The Drink Blog

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You're Charging me for Ice!?

“No sir, it’s not for the ice. It’s for the “rock’s pour”. “I know rocks means ice, I’m not stupid! On my receipt it says, Johnnie Walker Black. Rocks $3.00. I wanted Johnnie Walker Black Scotch Whisky on ice. You charged me for ice. Ridiculous; I want to see the manager” And so it began…


I would have given him $10 bucks just to go away.


I was yelled at, and being the bar manager of the TGIFriday’s on the late shift didn’t give me the respect I thought it would when I took the position as such a young, innocent, unknowing 20 something year old. (Oh, if I could only talk to that young man today). But I digress. I didn’t have a quick response so I “comped” it after way more insults and arguments $3 deserved. I would have given him $10 bucks just to go away.  When you order spirits served different ways, sometimes there are extra charges; but it’s all fair, I swear. Or at least as fair as it’s going to be when you buy liquor at a bar or restaurant and not a whole bottle at a grocery store.


It gets a little tricky in regards to portion size; sometimes confusing and angering guests alike. Due to the fact that the ice distorts the way the standard amount of alcohol looks in a glass, and because it is lacking another mixer, or other reasons, often establishments charge an additional fee, (or “bump, rocks charge” as it’s sometimes referred to). But you’ll be receiving an additional amount of alcohol either ½ to ¾ oz. depending on the establishment. If this didn’t occur and the bartender serves the standard 1 ½ oz. drink with ice only, it looks incredibly small in the glass, making guests feel like they’ve been cheated.


This is the same case with “Neat” pours. Neat pours are served at room temperature straight from the bottle into the glass. Often, this is for Bourbon Whiskey, Scotch Whisky and Cognacs, which again would look very small for the glass used if only the standard 1 ½ oz. portion was poured. (Most glasses average 10 oz. or more in size. Just think of what 1 ½ oz. of liquid looks in a glass that size). The bartender adds the additional 1/2 oz. in this example, to the standard pour of 1 ½ oz. and the guest gets 2 full oz. of spirit served versus the 1 ½ oz. standard pour. 


In reality, this is a good deal for the guest as the bump or additional charge is usually minimal for ½ to ¾ oz. of additional alcohol. For example, if you order a Bourbon whiskey and soda which costs $14; you are receiving 1 ½ oz. of Bourbon whiskey and the rest is soda water. This works out to $4.66 per 1/2 oz. of alcohol, at the $14 rate. If the establishment charges $3.00 for an additional 1/2 oz. you should actually be charged $4.66, at the previously defined $4.66 per 1/2 oz. rate. So you, “the guest” is actually saving $1.66 with the “rocks charge”. You should be thanking the bartender for the discount!


The above “bump system” if you’d like to call it, also applies to a “Martini” charge. And in actuality, often this charge is at a huge discount! Let’s use Vodka instead of Bourbon in this example. A guest orders a Vodka Martini. The vodka in this example costs $14 (for a 1 ½ oz portion) regularly. But a typical basic martini cocktail can range anywhere from 2.5 oz. to 3, or even 3.5 oz depending on the bar or restaurant. To charge for this cocktail, the bartender “bumps” or adds an additional charge of $6 to make it a “Martini”.


As with the Bourbon whisky example, let’s break it down. Regular vodka portion of 1 ½ oz. is $14, or $4.66 per 1/2 oz. Now you’re getting a Vodka Martini which on the scale described previously can be 2.5 oz of vodka, and often more. If we were using the base of $4.66 per 1/2 oz, then an additional 1 oz. would be a great bargain! (Regular vodka pour 1 ½ oz + 1 oz “Martini bump” = 2.5 oz Martini) 1 oz should cost $4.66 (per ½ oz) x 2 which equals $9.32. But you’re only being charged $6 for an additional 1 oz. This saves $3.32!


Problems usually arise when it’s not clearly communicated on the menu or by the bartender when questioned by the guest why they are being charged an additional fee. Even when both of these are communicated properly, people sometimes assume they are being taken advantage of. Unfortunately, this is not covered in most bartending schools, or even really thought of by bar & restaurant management at times. The cost of liquor is high and people think they can get the same thing at home for much less; which is correct. But guests aren’t taking into account all the additional costs involved in serving alcohol in a public setting, like taxes, insurance, building costs,  maintenance fees and cute girls or guys hanging out at the bar or labor to serve the beverage itself.


So, if you’re a bartender and guests are angry and complain about the price, (how the cost of the alcohol is too high, and that it can be purchased and consumed at home for less); agree with them! Respectfully, of course if you’re working there.


If you’re interested, worthwhile bartending schools will review these details for you. Bartending or just working in the bar & restaurant hospitality industry is more than just making cocktails. There is additional training that needs to be done so that bartenders or servers can provide proper service. And so that they can confidently serve and recommend alcohols and know how to charge for them. Look for bartending schools that train on more than just how to make a cocktail. Or at the very least; now you know what you’re being charged for, which is fun! Enjoy that martini!


P.S. I should mention, sometimes you really are being charged for ice! (Well, sort of). There’s been a trend in recent years to have a large piece of ice in a liquor served “on the rocks” or “rock” in this case. The cube, sphere or sometimes other shape is most often perfectly clear. Large single ice cubes melt slower than smaller pieces, which is a benefit. And the water used to make this ice is usually filtered differently and the freezing technique is definitely different than most bars or restaurants have. Bars & restaurants purchase this special ice from third party vendors and do not make it themselves, most often. And since they purchased it from anywhere from $0.50 to $1.25 per piece of ice, they have to charge you for it.


Now keep in mind, you will still be getting that extra 1/2 oz of alcohol that comes with a “rocks pour”, but in this scenario, you’re also actually paying for ice too, mixed in. Now you know.


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