A customer walks in, looking as unsure as anyone I’ve ever encountered at the bar. It’s strange to me how some people can get uncomfortable going to a bar by themselves. Maybe I’m just used to the solo approach.

He scans the room, glances at his phone, and scans the room again. He pauses awkwardly by the door (To dash out if he realizes he’s in the wrong place?), he sits down at the bar and orders a shot to calm those nerves. First impressions are a bitch.

A woman enters a side door, and I see his face light up in partial recognition. Is this her? I think it’s her. He greets her and I’m taking bets as to whether it will be the businesslike handshake, the awkward hug (the one where you lean forward, you know the one) or maybe the no-touch rule comes into play and it’s just tight smiles and pleasantries. The awkward hug wins. The Art of the First Impression is now in it’s first stage; they’re both playing it safe.

I remember when people would just come to the bar to hook up. Now, dating apps take much of the risk out of the game. But still there are rules and guidelines.

When meeting at a bar, alcohol comes into play. It’s a casual “no-strings” meeting that provides an easy out in case a connection isn’t made. The general approach is that first dates order something they can take their time with. She gets a light cocktail, he gets a beer, they retire to an isolated booth.

This isn’t a coffee shop in the afternoon, so the rules are different. But one must be careful, I’ve seen first-time meet-ups fail spectacularly after one too many. Lips will loosen, ships may sink and the next thing you know it’s red-flag city.

I recall online dating becoming a thing when I was in college. It was a clumsy approach to an age-old method, but it had potential. Used to be, a bartender could make or break a first date. That’s still possible, of course, but it’s just not the same.

It’s not likely, but maybe those stars will align for these two today. I’m always happy to see someone come out of their comfort zone and chalk up a win in the romance department. Part of the job is living vicariously through your customers.

This “Busy Bar” approach is a common method — the main advantage being is that it’s easy to get out of there quick if it’s terrible. You might be a regular and know that the bartender or other customers have your back. Your friends might be hanging out at the bar next door, waiting for failure so you can join them after the sparks don’t fly. This happens a lot.

One of the bars I work at is a perfect place for more intimate encounters. It’s an out-of-the way place, plenty of nooks to nestle yourself in, the Heliocentrics or some other instrumental ’70s band sets the mood and nobody is screaming trivia questions into a microphone. It’s a warm, roomy place with space to move. I’ve got some regulars who pick this spot as a neutral zone precisely because it’s out of the way and there’s less a chance of encountering anyone they know. Besides me, of course.

The couple are still talking. I’m optimistic about their chances. You have to be in this business — it’s very easy to acquire a pessimistic point of view with so many chances to fail at a bar. So it’s nice to see something work out.

Body language is everything. I see eye contact, open postures, smiles. That’s encouraging. I busy myself with other customers, while letting the courtship play out. A bartender should have the ability to pay attention without hovering around the customers waiting for a chance to hop on the next drink. Especially with first encounters. Let them breathe.

I find myself talking to one of my regulars, and as I hear laughter echo from the booth, I look up and see the guy coming up for another round. He’s got a dazed expression with a half grin, almost like he’s surprised that it’s working out. I’m happy for him.

“You doing okay?” I ask. He grins, nods, and hurries back to the booth, where the woman expectantly waits with a smile on her face.

So far, so good.

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