Can You Sample A Drink At A Bar?

If you've ever wondered whether or not you can ask to sample a drink at a bar, well, the rules aren't always black and white. Seeking answers, Tasting Table consulted with an expert, Lex Madden (the bar manager at Point Easy in Denver), to understand the etiquette of drink sampling in different bar environments. According to Madden, "This entirely depends on the type of bar you're in," adding, "it also depends on which state you're in, and the state's laws on giving out free alcohol or samples."

For example, in upscale, full-service settings, it's common for the bartender to offer guests a taste of the individual components of a cocktail or samples of wine or beer before making an order. This practice is expected as part of the higher level of service provided. In a sense, you get more when you pay for more.

However, Madden notes a different scenario in more casual settings such as dive bars or breweries. Here, the expectation of sampling a drink before ordering diminishes. Regardless of the bar type, Madden strongly feels the proper etiquette at a bar is to always pay for the drinks ordered and recognize your bartender's time and service. Madden additionally suggests that everyone consider "tipping a little bit extra when they do let you taste anything without charging for it."

Confidently navigate the world of sampling bar drinks, and tip accordingly

Diving deeper into the culture of drink sampling at bars, Lex Madden highlights that some establishments may charge for sample pours. In such cases, Madden points out that guests are welcome to order as many samples as they like. However, this should be done knowing these sample drinks will be billed. The norm in these scenarios is to "tip normally on the total bill," Madden elaborates.

It's crucial to note that sampling drinks at a bar is quite different from, say, sampling ice cream at a parlor like Salt & Straw, where tiny samples of flavors are freely offered to help you make your choice. In the context of a bar, the economics and effort involved in creating a sample pour (especially of premium spirits or complex cocktails) are higher. Remember, don't be taken aback if the bar charges for samples. It might be good to ask upfront whether or not the samples are free. When the samples are free, remember to appreciate the craft behind each pour and tip accordingly.