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By Paul Michael/Wise Bread
August 26, 2017
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Let’s be clear, most bartenders out there are great. They’re professional, they enjoy interacting with customers, and they work incredibly hard. But sometimes you’ll come across a bartender who is not giving you what you’re paying for. That could be for a number of reasons. He or she may be under orders from the owner to cut corners and save money. The customer could be difficult, or even rude. Or, the bartender is finding ways to pocket cash. Whatever the reason, here are the most common ways your bartender can rip you off.

1. The rim dip

This is a sneaky way to serve you less alcohol than you paid for, by tricking your senses into smelling and tasting a strong drink. The bartender can do this in several ways, but the outcome is the same; the rim of the glass will be dipped in the alcohol of your choice, from vodka or gin, to whiskey or brandy. The easiest method is to have a sponge soaked in alcohol out of sight. You order your drink, the bartender dips the rim of the glass in the sponge, then pours a drink that’s very light on alcohol. You don’t realize this because you taste and smell alcohol every time you take a sip. If you are watching the bartender closely, and the glass disappears from sight for a few seconds, you could be a victim of the rim dip.

The easiest way to find out is to wipe the rim of the glass thoroughly with a napkin and take another sip. Is it weak? Then you’ve been had.

2. The long pour

Next time your bartender goes all Tom Cruise in Cocktail’on you, be skeptical. One of the easiest ways to trick you into thinking you’re getting more booze than you actually are is the long pour. By pulling the bottle away from the glass and creating a long stream of alcohol, you believe you’re getting a healthy shot. But it’s an illusion. The amount of alcohol you get is based on the time it takes to come out of the spout, and has nothing to do with the length of the stream. These long pours are done quickly, and therefore cheat you of alcohol. Sometimes the bartender doesn’t even realize they are shortchanging you, believing the showmanship is all part of the experience. If you want what you pay for, ask the bartender to cut the theatrics. (See also: 15 Ways to Save Money When Getting Your Drink On)

3. The diluted bottle

To be fair, this is usually a collaboration between the bartender and the owner. But however it happens, it’s an easy way to rip off customers in plain sight. The bartender will simply add water to the liquor in the bottle, be it a clear spirit, or something darker. It’s only going to be around 10 to 15 percent of the bottle’s volume, which makes it very difficult for the average customer to detect. But it’s very profitable for the bartender and the owner. However, you see nothing wrong because the pours all look legit.

This is a tough one to catch. The only way to know for sure is to test a neat shot from an open bottle against a neat shot from a bottle that has not yet been touched. And that’s not likely to happen in a busy bar scenario.

4. The brand swap

The simplest way to achieve the brand swap is to pour cheap liquor into empty bottles of a more expensive brand. Another way is to apply expensive labels to bottles of a cheaper brand, but this is time-consuming and tricky to pull off. Either way, the result is that you’re paying for a higher quality of liquor than you’re receiving. With some drinks, it’s very difficult to tell, especially with vodka and rum. But if you’re a whiskey or bourbon aficionado, you’re likely to detect the switch. However, most bars stay away from this one as it’s a crime, and can result in fines and the revocation of their liquor license.

5. The light mixer

This is not exactly a rip off, but more a trick to get you to believe that your bartender is giving you strong pours, while also making you finish your drink more quickly. Basically, the bartender will add a little extra ice to the drink, a regular shot of liquor, and a smaller amount of mixer. This has the effect of making you think your bartender just hooked you up with a strong drink, when in fact, you simply got a lower mixer-to-alcohol ratio. You might be inclined to tip your bartender more, you’ll finish your drink in less time (and therefore buy more drinks in an hour than you would have), and you’ll actually get inebriated more easily. If your drink tastes strong, you can always ask for more mixer to be added. (See also: Bookmark This: How Much to Tip in Almost Every Situation)

6. The liquored-up straw

If you order a drink that naturally comes with a straw, you may be getting scammed. In this illusion, the bartender has a series of containers behind the counter filled with different liquors and straws. The straws become filled with the alcohol. The bartender will then mix your drink with very little alcohol, and add the boozy straw at the end. As you take your first sip, you will get a big hit of alcohol and think that the bartender has hooked you up with a heavy pour. In fact, you got almost no alcohol.

The easiest way to spot this is to sip directly from the glass first. Then, sip from the straw. Notice a big difference? You just got played.

7. The top shelf exchange

You order a drink — let’s say a vodka and orange juice — and it arrives. It tastes great. You order a few more. Then you get the bill. Instead of making your screwdriver with a basic vodka brand, the bartender has poured you one of the expensive options, such as Ketel One, Grey Goose, or even Stoli Elit. The markup on these bottles is huge, and instead of paying $7 for your drink, you’re suddenly seeing $14 per cocktail.

Very few bartenders go in for this practice. It’s a surefire way of losing customers after just one visit. But places that see a lot of tourist traffic, and few repeat customers have been known to pull it. Just make sure you ask for the cheapest brand when you’re getting your cocktails. If you’re drinking neat, or with a splash of water or ice, then you will probably be asked what brand you desire.

This story originally appeared on Wise Bread.

Advertiser Disclosure

The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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