“I love this bar,
It’s my kind of place.
Just walk in through the front door,
Puts a big smile on my face.
It ain’t too far, come as you are.
Mm, mm, mm, mm, mm, I love this bar.”
So I’ve been in Spain for about a week now and one of the things that always strikes me as soon as I spend some time in Europe is that I like the bars here much better than the bars in the States. After a few glasses of wine last night, here’s the argument I came up with:
OK, it may seem weird that I’m saying that the slow service in Europe is actually a good thing but hear me out. In the US, servers work their butts off trying to make sure you’re happy and it creates an environment where everyone is a little bit on edge. On the one hand, servers are hustling and anxious to keep their customers happy and so they earn a good tip. Further, they’re trying to be fast so they can turn over their table for another group for even more tips. On the other hand, the tipping culture makes customers feel entitled to immediate attention and they ultimately become anxious and upset when they have to wait for more than 14 seconds for something.
In Europe, the service is typically quite slow… and everyone is ok with it. If you have to sit for a few extra minutes with an empty glass, so be it. Europeans simply enjoy being outside in the company of friends and family. If you desperately need the server’s attention, you can either flag them down or go to them and ask for something. And no one gets worked up about any of that. It’s such a relaxed environment, which is exactly how it should be if you’re having a good time out with friends and family.
Limited Selection of Drinks
Again, you might be surprised to read that I think that bars with fewer choices are way better than bars with endless options. First of all, this means that when you’re inside a bar, you don’t have to wait 10 minutes for the bartender to make a cosmo, an extra dirty martini, two buttery nipples, and a Long Island Iced Tea for the group in front of you… and you also don’t have to wait for the last person in that group to decide which one of the 19 lagers they want… or would they rather have an IPA? Even in beer-loving Ireland, most bars have only 4 or 5 beers on tap (Guinness, Smithwicks, Heineken, Budweiser, and maybe one more). For me, as primarily a wine drinker, I don’t have to order anything beyond “vino blanco” or “vino tinto”… and that’s just fine with me. It keeps things simple and efficient.
Cheaper and No Tipping
Though it’s nice to leave a little bit extra for your server in Europe, it’s certainly not required or expected. As a result, I typically spend significantly less money when I go out in Europe compared to the States. Additionally, without tipping, there’s a culture where everyone is comfortable just sitting around and hanging out for a while. Even the servers don’t really care if you just sit there all night as it won’t affect their tips at the end of the night. In the States, as soon as you finish your food or don’t immediately order more drinks, servers will bring you your check and try to rush you out.
Additionally, the price per drink is typically much lower in Europe. I’m not sure the reason for this (maybe related to the simplified menu offerings mentioned above?) but I’m certainly not complaining. My wine last night was less than $3/glass!!
Late Night Hunger Pangs
I’m currently in Spain so this one really sticks out to me but as long as you’re at a bar/café, there’s almost always some small food (tapas) that you can order. Most of it is simple food like a couple of slices of jamon on a small baguette or a small slice of pizza but it’s incredibly nice after a few drinks to be able to order a small tapa for a couple of Euros.
Outside Over Inside
In southern Europe where it’s a little bit warmer, it’s completely unsurprising that people like sitting outside but the appreciation for fresh air extends far north as well. I would say that throughout Europe, as long as it’s dry and above ~55 degrees, Europeans will go sit outside. Heat lamps and/or blankets are often provided if it’s on the cooler side but Europeans will often brave the cooler temperatures regardless.
The Drinking Culture
Though the laws vary from place to place, for the most part Europeans can legally drink beer and wine at age 16 and spirits at age 18. While I’m not sure drinking that young is healthy developmentally, I believe the younger drinking age creates a better relationship with alcohol as you can learn to drink responsibly with your family before you move out on your own. Instead, Americans are supposed to wait until they’re 21 at which point they desperately want to know what it feels like to be drunk and the focus of nights out becomes alcohol instead of enjoying the time with the people around you. Here are two quick examples:
First, while there are obviously exceptions to this rule, Europeans rarely take shots. Further, drinks in the majority of places are tightly portion-controlled. No one needs a liter of beer or a Jack & Coke served in a pint glass! Combine smaller drinks with the slow service mentioned above and you have an environment where people drink but don’t necessarily get completely wasted. It’s a much more pleasant culture of drinking where people young and old can hang out, be social, and have fun. It’s completely normal to be sitting outside at a café after midnight with ages ranging from young kids to people old enough to be their great grandparents. In the States, once 10 or 11pm hits, the old people go home and the young people take over.
Second, with drunk people comes a certain level of agitation. Take, for example, a scenario where someone gets their foot stepped on at a bar. In the States, this often becomes confrontational. In fact, I was there when a guy got shot and killed at a bar in Philly because of a stupid drunk encounter. It’s like Chris Rock said: “if someone steps on your foot, let it slide! Why spend the next 20 years in jail because someone smudged your Puma?”
In Europe, if someone steps on your foot as they walked by, they’d apologize and probably make some half-funny comment about how close the tables are and how they don’t fit in between tight spaces like they used to. They’d exchange a courteous laugh and move on with their day.
In the end, there are obviously places in Europe where people drink in excess and there are also places where the drinking culture isn’t as I’ve described it here but for the most part, I think that the European culture of drinking is far healthier, more relaxed, and more fun compared to that of the States.
Imperfect Bars – Smoking
I’d be remiss without saying that as long as you’re sitting outside, smoking is still allowed at most bars throughout Europe which takes some getting used to. Though smoking is still quite prevalent, it’s definitely less than it was even a few years ago. I hope this will continue to get better over the next 5-10 years.
The cafés and bars in Europe are big reasons why I started the “DrayDrinking” portion of my website. It’s so awesome to sit outside and have a coffee or a beer without any troubles in the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of Europe as I have family that lives here so I feel less compelled to be a traditional tourist and go directly from one attraction to another. Instead, I’m perfectly happy to find a café in the morning for a coffee while I catch up on emails or read up on the day’s news. From there, I’ll wander around a bit and maybe visit one or two new neighborhoods and eventually find a restaurant or bar and have a seat outside with a drink in hand. #DrayDrinking!!
What do you think? Does anyone want to make a case for American bars?