our free advice and you’ll soon know for sure if your bartender is actually into you.
Body Language Shouts Loudest
Yes, we begin with the trickiest language of all to read, the unspoken mode of communication that existed before we even had sweet nothings to whisper in each other’s ears. If only we had Sir David Attenborough on hand to explain the human mating ritual in a soothing voice.
Whilst it is true that one person’s “LEAVE ME ALONE!” stare can sometimes get lost in translation as “Oooohhh yeeeahhh, this should be my full-time job!” there are certain subtleties to keep an eye out for in the body language department.
Barbara (not pronounced how you think), a twenty-something from Sao Paulo in Brazil, headed over to the US a few years ago. She tended bar in several places and quickly had to get up to speed with the local body lingo before her American caught up. Over to her.
“It was hard for me at first as I really didn’t want to give the wrong impression but I still… you know, I wasn’t earning very much. I tried to smile only for more than two seconds if I actually liked a guy. And I didn’t go too close to most customers for the same reason.”
Sounds reasonable enough; there's no chance of confusion if the bartender keeps his or her distance. Also, if the person serving you does so with crossed arms, or slams your drink down, you’re probably all out of luck.
“I never want to be too blatant if my boss is looking, but obviously if a really cute guy comes by I want to let him know.”
That insider secret comes to us from Chloe, a Queens girl who has worked in several sports bars across New York.
“Little things like looking straight into someone’s eyes when you serve them, or brushing their hand with yours. I’m never gonna straight up ask a guy out—this is where I work after all!—but watch me closely and you’ll know if I like you.”
Right, then: keep your eyes peeled when it comes to body language. Extra-long smiles or a brush of the hand are two of the little giveaways which let you know if your bartender is really hitting on you (or not, as the case may be).
No Such Thing as a Free Drink
The well-known economic principle about free lunches applies to drinks too. And definitely bar snacks. But when is a free drink not just a free drink?
“Unless your boss has no clue what’s going on, you can’t give away, like, unlimited free drinks. I mean, each time you do it there is a little bit of a risk, so you pick your moments.”
Help is on hand in the form of the bearded Xander, who is sporting a glistening man-bun and surprisingly tattoo-free arms. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me and I’ve just been around too many inked hipsters. But I digress...
“Certainly, if I give away more than one, that girl should know I want her. If she doesn’t get a message that clear then she’s too stupid for me anyway.”
Harsh, but true words from Xander. I asked him why a bartender had ditched the ale and he didn’t get my joke but, oh well-seemed like a nice dude.
Next up is a view from the other side of the Brooklyn bar or rather, two views. Mark and Lisa (claimed they weren’t together but I reckon there was something going on) were sitting nearby—and obvs eavesdropping—while I was speaking to Xander.
Mark: “I’ve bought shots or cocktails loads of times for girls worki—”
Lisa (interrupting): “Really? Loads?”
Mark: “Ok, I’ve done it a FEW times for girls working in bars. In my experience it doesn’t work at all. I reckon they get quite a lot of male attention in that environment so… well, it didn’t work for me is all I can say.”
Lisa: “Yeah but did you consider it’s because they’re working, so maybe don’t want to accept a drink from every interested guy? Also, I can’t speak for all women, but I don’t like it if a guy tries to pay for me when he’s just met me. This is the 21st century, man. Get with it (eyebrow raise).”
Lively from Lisa, who I should add said all this with a smile and definitely enjoyed silencing Mark. So, should your bartender offer you a free drink, chances are she/he is actually into you. Two free drinks and it’s a dead cert. If you’re the customer, however, maybe think twice before ordering some flaming sambucas to share with the bar(wo)man. Might just blow up in your face.
This one is not as simple as it sounds. Slow service means not interested and fast service means they like you, right? Erm… not exactly. Chloe from earlier:
“If a guy tips me super well then obviously I’m gonna be quick to get his drinks.”
And if he thinks that means you likes him, Lisa?
“Fine by me—as long as he keeps paying! I’m a waitress in America, not a catwalk model… but hey, people pay to look at them, so why not me?”
As it happens, Xander also said he would make an extra effort to be quick for those who tipped well. And for those he liked the look of. When it comes to speedy service, remember that ultimately it’s still a transaction, so don’t assume it means attraction. Although in the spirit of optimism, it could always be both.
The Personal Effect
Listen closely: the advice I’m about to relay applies for all walks of life. And it’s on the house, too. If someone you don’t know very well asks you, unprompted, whether you are single/seeing someone/in a relationship/free next Tuesday, then they are probably into you. More likely than not. Either that, or they want to set you up with their even more attractive friend.
(House advice disclaimer: notable exceptions to this category include hairdressers, divorce lawyers and people who just want to complain about their ex.)
The same is broadly true for divulging other types of personal information.
Rob, now tending bar three nights a week in Manhattan, managed to land a job behind a bar in Soho, London on his semester abroad. He has the following pearl of wisdom to offer on this:
“I found that if a guy wanted to add me on Facebook, asked more than two questions about my tiny hometown, or asked how far from the bar my place was then he was usually into me. God, what a semester…”
He literally did stop mid-sentence and gaze past me at that point. Wistfully.
The personal effect was confirmed by all other people I asked. Although Barbara never asked personal questions herself, she was always polite when a customer asked her for the same. Chloe would “have a 6’3” boyfriend” unless she really took a fancy to someone, in which case she would “casually slip it into conversation” that she suddenly didn’t. Xander was “always happy to answer honestly” yet “preferred not to go for the personal stuff; it’s just too obvious.”
Differing approaches, but I think I can sum it up for you. If you ask about the bartender’s personal life, you can’t read too much into the response. If, however, your bartender asks you some personal questions without you asking first, he/she is actually into you. Clear? Excellent.
And that’s it for now, folks. I think you’ve drunk quite enough of our wisdom for one day.
Wait, what’s that you say? One for the road? Alright then, let’s finish up with some dead giveaways. Ignore these signs at your peril.
If your barkeep…
… shows you his recent wedding snaps, disappointedly asks where your hot friend has gone, or starts playing with a can of mace, it’s time to head for the exit.
On the other hand, if your bartender…
… burns his number into the bar with a blowtorch, presents you with a tear-stained sonnet, or locks the door and tells you she wants a Screaming Orgasm, I can say with confidence that she/he IS actually into you... Probably.