ordering at the bar for beginners

What to Order At a Bar for Beginners

Straight up, shaken not stirred, back, blend, free pour, neat, on the rocks, up.

If it’s your first time in a bar, you’re likely to hear one or many of these phrases. They may sound a little fancy and even intimidating. But like any specialty, if you really want to get into it, you’re going to have to learn the language. Whether that’s financial terminology for better spending habits, learning your partners’ love language, or in the case of cocktails, figuring out bar jargon. If enjoying the ultimate cocktail means identifying your best-matched flavor, then friend, let’s get acquainted with the basics. Here are some tips on what to order at a bar for beginners (without embarrassing yourself).

ordering from a bar like a pro

Bar Basics to Remember 

Let’s be honest, in 2021 no one should be ordering a Coors Light at a bar during Happy Hour–no offense, Coors, we’re still huge fans. Currently, the world’s fanciest cocktail has over 71 ingredients. For reference, that’s more than twice as many flavors as a Dr. Pepper. Let’s live a little and explore all the flavors.  

In fact, can we agree that mixology is a fine work of art and is owed some huge props for the simple joys it brings? So let’s talk about celebrating the art of mixing and sharing with friends. 

Speaking from experience, most people’s bar and mixology knowledge, when turning 21, is limited to keg stands at a college fraternity party. Cheap beer is really not a go-to flavor, in case you’re wondering. Figuring out what to order at a bar for beginners, first and foremost, means ignoring drinks you’d typically find at a house party. Please don’t ask a bartender for jungle juice.

Where do you start, though? If possible, it’s always best to check out a restaurant or bars’ drink menu in advance. Browse through various selections and if you stumble upon a term that’s over your head, trust in your friendly search engine to provide a quick summary. Gloworder is making it easy for bar patrons to find drink menus and order efficiently. There’s no excuse now, folks!

However, we recognize this may not always be possible, particularly when your entire weekend plan is bar hopping. As an alternative, we recommend that you identify at least two go-to drinks as a safe bet. 

Find Your Signature Drink

Figuring out what to order at a bar (for beginners) starts with understanding your unique palette. There are dozens of online quizzes – like this one by BuzzFeed – to help you verify your preferences of flavor. Fair warning these can be widely inaccurate, but they’re fun nonetheless. The best rule of thumb is always to stick to what you know. Try making a list of fruits, herbs, and other dishes you generally order. You may also consider liquor types you’re familiar with whether it’s tequila, vodka, or whiskey. 

A signature cocktail is like a fine perfume. Considering all of the delicate balances of aromas, flavors, liquors, and styles, it can be overwhelming to narrow down your choices. We all know that every person has their own preferences when it comes to food, deserts, and drinks. Identifying your signature alcoholic beverage may mean sampling a wide variety of options. We feel this might not be such a labor-intensive experiment. Just remember to enjoy the research process!

Here are some good tips to consider when figuring out what to order at a bar. 

Sample Beverages

The easiest way to avoid embarrassment is to admit that you don’t know what to order and just begin sampling. It’s usually best to poll friends or family for their favorites and give those a go. The good news is that even if you don’t fall in love with the first thing you sample, it will still provide those feel good moments that always seem to come when hanging out with friends at a bar. 

Pro Tip: Order ahead using Gloworder. This easy-to-use app allows you to browse through existing drink menus from trending bars in your area. Add it to your cart and your drink will be ready when you are!

Poll the Bartender

When in doubt, ask the bartender. According to a post on Quora, the average bartender can make upward of 140 drinks per hour. Assuming this ballpark figure is accurate, that’s a lot of beers, cocktails, and wine! Suffice it to say, they’ve likely heard of every drink under the sun … and table. Certainly, it doesn’t hurt to ask the most experienced person in the room.

Remember, unless the bartender is a close friend, they probably don’t know you from Sally Sue. It’s always good to be specific about your styles and preferences. 

Pro Tip: Avoid asking open ended questions such as “What’s good here?” Direct questions are always best. Consider the following questions instead: “What would you recommend for a great vodka cocktail?” or “What’s your favorite go-to beer that’s not too bitter?” 

Keep It Simple

Simplicity is key in life and also in booze. Yes, there are numerous sophisticated drinks. Some come in elegant glasses, others emit ethereal clouds of billowing smoke, and some even incorporate real food (hello, La Premier). At the end of the day, simplicity will very rarely steer you wrong. 

