How To Get Free Drinks At A Bar, Ethically & Otherwise

free drinks

Just because you’re broke doesn’t mean you should never leave the house. The only problem is, bars seem to be getting more and more expensive. You need cheap, and nothing’s cheaper than “free.”

In my decade and a half as a drinker. I’ve learned countless ways to get a free drink. A few are savvy, many are embarrassing, and some are downright deplorable. Unfortunately (and embarrassingly), I’ve done them all…

The Deplorable

Skipping Out On A Tab: The absolute most deplorable way to get free drinks is to simply not pay for them. Skipping out is actually somewhat harder than you’d think, though. Bartenders innately know this personality type as soon as they see it, and will ask that you immediately pay for each drink with cash. Or put a credit card down. Running out on a bar tab is no good if you’re too drunk to remember your Visa is still on file.

Putting Your Drinks On A Stranger’s Tab: Straddling the line between deplorable and clever, wait for someone to order a round on an open tab. Then, when the bartender hollers out, “What card?!” you make a mental note as the gentleman in the nice suit responds, “Frazier! Steve Frazier!” You just better be out of the bar before ol’ Stevy realizes he has a few extra drinks on his AmEx.

The Unethical

Crashing A Party: The words “open bar” are music to broke guys’ ears, but they’re hard to find. A few weddings a year, an occasional holiday party, maybe some weird charity benefit? If you truly want to make your life a non-stop open bar, you’re gonna have to crash other people’s weddings, holiday parties and weird charity benefits. Wear a suit, play it cool and don’t you dare think about doing the Electric Slide with grandma.

Pretending To Be Gay: It’s easy for women to get free drinks — they just have to be semi-attractive. Well, it’s the same for us guys. Back in my really poor days, I noticed a gay bar in my neighborhood. They advertised a buy-one, get-one-free happy hour special. I figured, “Why not?” It quickly became get-one-free, get-another-one-free, get-yet-another-one-free. It didn’t feel right to take advantage and lead them on, though, even if it was an ego boost to be hit on like I was the belle of the ball.

The Savvy

Dating A Bartender: Getting into a relationship with a bartender is not going to be easy, especially if you try to pick her up while she’s currently your bartender. But, if you do succeed, you will gain access to a magical world of slyly drinking for free all night long. (Yeah, your new girlfriend isn’t getting off work ’til 4, maybe 5 a.m.) Just don’t let her think that’s the only reason you’re into her.

Cozying Up To Corporate: If you have an office job, you need to figure out who exactly has access to the corporate credit card, because that person is your new best friend. Or, if you’re just an entry-level nobody, get yourself invited to company happy hours and client dinners — you’ll soon be toasting the fat-cat CEO as you throw back yet another glass of top-shelf scotch.

Something To Be Proud Of

But, ultimately, there is a way to drink for free that will make you feel good about yourself: Being a great customer.

It took me well into my thirties to learn this. You don’t have to be scheming, you don’t have to be conniving, you don’t have to be, ahem, faux-mosexual…you simply have to frequent a bar. Become a regular at that bar. And be nice.

Be a great person, who the bartenders enjoy talking to, who other customers enjoy mingling with. A customer who doesn’t creep out the women. Who never embarrasses himself, who never fouls up the bar’s bathroom or throws up on the sidewalk in front of the joint. Who holds his liquor while holding court and who, ultimately, slaps down a solid tip at the end of each and every night. Do that for awhile and then you’ll be the kind of customer who, quite often, will hear from the bartender, “That drink’s on me.”

Actually…it seems easier to just keep throwing drinks on that Steve douche’s tab.

Photo credit: Pete Jelliffe/Flickr

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Aaron Goldfarb (@aarongoldfarb) is the author of ‘How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide’.