10 ways to improve your dating life, according to bartenders

Image credit: Krystal Thompson

Bartenders have always had the best front row seats to your dating life and have seen more date scenarios from behind the bar than any other profession. From tales of love at first sight to tragedies of both humorous and disastrous outcomes, bartenders have unintentionally developed an intrinsic sensitivity for romantic insight that few others possess. Here, we speak with some of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur’s favourite bartenders who unabashedly share their dos and don’ts to better your dating life.

From Singapore

Amanda Wan, Assistant Manager of Origin Bar, Shangri-La Hotel

Peter Chua, Co-Owner of Junior Productions (Junior the Pocket Bar) and acting General Manager of Nemesis Bar 

Ronan Keilthy, Head Bartender of 28 HongKong Street

From Kuala Lumpur

Angel Ng, General Manager of REXKL, and Founder of MY Bartender’s Handshake (a network community for the industry)

Shawn Chong, Owner of Bar Mizukami Collection

Divy Chauhan, Co-Owner of JungleBird

With six acclaimed bartenders from across two neighbouring cities with an accumulated 40+ years of industry experience, we at Set The Tables were pleasantly surprised to see consistent similarities in each of their stories. There is no fluff here, only truth. 

Disclaimer: The below article might be a little strong (contains alcohol), but we mean well. Our only hope is to bring awareness to scenarios that can be mitigated, and make the dating world a better, safer place! 

Location, location, location. Do your homework before picking the bar 

Shawn: A great tip from me is to bring your first date to a bar you are comfortable with. I say this from my personal experience. I brought my girlfriend to the bars I was familiar with at the start. Leave the new bars to a later stage where you can explore the scene together.

Ronan: Do some recon. Hopefully, the venue you have chosen is one that you or your date are familiar with, or are a regular at (sometimes having a little home ground advantage is very helpful). If not, make sure to at least check out the menus and see what is on offer.

Stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new can work well, but if you want to err on the side of caution, find a place that offers a variety of products so you can always find comfort in something you know.

Cocktail bars come in all shapes and sizes, from dark and intimate to bright and lively. If you’re the one choosing and have a type or preference, pick a venue that suits both of you and the mood you want to set. If you or your date are not a fan of tequila, heading to a Mexican inspired agave bar is probably not the best idea.

Trying to have a meaningful conversation in a high energy venue with loud music and a packed room might not work very well. Conversely, if you are looking for something more fun or upbeat, an early afternoon drink at a bar with little- to no music or crowd might not fit the bill.

Divy: Always know about the venue you are going to, do some research about it. It could be a new place, or it might focus on a particular theme. This gives you a talking point.

  1. Study the list of drinks and food and have some idea of what you might like to order.
  2. Be confident in your choice. If you have been to the venue before, see if you can request a specific table that you are comfortable with. 
  3. If you do sit at the bar (the best place, in my opinion) you can always chat with the bar staff when a lull occurs in the conversation.

Be yourself, it is really that simple. Sincere gestures sometimes are the most charming.

Amanda: Just listen and enjoy getting to know the person. Don’t make it about yourself or feel the need to impress the other person. And also, don’t pretend to fight to pay for the bill. We have seen all sorts of tug and pull situations – we will usually take the card from the one who is most reluctant to pay. Just be honest and treat others the way you want to be treated.

Ronan: The best bar experiences happen when everyone is comfortable and in a positive mindset; your date, the staff, and yourself. When this happens, a good time will naturally follow. 

People in bars work off the energy in the room. If things are positive and engaging, it is easier to cultivate good vibes. If not, it is more of a struggle and things may come across as awkward or forced. 

Don’t get so hung up on finding the right drink or trying to impress with fancy trivia, just be nice and have fun, that’s what bars are all about.

Ronan Keilthy

Peter: Even though your mum might have told you that you are the most attractive person on the planet, not everyone thinks the same.

I’ve seen guys and girls alike acting demanding just because they felt as if they were giving their dates a chance just by agreeing to go out with them, and therefore expect their every whim to be satisfied. I think I speak for everyone when I say being too self-centred is a big turn off.

