Sneaky Ways Bars Are Scamming You

The bar business is straightforward enough: Money is exchanged for alcohol, that special elixir that is, to quote Homer Simpson, "... the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems." Double-digit profits can be made pouring alcoholic beverages for problem-solving customers, but the bar business is highly competitive (via Investopedia). Friendly, honest customer service is one way to gain an edge on the competition. But ask anyone who's worked at a bar – some bartenders or bar owners resort to dishonorable tactics that might be good for business in the short term, but they cause problems for customers. Homer was right.

Here are some dirty bartender tricks to watch out for, and how to avoid them.

Watch your bartender carefully

The underpour. A standard shot of liquor is 1.5 ounces, although some places might pour a little more — and some a little less. Bottom Line advises patrons to count how many seconds it takes for the liquor to pour into their glass. A 1.5-ounce shot should take three or four seconds. Don't be fooled if the bartender tries to make the pour look longer by holding the bottle high. This long pour isn't so long if it isn't three or four seconds.

Strong first impressions. Experienced drinkers might not count the seconds on a pour, but they can tell from the first sip if a drink is too weak. If they aren't paying attention, these customers could fall for the rim dip or the liquor-filled straw (via Wise Bread). The rim dip is a sleight of hand whereby the bartender presses the entire rim into an alcohol-soaked sponge out of your line of sight, which means you're smelling alcohol each time you take a drink, and that can make you think your drink is stronger than it really is. If you're drinking your cocktail through a straw, then that straw may have been sitting in a glass of liquor — again out of sight. If a bartender reaches down for your straw and puts it in your drink with his or her finger on the straw's opening, then you might be a victim of this ruse. Both of these tricks give you a strong taste of alcohol on your first sip, and that impression stays with you throughout an otherwise weak drink.

More ways your favorite bar may be bamboozling you

The not-quite pint. Order a beer instead of a cocktail, and at least you know what you're getting. It's hard to water down a beverage that comes out of a keg. But when you order a pint, how do you know you're getting 16 fluid ounces? The standard pint glass provided to drinking establishments in the U.S. is more like 14 ounces (via the Citizen Times). This one, though, is not the bartender's fault.

The old switcheroo. If you order a mixed drink but don't specify the brand of liquor, the barkeep may give you the top-shelf stuff and charge accordingly (via Thrillist.) The bartender is upselling you without your knowledge, and this can work especially well if coupled with another trick: not giving you an itemized bill. As Thrillist notes, if a bartender hands you nothing more than a credit card receipt at the end of the night, you may even be paying an automatic gratuity — and tipping again, on top of that. Another common switch is in the other direction. If you ask for a high-end vodka in a taste-erasing mixer such as Red Bull, you could end up with well vodka and never know the difference. Never mind that you saw the bartender reach for the good stuff — managers have been known to pour bottom-shelf booze into those fancy bottles.

One way to avoid bartender tricks is to tip generously

The bottom line: Drink responsibly, pay attention, and avoid well-trafficked bars in tourist hot spots, which can be in the habit of overcharging patrons visiting from other areas.

Also, if you want your bartender to treat you well, tip generously, and do it each time you order a drink. Failing to tip can lead to more problems for bar patrons, including a sudden, early end to happy hour, or perhaps the establishment suddenly runs out of that inexpensive liquor you've been downing. 

One more thing: Don't be afraid to ask questions, even if — especially if — you're at an exclusive joint (via Playboy). After all, if you're going to pay $34 for a drink, you probably want to know that up front.