Consider these basics for what to order at a bar for beginners:

  • Ciders: Fermented with yeast like beer but made with fruit like wine. They’re good if you don’t like the taste of beer or wine and they’re typically pretty sweet.
  • IPAs: India pale ales typically have a more “hoppy” taste because they’re made with more hops. If you’re not used to them, they’ll probably taste pretty intense and bitter to you, and a lot of people say it’s an acquired taste.
  • Merlot: It’s one of the most popular red wines because it’s easy to drink. Usually, the flavors are described as chocolatey or cherry-like. 
  • Gin & Tonic or Vodka & Soda: For many, this is a good starter drink. Order a well spirit (whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, etc) with club soda or tonic water. The formula is basically liquor and a fizzy drink. Prefer sweet? Order it with a Coke, Sprite, etc.
  • Martini: These often give you an introduction into the next class of cocktails. The most important note is that Martini’s can be made with either vodka or gin, and the bartender is more than likely going to ask which you’d prefer. Be prepared! They might also ask you if you want it dry. Dry just means they add less vermouth, which makes the drink a little more bitter. Want more vermouth? Ask for it “wet.” They might ask if you want it shaken in a cocktail shaker or just stirred. According to Business Insider, stirred usually results in a smoother drink. That covers the basics, but they have more martini-ordering tips here.
how to order at a bar like a pro

How to Order at a Bar for Beginners – The Rundown

Your first introduction into selecting a proper drink designed for you and your taste buds is almost complete. Cheers to that! Let’s get back to those original phrases from the beginning of the article. 

Terminology is important and if you can master these key terms, you will most definitely sound like an expert at any bar. Also, your bartenders may be pleasantly surprised that, even in your youth, you order like a 60-year bar veteran whose favorite pastime is sipping Fernet-Branca. This is a good thing. 

Feel free to scribble these terms on a post-it and store it in your wallet for your next Happy Hour adventure. When in doubt, refer to your bar list

  • On the Rocks: with ice
  • Straight up: a cocktail shake or stirred, then strained and served without ice
  • Neat: a drink served at room temperature without ice
  • Dirty: almost always in reference to a Martini with olives or olive juice. More olives = really dirty
  • Well drink: often the cheapest spirit or the house spirit
  • Back: also referred to as a chaser, is a small glass of water or soda. Pickle juice is becoming a more popular back these days.
  • Dry: reduction of vermouth in a martini
  • Wet: a drink with more mixer and less alcohol
  • Shaken: using a shaker to combine ingredients
  • Stirred: ingredients mixed using a bar spoon
  • Blend: using an electric blender to mix ingredients with ice

While most liquors can use any combination of these terms, there are some general rules that can aid in ordering drinks “the right way.” Think righty tighty, lefty loosey rules:

  • Shake cocktails with citrus flavors or other juices
  • Shake cocktails that are made with other products like eggs, dairy, and cream
  • Stir cocktails that are made of only spirits, or with bitters. The one exception is cocktails featuring cream liqueurs. 
  • Stirring cocktails produce silky-finishes with clarity in alcohol flavors
  • Shaking cocktails binds flavors together so they do not taste distinct but rather infuse one another

Favorite Drinks for Beginner Bar-Hoppers

What’s in other people’s glasses? With cocktails, beers, and wine, there’s really never a wrong answer. However, there are some crowd favorites that may give you a starting point in learning how to order at a bar for beginners.

Old Fashioned

This drink celebrates whiskey with simplicity and flare. It features rye or bourbon whiskey, bitters, sugar, and an orange twist. 

Cosmopolitan

This is the infamous Sex and the City signature drink. It’s a mix of vodka, Cointreau (orange liqueur), lime juice, and cranberry juice.

Moscow Mule

Served in awesome copper cups, this drink is a combination of vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice. It’s served on the rocks.

Martini

The classic Martini is gin or vodka with dry vermouth, lemon peel or olive. Avid cocktail enthusiasts also experiment with Martini’s that feature a wide variety of fruits and other flavors like breakfast and French Martini’s.

Mojito

This Cuban native drink is creating using the shaken-flavors of rum, juice, and syrup. 

Whiskey Sour

It’s often described as a refreshing cocktail. It combines whiskey, lemon juice, sugar, and egg white (optional). It’s shaken and served over ice.

Manhattan

The star of this cocktail is the booze. It contains rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters. It’s usually served with ice. 

how to order at a bar like a pro

Explore Drinks with Gloworder

The world of beers, cocktails, wine, and ciders is invigorating. If you’re new to the bar scene, these are some quick go-to tips on how to order, without embarrassing yourself. 

Gloworder is a new app that makes it really simple to begin exploring your favorite bar beverages. Browse through various menus directly in the app, order ahead, and easily notify the bartender where you are when you arrive. Learn more about our upcoming launch by signing up on our waitlist here

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