Image credit: Krystal Thompson

Trying too hard to impress with your drinks knowledge or play the expert 

Ronan: Dates are very personal and subjective experiences. Maybe you are a huge fan of fancy cocktail bars, but your date thinks they are pretentious or, even worse, intimidating.

I’ve seen people being incredibly enthusiastic about being at the bar, dominating the conversation, playing “expert”, and leaving the other person feeling intimidated or left out.

Tip: If you’re the one “in the know”, you’re the guide to creating a fantastic experience and introducing someone to a potential new favourite thing. Be observant, stay open, and engage with the staff, ask them for help.

It’s their job to create fantastic experiences and they should be more than happy to assist. Don’t let your preferences or prior knowledge colour the other person’s experience–you might even discover something new for yourself.

Peter: A personal hobby of mine is to school people who try to discourage their dates from trying something new on the menu just because they personally don’t like it or just think they know it all.

Especially when what they say is complete b.s. – “Don’t drink this. It causes massive hangovers.”, “Did you know that if you have too much mezcal you’ll get diarrhoea?”, “Stay away from this cocktail, it has absinthe in it. That drink will make you hallucinate.”

Do not, for the love of God, bring different dates to the same bar 

Angel: Do not bring your extramarital affairs and your legal spouse to the same establishment for dates.

Yes, we are trained not to ask you about the other person nor judge your life’s choices but this means your spouse and/or his/her friends might drop by.

Yes, if we notice both parties are in the same establishment, we will do our best to prevent a scene from happening. We’ve offered assistance before like ushering the side person to another table, or accompanying him or her at their table, or even helping them escape out the back door. Either way, it is a mission and it’s not pleasant for all parties, including us.

If you enjoy, and insist, on bringing dates to a particular bar, tip the bartender so that every time you show up with a date, it could be just like your first time there. We will pretend we’ve never seen you before and give you the best hospitality you’ve ever experienced. 

Peter Chua

Moral of the story: Just don’t bring different dates to the same bar. The person you brought on a date the week before might bring his or her friends to that same bar on another night and the risk of meeting you on a date with another person is too high for comfort. 

Flexing your ego

Shawn: This is the biggest turnoff not only for your date but also for the bartender. Things like name-dropping, or requesting to make your drinks stronger. Get your drinks knowledge on point so you can order a drink that is naturally stronger rather than requesting to make your drink stronger. We can pick up ego-flexing easily, and so can your date.

Peter: Usually the guys are guilty of this, hoping that somehow it would unlock a magic button that makes their date start to swoon over them. I once had a dude come in and literally list all the things he’d accomplished as though he was reading items off his CV.

He went so far as to tell his date he graduated from a well known international high school in Singapore, to which she replied, “People used to tell me that guys from this school are usually full of themselves. I guess they weren’t wrong.” 

Amanda: We are cringing most of the time when we see you over-eager to impress. And it’s not just us, your date can see it too. Once, there was this guy who began listing all of his family’s businesses, and his date called his bluff. She asked our service staff, “What is your most expensive spirit?” And then proceeded to order it.

Try to have some good old-fashioned manners. 

Shawn: Chivalry may no longer be what it once was; however, both men and women should maintain a sense of common decency and be respectful. Act respectfully to the bar, the bartender and your partner, and you are off to a good start. 

Tip: If you are open to learning from us, we are happy to guide you and make sure that you earn brownie points with your date. It also means you are open to learning about different aspects of your date’s life.

Divy: The biggest mistakes you could make would be talking about your ex, getting drunk – especially if the other person isn’t drinking much, flirting in an overtly sexual manner, and being rude to the waitstaff. Always be nice to the staff and tip, it shows generosity – a quality that everyone admires. 

It is often said to watch how someone treats the waitstaff because that’s a reflection of how they will treat you at some point. 

Divy Chauhan

Ronan: Don’t drink-shame. Taste is subjective and sometimes, a beer or a G&T can provide a much needed sip of familiarity in a new situation. Even if you are at a fancy cocktail bar and your date orders a Rum and Coke, a glass of wine, or a bottle of beer, that is what they enjoy!

