Hey Salty: As someone sitting at a bar, what are the things I can reach for and what’s off limits? I’ve never felt weird about grabbing a napkin, but I’ve seen others go for olives, citrus, straws, etc.
Bless you for asking. That already tells me you have more brain cells than the average guest reaching behind the bar to manhandle the stuffed olives.
My bartender friends say there’s a spectrum of items that guests might see in a bar caddy. Some are more okay than others to help yourself to, but all my friends agree they’d rather you never reach behind the bar. If the bartender is busy making someone else’s drink, are you sure you can’t wait just a minute or two? Do you need that lime wedge right this very instant?
We’ll get into the gray area of the spectrum in a second, but here’s a general rule: If it’s going to touch someone’s mouth, hands off. That means you should never reach for the lime wedges, orange wedges, lemon twists, maraschino cherries, stuffed olives, herb garnishes, or straws behind the bar. In the case of garnishes, it could be a health-code issue, but whether or not your grubby hands would get a bar busted by the health department, it’s just kinda gross to think about strangers putting their hands on surfaces that will touch your mouth.
The gray area, though, includes non-mouth-touching stuff like coasters and napkins. Bartenders are usually okay with you helping yourself to one of these if you need it, but they’d really rather just get it for you. If you’ve spilled something, few bartenders would fault you for grabbing a couple cocktail napkins when time is of the essence.
Now, when it comes to bartenders’ tools, hands off. Always. Please don’t touch the spoons, jiggers, citrus zesters, bitters bottles, etc. Sometimes it’s a sanitation thing, but it’s mostly a respect thing. You don’t walk into a mechanic’s shop and rearrange the tools. You don’t play with your doctor’s stethoscope, I hope. So don’t go rooting around in your bartender’s space just because you think the bar spoon looks cool. That’s an easy way to land yourself on a bar’s shit list.
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