If you’re like me you enjoy a good adult beverage every now and again. There’s only one down side to going out with friends, family or colleagues for a drink: it’s not cheap! Most alcohol in restaurants and bars are heavily marked up, sometimes more than 100%.
I recently sat down with a friend of mine, let’s call him George, who bartends and was able to pick his brain about drinking for less.
One of the most important things he told me is that bartenders and servers rarely sit down and read off specials to patrons so it’s always wise to ask what the daily specials are to find out what sort of deals you can get! Just like walking into a department store, sales associates aren’t likely to walk you through each item that’s discounted or on sale – you need to browse and find the best deal. This is no different when frequenting your local bar.
George started to tell me that a “smart drinker” knows how to work the bar prices in their favor. George first told me of a tip I already knew about but one many may not be keen to in regards to drinking wine. If you’re a wine drinker and order 3 – 4 glasses of wine while you’re out you’re going to save money if you order the whole bottle instead of drinking by the glass. Wine in bars is marked up at least 100% so you are probably aware that one or two glasses of wine will cost you roughly what it would cost to purchase the bottle alone. Unfortunately, since most establishments won’t allow you to bring your own bottle you’re at a disadvantage if you want to kick back a few glasses of wine. If you have a favorite wine and don’t foresee switching between other glasses throughout the night order the bottle and you could save $3 – $4 rather than ordering glasses.
George told me that shots are the biggest rip off at a bar. Alcohol in general has such a huge mark up on it that it’s sometimes hard to find a deal. Even house shots will end up costing you around $5 and if you ask for top shelf you usually have to pay $1 or so more.
George then told me the best way to drink and save on liquor is to order a double shot in a tall glass. When you buy a shot you usually pay about $5 for house liquor whereas if you order a double you usually have to pay a few dollars extra rather than for an entire extra full price shot. At the bar where George works they charge $3 more for a double shot while two separate shots will cost you $10. Apparently, in some bars, bartenders will even pour heavier when pouring a double in a tall glass. The key here is to order a tall glass and pace yourself for two drinks, don’t go kicking back double shots in a small glass – this will most likely lead to Shania Twain on karaoke, drunk dialing people you don’t want to even call sober and a wicked headache in the morning.
If a bar has flavored vodka shots on special try ordering a special with a splash of juice (comparable to a “fro-fro” drink that will cost you around $7).
“What about beer??” I queried! Beer is tricky to save on at a bar. The best way to get a cheap beer is to see what they have on special. If you’re gung-ho about saving money on beer you may have to dull down your taste for quality. My old standby is PBR – which is always cheap in every bar.
George told me that sometimes when Bud Lite Lime is on special (let’s say for $3.75) he’ll sometimes suggest to customers to get a Bud Lite on draft (let’s say for $2.50) and simply add a lime. That right there is something I had never even thought about!
Another great tip is to go to a bar the next few days or weekend after a big holiday. George said he likes to go to non-Irish bars after St. Patrick’s Day because they’ve usually ordered in a bunch of Irish drinks for the holiday and will greatly discount what’s left over to get rid of them since they’re not a standard drink they keep in the bar.
This next tip is not necessarily about how to save money but how to save piece of mind and get great service in a bar. Tipping. George told me the best way to get service in a bar is to order your first round with cash and leave a good tip for the bartender. On your second round open up a tab to close out at the end of the night. The bartender will remember your nice tip from the beginning and more than likely come to you quicker than others since there’s hopes of more of a great tip at the end of the night!
If you have a favorite bar you like to frequent become friends with them on Facebook or Twitter, most business will post their daily specials on their pages to draw patrons in. This past Cinco de Mayo I saw a local restaurant was running a promotion on margaritas. When I got to the restaurant I found they were selling them at a different price so I showed them their Facebook page with the promotion. They had said it was a typo but still gave me the price listed since that’s what got me to the restaurant in the first place. I recommend taking a screen shot of the specials before going into the bar just in case something like this happens!
There are also smartphone apps, like the iPhone’s “Drink Specials” that will use your current location and find bars and restaurants that are offering special drinks for that night.