No professionals are forced to bear witness to more mind-numbingly bad dates than bartenders, making them uniquely qualified to comment on the singles scene.
Now that it's put-yourself-out-there, spring-fling season, online dating tools like Tinder, Match.com, and OkCupid will be flooded with activity from new users and from dating vets returning after a long, cold hiatus.
Bartenders see everything that happens - even if they don't want to. "It's like watching a movie, and there's that awkward moment where you're like, 'I don't want to watch! Let's skip it,'" Mariko Honda of Rittenhouse's a.kitchen says of the unpredictable interactions she witnesses across her bar every shift. "I usually find something to polish."
Their expertise is exactly why we've decided to poll some of Philly's most charming and observant drinkmakers in the hopes of figuring out what we're doing right - and what we're doing really wrong.
1. Put away your phone.
Bartenders will tell you smart devices are the dumbest social crutch.
Phones are a cheap fallback, whether it's a glowing omnipresence or a WiFi escape pod helping one flee from an interminable pause. But the promise of a genuine, old-fashioned connection should encourage you to cut the cord, at least for a while.
American Sardine Bar's Clint Fargason has witnessed encounters where nary a word was exchanged. "I've seen two guys who obviously met on [gay dating app] Grindr each looking at Grindr on their phones," he said. "Don't do that."
At least they were doing it together. Kevin Singer, a bartender at the Dandelion, waited on a man with a brazen mobile strategy. As soon as his date got up to use the restroom, "he jumped on Tinder and started Tinder-shopping," said Singer. "I said, 'Dude, you're cold-blooded.' He said, 'I just don't have the time.' "
2. Start at the bar (and maybe stay there).
Venues offering multiple seating options can be confusing: stay on our stools or commandeer a cozy two-top? Bartenders, of course, say stick with them. "If it turns ugly, there are always other people to talk to," said Resa Mueller of Twenty Manning Grill and Emmanuelle.
If alcohol doesn't interest you, opt for a liquor-free spot. "If you don't drink, don't go to a bar for a Tinder date," said American Sardine Bar's Bonnie Garbinski. "The bartender is probably not going to like you, and you need them on your side."
Which leads us to . . .
3. Recruit the bartender.
Having a bartender in your corner, misting you with a metaphorical spritz bottle when the action turns hairy, can manifest itself in beneficial ways. Multiple sources intimated they had no issue with playing wingman. Mueller views acting as an intervening eye in the sky as another aspect of the job. "Every time you see it get awkward," she said, "you just kind of swing by and check on them."
Singer, from the Dandelion, is more than willing to lay out a little shtick to assuage nerves. "Getting the other person to laugh and enjoy themselves - don't be afraid to use the bartender to do that," he said, "if you need an Abbott to your Costello."
If Jamonera's Doug Fitz identifies a deep lull between two customers on a date, "I'll try to bring the subject to a place where I know there's common ground, then I'll dip out."
4. They hear you.
Being cognizant of what's being said by whom is not bartenders' being intrusive - it's what they do for a living. "The bartender is the one person who hears everything but listens to nothing," said Singer. Much can be gleaned from that ability. "You can tell instantly, based on the conversation, whether it's going well or whether it's going badly," said Tria Taproom's Chris King.
A good bar staff likes to be able to anticipate needs. So don't be surprised if you find the desires of you and your date being fulfilled before you address anyone formally. It might even be swifter than normal, if the conversation between you and the relative stranger you have chosen to engage screeches off a steep cliff.
5. Stop talking about yourself.
In Percy Street Barbecue bartender Charles Griffin's experience, "it always seems like the guy is overtalking," a sentiment echoed by Fitz, who witnesses "blabbermouths" sabotaging their own dates before they even get a chance to take off.
It's a lot of overcompensation. Because dating sites match strangers based on little more than pictures and shared interests, there's a strong possibility two people meeting up have little in common aside from thinking the other's photos are cute.
Making even a negligible effort to ask a date questions about him or herself, or even having a couple of stock conversation starters stashed in your back pocket for emergencies, goes quite a long way in improving the quality of the blind dates these bartenders see every single shift.
"When you're spouting off everything you've done since you've graduated college, you're turning a person on edge the entire time," said King. "Let the other person speak."
6. Know your tastes - and your limits.
One of Mueller's favorite first-date moves is when a patron "orders a drink because they think it's cool, but they clearly don't like it." Instead of suffering through that high-alcohol-content barleywine, order something you enjoy. You're not impressing anyone - definitely not the bartender (see No. 3).
Daters also earn zero points for the biggest bar-going faux pas of them all: overstepping your alcoholic boundaries. "There's nothing worse than seeing one [person] get really drunk and embarrass themselves," said Trevor Carb, a bartender at El Poquito in Chestnut Hill, "while the sober one nervously checks their phone and eye-rolls at me."
Sharp bartenders are able to slow down an overeager sipper with water, food, conversation, or strategically delayed drink delivery, but the onus still falls on the people doing the drinking - especially if a second date is the goal.
"Drink slowly," said Singer. "As a bartender, this is a terrible piece of advice to give out. But you really do need to pace yourself."