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Posted at 1:49 PM ET, 04/29/2009

That Seat Better Be Taken

By Fritz Hahn

I'm generally a pretty tolerant person in bars. I don't correct the knuckleheads who wave $20 bills at bartenders to attract attention, and I rarely complain when someone squeezes in between my friend and me when we're sitting at the bar and then starts passing precariously full drinks over my head. Whatever.

But lately, I've begun to get more and more ticked off by people who think that they're on a school bus or in their third-grade lunchroom and they can save seats for their friends who haven't shown up yet.

A few weeks ago, I was at Bourbon to write about Uncle Q's DJ night. I walked in to the crowded bar, and lit for the far end, where there were fewer people. The last stool was open, so I took off my coat and began to sit down. "Sorry, my friend's sitting there," said the guy at the adjacent seat. That would probably explain an empty seat at 11 p.m., I thought. He might be in the bathroom or outside having a smoke. No worries. I ordered a cocktail and stood at the end of the bar, chatting with the bartender. Then, like 10 or 15 minutes later, the guy's friend shows up, wearing a jacket. "Sorry," he says. "I couldn't find the place." Bartender, who had heard the original "someone's sitting there" exchange, shoots the dude a look.

Example number two: Last week, I dropped by Founding Farmers to see if its new spring cocktail list was ready yet. (It was not, but man, do those bartenders make a fine mint julep.) The bar was packed, and several people were hovering along the bar, looking for signs that someone with a precious stool or two would be leaving soon. In the middle of it all was an older man on a cell phone. He had a cocktail in front of him and was sitting with his bent right leg resting on the edge of an empty stool next to him. From the way he was glancing back over his should towards the door, it's obvious that he's waiting someone who isn't here. One solo man approaches and asks if the seat in taken. Man in seat nods, still on phone. Solo man walks away to look for another seat.

Eventually, date and I get seats at the end of the bar. Then we notice a woman come rushing in, making a beeline for seat-saver. She begins apologizing for not being able to find parking, knowing where the restaurant was, etc. Those of us who couldn't get seats are fuming.

We live in a world where most restaurants won't give tables to incomplete parties, but incomplete parties think they can take over most of the bar? Makes me happy to visit the Saloon, where one of the myriad rules governing customer behavior is that you have to give an open seat to anyone who asks, whether you're expecting a companion or not.

So what's the solution? Part of me thinks the onus is on the bartender to say something to customers along the lines of "Sir, when the bar is busy, we don't allow customers to hold seats for people who have not yet arrived." Of course, that runs the risk of alienating one, if not two, potential customers, which no business wants to do. On the other hand, people who want seats -- even if it's only one seat, which should always be offered to your date -- might get fed up and leave, too.

I've heard some people say "Well, it's generally accepted to save seats for people at movies." And yes, that's true -- but a movie theater (theoretically) only allows in as many people as it has seats for, so if you're saving a seat for a friend, it doesn't mean that someone else is going to have to stand for two hours. On the other hand, in most coffeeshops, it's perfectly acceptable to take up a table for two when you're waiting for a friend, and no one thinks twice about it.

But honestly, everyone should be responsible for policing their own behavior. When you walk into a bar, please don't leave your etiquette at the door.

What behavior ticks you off at bars? Tell us about it in the comments.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | April 29, 2009; 1:49 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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This is something that ticks me off (but I do it too sometimes without thinking, so I don't know if I'm allowed to complain) - when people at the bar leave buffer seats between them and the next person. It means that someone is going to eventually ask them to move down a seat, and the buffer-leaving-person usually feels quite put-upon about having to move to an equally empty chair that is (horrors!) next to someone else!

Posted by: darastar | April 29, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

We live in a world where people will do whatever they can get away with, unless somebody does something about it. The onus is on you, my friend.

Posted by: joeadk | April 29, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

I don't really get upset when one person is saving one seat. I do have a problem when it's more then one seat. When it's just one person, it somewhat awkward to have one person standing and the other sitting so I understand saving the seat. I don't blame the person holding the seat because they are usually told, "Oh i'm just a few minutes away" and the person then takes 20 minutes to arrive.

I have a major problem when someone wedges in between me and the person I'm with to order a drink. People usually can tell I'm with that person and they don't just go over one person to wedge in.

Posted by: irishnat | April 29, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

And how, pray tell, should we get the bartender's attention?

I agree you shouldn't wave money around like a goon, but I've found that subtley showing cash in hand gets me my drinks the fastest of any method not ivolving cleavage.

Posted by: brewdude | April 29, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Subtle is fine, Brewdude. I've had some bartenders tell me that when they see cash in your hand, it means you're ready to order and pay and make a quick transaction. They like that.

Others hate to see money or credit cards waved, ostentatiously or not, and say that they bump those people down the pecking order. Personally, I go for eye contact, and putting my (obviously glassless) hand on the bar.

Posted by: Fritz Hahn | April 29, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

If you call a bartender's attention - KNOW WHAT YOU'RE ORDERING!

Sorry, had to scream that. It's not even the former bartender in me that made me do that - it's the current customer. Take a sec to figure out what your shout is - study the taps, look at the drink menu - then give your order. Hemming and hawing with the bartender in front of you is inconveniencing everyone. Worst of all - asking "what do you have on tap?" while standing right in front of them when the place is packed.

Posted by: Kev29 | April 29, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Lordy, the point of going to a bar is having a good time, people! Chill out and calm down.

The fact that bartenders will, according to Mr. Hahn, "bump people down the pecking order" based on holding money or a credit card visibly in hand, just seems like petty power-mongering.

DC is so crap for going out and having a good time, at least for the affluent and overeducated crowds who hang out in the places cited by this post.

Relax and cut your fellow drinkers some slack. After all, it's only a drink at a bar. Mr. Hahn and others who agree with this kind of passive-aggressive rant are letting some really minor stuff (over which you have no control, I might add) ruin a good night out.

Posted by: scorm | April 30, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

People who think they are entitled to seats at a bar. So what if the party is incomplete. They'll be there and their money spends just as good as yours. You should have been there earlier.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | April 30, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

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