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A Beginner's Guide to Ordering (21+) Drinks


Two glasses sit on a dark brown wooden table. On the left, a tall glass with hot pink alcoholic drink and a lime on top. On the right, a short glass with a light pink alcoholic drink and a lime on top.
Photo by Aminah Jenkins

When you turn 21, one of the most daunting tasks is ordering alcohol. Ordering drinks “properly” can be confusing if you have never done it before, so here is a quick guide for common phrases you may hear and how to confidently order your first alcoholic beverage.


First, go in with an idea of a flavor that you like. If you're feeling nervous, stick to the basic cranberry, orange, etc. You can always ask the bartender to make you something with a flavor base that you like, and see what they surprise you with.


The proper way to order a mixed drink is to say the liquor before the mixer. For example, you want to say “I’ll have a vodka cranberry” instead of a “cranberry vodka.” Unless you have a specific kind of liquor brand in mind, the bartender will usually just give you the house brand that their establishment carries.


The bartender will probably ask you if you want to keep your tab open or closed. This just means they want to know if you are planning to order more than one drink, so they can keep your card on file instead of paying individually for each thing you order. When you are done ordering for the night, just ask the bartender to close your tab and you’ll pay for all your drinks at once.


If you are out with friends, make sure to have all of your orders ready at one time. Most likely, the bartenders are very busy, and it's better to get the whole order completed rather than having to order one at a time. It also may be financially smarter to order a “round” for you and your friends rather than individual shots, for example. Take turns on who buys the drinks, and that way it is simpler than everything being individual.

In situations where it may seem nerve wracking, simplicity is key. Don’t try to get too fancy and order a martini on the rocks, in which case “on the rocks” just means it will be served with ice. There are many different ways to order a martini, but the main makeup of the drink is going to be gin, vermouth, and an olive. Many bartenders will know that you're freshly of the legal drinking age and will take it easy on you, so no need to be intimidated.


Usually, those who are just learning what they like to drink go for the more fruity, sweet drinks. My personal favorite right now is an electric lemonade (sour mix, vodka, blue curacao), but it’s very sour so be prepared if you decide to try it. Some of the other most common drinks include a margarita which is tequila, lime juice, usually a triple sec liqueur, and possibly an extra sweetener like agave or simple syrup. Good luck, and happy ordering!


By Haileigh West, Opinion Editor

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