Mark Yocca / Supercall

The Unspoken Rules of Drinking Alone


Drinking alone at the bar is like sliding into your favorite sweater. There’s something comfortable about the whole experience that makes you feel like all is right in the world. Yet, like ripping a hole in your favorite sweater, it’s too easy to sabotage your solo drinking experience by not following the rules. From missing the social cues of when to speak with others to sitting in the wrong place, there are a number of things you can do to turn a pleasant experience into a distressing one. We caught up with Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and the author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, to talk about how to make the most of those cherished moments when you get some time to yourself at the bar. Unfortunately, we can’t help you with the holes in your sweater.

1. Make Yourself Comfortable

If you aren’t comfortable being alone, you’ll just end up looking alone and sad at the bar. Learn to love yourself and you will learn to love the moments you spend without any company. “Sitting at the bar enjoying a drink or dining alone does not automatically equal someone who can’t find a date or a friend,” Gottsman says. “People often travel for business, and want to unwind with a cocktail. There is nothing wrong with going down to the bar and ordering a drink solo.” We live in a world of constant stimulation. Even if you do have friends or a date that you could spend some time with, it’s nice to relax. Just know that other people may be thinking the same thing.

2. Be Respectful of Other People’s Time

Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you can’t speak with other people. But whether you initiated the conversation with a stranger or not, be aware of when to break off. “There will be instances where people will welcome you into their group in conversation,” Gottsman says. “However, there will be other times when they want to conduct a private conversation or catch up with an old friend. It’s important to be able to read other people’s body language by paying attention to whether they continue to engage with you or answer you politely and then turn away.”

3. Sit at the Bar

“Sitting alone at a table is going to feel lonely,” Gottsman says. If you want the opportunity to meet anyone, “sitting up at the bar gives you an opportunity to engage with other people.” It’s also easy on the bar and wait staff if you only take up a single bar spot rather than a table that can be shared with multiple people. Just like being respectful of people’s time, be respectful of the people who work at the bar as well.

4. Keep the Phone Time to a Minimum

You’re not going to get the same type of introspection if you stay on your phone the whole time. Get lost in your own thoughts, truly taste and experience the drink in front of you rather than quickly downing it, people watch (without staring). Do anything that engages your mind that doesn’t add to the countless hours of screen time you already have in life. That said, we all know you’re going to take your phone out and scroll through the ‘gram at least once. Just don’t let the FOMO get to you (re: rule one), and if you’re going to take a call, be respectful. “When you’re in any public place, you should keep your voice low,” Gottsman says. “Conducting a loud conversation makes you look like you’re trying to draw attention to yourself.”

5. Talk to the Bartender, to a Certain Extent

Bartenders are there for you. That doesn’t give you carte blanche to say whatever you want, but for the most part, feel free to speak up. “There is nothing wrong with engaging with the bartender,” Gottsman says. “It’s also important to keep in mind that he or she has a job to do and cannot monopolize their entire night speaking with you. The bartender will make it clear that they don’t have time to talk. They have experience on being polite, yet keeping conversation friendly but to a minimum when they are attending to many guests.”

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