The Dude Society

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Cocktail Basics: How To Order A Cocktail

So you’ve taken the little lady out to a restaurant or nice bar and want to order a drink.  This isn’t your local pub, you’re not just going to wave $10 and ask for a couple of Bud Lights.  Here are the basics of ordering a cocktail at a place that knows how to make one worth drinking.

What Will You Drink

If you don’t have a favorite drink, take a look at the specialty cocktail list if one is available.  There are often some good options there.  It’s also easy to order off this list, no further knowledge is required.  If you have a specific drink in mind or are ordering for someone else, follow the list below.

Getting The Bartender’s Attention

For starters, waving money, snapping fingers, or (cringe) yelling is not the answer here.  As in most of life, a modicum of decency and respect goes a long way.  Make your way to a place at the bar where you can be seen.  Don’t stand behind five other guys on your tip toes trying to see what’s going on.  Then, with a smile on your face, attempt to make eye contact with the bartender.  If you will be ordering for more than just yourself, have enough money in your hand to indicate so, but please don’t wave it.  You’re not the only guy with $60 in his pocket.  Whatever the case, be prepared to order when the bartender gives you their attention.  Don’t be yelling back to your date or group asking what they want.

The Liquor

Always specify which liquor first and preferably which brand.  You order a rum and Coke, not a Coke and rum.  Realize that when ordering a type (as opposed to brand) of liquor you get the cheapest (also called “well”) brand they have.  I would advise against this.  Every Dude should know his (and his lady’s) favorite brands.  Unless of course he is being cheap, which I also advise against.  Nicer places typically don’t have “well” booze so it’s best to know the brands you like anyhow.  Not sure what you like?  Learn.  Ask what type of vodka they have and pick one so it seems like you know what you’re talking about.  Don’t like it?  Pick a different one next time.  When specifying a brand, you don’t order a Ketel One Vodka, you simply order a Ketel One.  Saying Ketel One Vodka, is like saying I own an iPhone cell phone.

The Terminology: Neat, Chilled, Up, Rocks

When ordering straight booze (particularly whiskey) one may ask for it Neat.  Neat means in a glass, no ice, not cold, no mixers.  Note: This is for sipping it is not a shot!

Chilled is what one does to a shot so they can shoot it cold.  Chilled only refers to shots.  The booze is shaken over ice and poured into a shot glass.  In my opinion, shots should only be done as a one-time celebratory group thing.  Doing shots by yourself means you’re probably an alcoholic.  Multiple shots is just a way to accelerate your inebriation, and not taste the booze you’re paying for.  If you’re drinking good stuff, which you should be, you want to be able to taste it.  No one attempts to swallow a filet mignon whole.

Up is when a mixed drink is shaken or stirred with ice then strained into a glass, usually a Martini glass.  This allows no further dilution of the drink from melting ice.  Note: this is different than ordering something straight or straight up which means just straight booze and is akin to ordering it neat.

Rocks is simply, on ice.

Other Less Needed Terms

Back – To have a “back” of something means something to follow a drink, also called a chaser.  When you order a Maker’s Mark neat you may want a “back of water” to sip between sips of the whiskey.

Dirty – Pertains typically to Martinis, and means that olive brine is added to the Martini.

Dry, Very Dry – Refers to the amount of Vermouth in a cocktail, specifically a Martini.  Dry has some vermouth, and Very Dry has almost none.

Olives, Onions, Twists – When ordering a Martini you should specify if you want Olives, Cocktail Onions (and how many…”2 onions please”) or a Twist, which is just the peel of the lemon.  For other drinks you can specify a Lemon or Lime, which means you will get a wedge, or a Twist.

Parting Words…

So there you have it, most cocktail basics explained.  So now, instead of saying a “Vodka Martini with very little Vermouth and no ice…oh and a couple of olives”, you will simply say “Ketel One Martini, very dry, up, 2 olives, please”.  See how much nicer that sounds.  And instead of saying a “whiskey with no ice and a glass of water on the side”, you will say “Maker’s Mark, neat, back of water, please.”  You will of course do both of these while standing at the front of the bar and smiling at the bartender with your money ready.  Happy Drinking!!

About the author

Rich is the resident food & drink expert. He's been cooking since age ten, and has probably eaten and drank at most every restaurant or bar in New York City.

All articles by Rich »

7 responses to “Cocktail Basics: How To Order A Cocktail”

  1. @dvrcdntbrkn says:

    Grey Goose Martini, Dry, Up with 2 olives. Thanks.. keep the change.

  2. Maiah says:

    i saw this headline and thought "i know how to order a cocktail" but the more i read, the more i learned. thanks for the basics!

  3. Jordan says:

    Makers neat with a twist

  4. Ray says:

    You forgot to mention tipping.

  5. dohdeelicious says:

    Hi. Thanks for the article. Really helpful.

    I have a couple of questions…

    I am learning how much vermouth I prefer in my martini. If I don’t specify dry, extra dry, sweet, or perfect will I receive the bartender’s standard gin/vermouth recipe?

    I hate a martini glass… Is it wrong to ask for my up martini to be served in a rocks glass?

    How do I ask for the ice used to make my martini to be given to me in a separate glass?

    Thanks very much. I started tasting different liquors and cocktails only recently and don’t want to sound like an idiot nor simply appear to be pretentious when all I want is to figure out what I like and them order it.

  6. David says:

    What is the proper way to order a whiskey mixed with water? For example, I like mine as makers, rocks, 1/3 water. I usually just order it makers, rocks, back of water and then mix it to taste myself. Is there a proper way to order this?

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