Sure, we’ve all been there. You’re super psyched to be out with a group of friends or on a hot date at some swanky, new cocktail-bar-of-the-moment where you hear that they hand carve their ice cubes into diamonds, rinse their cocktail glasses with angel’s sighs and rim with genuine 14K gold dust. (Ok, as far as I know, no one is doing the above ridiculousness, but you’d think this were the case at some of these places given the, often-times, bonkers prices we are faced with in order to get top-notch cocktails down our gullets. Those steep prices are usually justified by the expense of fresh juice and quality ingredients, not to mention the labor and attention to detail you may get at a place that really cares about their cocktail program.) But, what happens if, after all the pomp and circumstance and zesting and flaming of orange rinds, your cocktail arrives and you can barely drink it. But you don’t want to spoil the night, insult the bartender or bother the cocktail server, and you decide to, unhappily, suck it up. Literally.
I, for one, am willing to pay a premium to do away with the crap and get the good stuff. But if a cocktail is not working out for me for some reason, I rarely hesitate to speak up. No one wants to be that asshole – the persnickety, high maintenance guest who is ruining everyone’s evening, causing a stir over the dryness of their martini (see what I did there?). And I’m not suggesting we treat the cocktail menu like our own personal box of chocolates sampler, taking a swig from each one in order to decide which one we like. But, I’m of the mind that if you are paying main course prices for a few ounces of liquid, you should thoroughly enjoy what you’re drinking. The bar and drink slingers should want the same thing. It is only good business to make you happy so that you order more, have great things to say about the place and come back again. But I know that expressing your dissatisfaction with a cocktail to your bartender or server can be very difficult for a lot of people. I’ve seen it with almost all of my friends. What is the proper etiquette?
I may feel more comfortable saying something to my server or bartender because I am usually able to identify what might make the drink more palatable for me and how it could be tweaked without having to order an entirely different one. A smidge more simple syrup or citrus or a splash of soda can do wonders to a drink that just tastes a little off-balance to you. These requests are rarely met with anything other than a willingness to make it right. If you’re not able to articulate what you don’t like about a drink, and you want to send it back to get a new one, however, that is often not very helpful and particularly annoying. But, sometimes that lack of articulation can prevent people from piping up in the first place. And they choose to just drink something that they don’t like! So, my advice? Drink more! That is, try different things and be more mindful when you DO drink. Pay attention to what you like or dislike about certain flavors and spirits, and hone your palate. Also, be informed before you order. Get to know what those fancy ingredients are. That doesn’t mean you need to become a bona-fide cocktail nerd like me (I love researching weird booze!), it just means that when you are reading a cocktail menu and you come across something you’re not familiar with, ask your bartender or server what it is. I guarantee that they will be so jazzed to talk about it. Or, if you are painfully shy or don’t like interacting with humans, you can always pull out your smart phone and Google that shit.
There may be times, however, when you order something that you can tell is a well made cocktail but just isn’t your style. In this case you probably should just suck it up. But you can look at it as an experience to help you better identify what IS your style. Once you get to know your own palate better, you can figure out pretty quickly whether or not that fancy pants drink you ordered is your new cocktail crush, something that may need some adjusting, or is just an unusual tipple that is helping to expand your cocktail horizons. But at the end of the glass, everyone deserves to be happy.