Most bars take as much time and effort curating wine, beer, and spirits lists for people who do not feel that cocktails are their thing. Make sure the venue can provide for that and try not to make the other person uncomfortable with their first drink or make them try something that you think is the best.

Tip: Use that as a jump-off point to ask the staff for a recommendation of something similar that they might like, or just revel in your differences and enjoy the date.

Getting drunk and making a mess 

We all want to have a good time, and perhaps a drink or two might help to calm the nerves. But if you’re not careful, things could go badly with one too many! 

Angel: Something I’ve seen repeatedly is guests not knowing or overestimating their tolerance for alcohol, or drinking something they’re not familiar with and it hitting harder than expected. The consequences can range from inconsiderately annoying to straight-up dangerous. It’s definitely a big no-no. Know your limits and go easy on it.

Peter: I had a friend who was a lightweight and got too drunk too quickly. He ended up falling asleep at the bar and I had to continue entertaining his date on his behalf till he woke up.

Be punctual. Let’s say that again, BE PUNCTUAL! 

Ronan: Nobody likes being the person at the party that does not know anyone, and the last thing you want to do on a first date is to make the other person feel awkward or uncomfortable before the evening’s even begun.

Tip: Show up early, maybe chat with the staff, establish some rapport. You might learn things about the venue or get menu recommendations for the evening that could come in handy for the night.

Peter: I had a regular of mine show up late for his date at my bar due to work commitments. He was barely 10 minutes late but by the time he arrived, his Tinder date was fuming. She proceeded to loudly exclaim that she should’ve left and gone to meet her friends who were drinking at a nearby bar.

My regular took that situation with much grace and tried his best to rectify the situation. Throughout their 20-minute date, she kept bringing up how she should’ve just left because she had many friends who were asking her out for drinks.

Finally, in order to save her some face value, my regular got a friend to call him pretending that he needed help urgently, he picked up their tab and apologetically left her. Even after he left, she kept going on about how she had friends asking her out to which I replied: “Well, maybe you should go to them then since being here is such a difficulty for you.”

The same rules apply in Kuala Lumpur and, no, Malaysian timing is not an excuse.

Divy: Don’t be late! We all know what traffic can be like, so make an extra effort to be on time. And if you do bring a friend for support, have them sit somewhere else and don’t mention them. Everyone is already nervous, the last thing the other person wants to know is that they are being watched or judged. 

Oh, and keep it PG-13, please! 

Amanda: Don’t make out at the bar! The date fell off the chair while kissing – we still remember it to this very day. If you do anything stupid or humiliating at the bar, someone else is watching. Just get a room…really.

Do this on your next date at a bar

Ronan: We are there to help you have the best experience possible and treating us well will ensure that we treat you well too. 

Understand that the bar staff are just doing their job when they come around and top up your water or ask if everything is going ok. They do not want to intrude on your date, but they want to make sure you are being taken care of. 

Tip: Make friends with them, buy them a round, be cool! If you would rather be left alone, let them know respectfully beforehand and they’ll be more than happy to respect you and your wishes.

Shawn: A tip for the ladies: If it is your first experience visiting the bar, tell us more specifically what is your preference, such as your favourite cocktail for us to tailor a drink for you, in comparison to a general statement of “Give me something that is not so sweet”. It will make a difference to your first experience with us and your date.

Divy: Always have a second option or a backup plan for somewhere else that you can go to. If a date goes well you may want it to continue and changing the setting will help. It will be like going on a second date at a different venue. 

Peter: Going on first dates is like a dance. Both of you are trying to suss each other out and the only way to learn about each other is to listen to each other’s stories.

Tip: If you both happen to be too shy and run out of things to say, ask the bartender. We are primed with small talk categories to which, hopefully, one of them will spark a passionate conversation between the two of you.

Ask nicely and we will be more than happy to be your best wingman. Don’t throw your weight around because things could just as easily turn into a nightmare date.

Amanda Wan

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