Bartender Tips: Basic Bar Lingo

To know what you’re doing, you need to at least know what you’re talking about. Or so the saying goes. Highballs, cocktails, rock glasses, straight up, shaken, stirred, wet, dry, none of it makes sense. Why should it? You’re new. Totally ok.  Do you know that depending on the drink it comes in a different type of glass? Do you know the difference between a snifter and a rocks glass.

Do you know what a flute is? Hint, it is not the instrument. Although, in bartending glasses are definitely part of the craft. Lets outline basic terms,tools and anything else you might need to know verbiage wise before you start out.

Flutes, Snifters and Rocks glasses Since I just mentioned it, snifter, rocks glass or flute? A flute is a champagne glass used to serve, sparkling white wine, bubbly cocktails or the obvious, champagne. Wondering what a bubbly cocktail is? Any cocktail where the feature ingredient is champagne or sparkling white wine. Ex: Mimosa. A snifter, is a glass with a small stem and wide, wide bottom that narrows towards the top. It is typically used to serve brown spirits such as brandy, cognac etc. Rocksglasses are used to serve highballs, cocktails and certain spirits.

In the weeds One of my favourite terms – “In the weeds.” What does this mean? Basically,  you are beyond screwed. You are lost in an abyss of mess, work and still drowning in spite of your best efforts. Now, maybe you wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t sent the gentleman’s martini wet when he asked for dry. Or, perhaps it was the fact you sent it dirty when he simply asked for olives. Do you know the difference between a highball and cocktail? So many questions and things to learn. Let’s keep going.

Highball vs Cocktail. This one is easy, a highball is made with pop and  a cocktail is made from juice. Do they come in different glasses? Usually not and most come with lime. Pretty easy and will get you started on the right path. They always come on ice unless specified otherwise. Then there are frozen cocktails which basically means blended.

Now let’s talk Martinis.

Shaken vs Stirred, Bruising Shaken vs Stirred is obvious, the answer is in the words, but which one bruises the gin? ‘Bruising” is a term used to define a change in the taste of the gin. This change typically results from shaking it. Since we’re talking about Martini’s most people know that they contain Vermouth but how much Vermouth is responsible for a dry or wet martini? Would you like a twist? Do you like it dirty? Maybe you prefer a Gibson. Okay, I said some like it dirty, get your mind out of the gutter.

Dry vs Wet – Wow these martinis are just laden with sexual innuendos. Dry means you like very little vermouth and a wet martini means you like more than typical.  If you like it dirty you dig olive juice in your martini on top of just the olives. If you’re into Gibson’s then you’ve got a hankering for those white pearl onions. If you like it with a twist that means a strip of lemon or lime rind is twisted and put in your martini.  Rye/Whiskey, Scotch and Bourbon come next on my list.

Straight up, Neat or on the rocks Actually in my personal world they come first. I am an avid Rye lover. Straight up, neat or on the rocks? Straight up or neat are used interchangeably nowadays, meaning no ice. It comes right out of the bottle and into the glass. Rocks = ice. Here’s a hint though not all people like the same amount of rocks. I recommend when serving any of these liquors to pour the shot and serve the water and rocks on the side. Rye and Scotch drinkers can be very particular.

Now, what about the people?

Barbacks. My favourite people and one of the most important to be nice to. A lot of people view them as slaves but an awesome barback can make or break your night. A barback is a bartender’s best friend, they do all the hard work. They stock your fridge, make your mix, handle your glassware, get rid of your empties, and if you’re nice to them, will do pretty much anything you need even if it’s not their job. Make sure you develop a good relationship with your barback, treatthem with respect and as an integral part of your team because they are. They will be your life line in your darkest and busiest of times. 

Shaker Then your other best friend in the world of bartending, your shaker. A cocktail shaker is the most common term, but it can also be called a Boston shaker, or just call it a shaker. It’s a 2 piece system. The top part being a glass typically a pint glass around 16 oz and the bottom part a metal shaker tin usually around 28 oz. They also have a strainer used to filter out ice but a lot of bartenders prefer to use the pint glass for this. 

Chaser Now one of the final remaining words to the realm of bartending. A chaser. If you drink you know what this is, but to be on the safeside, a chaser is a small drink on that comes on the side with a shooter. This small on the side drink is used to lessen the blow.  I say final because shooters can often mean a finale for your guest’s sobriety. A great chaser example is a little bit of coke on the side with a shot of Jack Daniels.

Well drinks/rail drinks and top shelf. Well drinks and/or rail drinks, are your standard lower priced liquors. They are called well drinks, because they are the bottles you keep closest to your well. The well is where you keep the ice. When called rail drinks the reference comes from the fact that they literally sit in rail right in front of you.  Top shelf are your high end liquors, these include things such as Grey Goose, Woodford Reserve, Patron or other high end alcohols.

“TIPS” Now every service person’s favourite word, “TIPS” Tips is actually an acronym that stands for To Insure Proper Service. Though most modern servers and bartenders believe it is standard, it did once upon a time serve a purpose. Basically it was bribery to make sure you got the attention you desired. My advice, work for them and they’ll be what you expect but when you expect them and don’t work for them they obviously won’t be what you expect.

This might all sound like a lot but really it’s not all that bad. I recommend reading some of the other articles for terms I may have missed. Overall though,  learn these basic terms and you’re more than on your way. Just remember everyone started where you are, do your best, study and one day these terms will be as familiar to you as tying your shoe. It took every kid a while to learn how to properly tie a bow in their laces and bartending is no different.


Jennie has worked in the bar and restaurant industry for 9 years. She has been a host, expeditor, bartender, server and manager. She still works in the industry today part-time as a server at Milestones. Find her on Twitter @jenniedleaver