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A suit may make the man, a handbag may make the woman, but the most unsuspecting way to assess the mettle of colleagues or clients—women or men—is to pay close attention to what they order at happy hour. "People should treat what they're drinking like it's a business," says New York mixologist Damon Boelte. "You can tell in an instant if someone is confident, bold, and willing to take chances" by her cocktail choice. Order a Budweiser? Not so interesting. But a boulevardier? This conversation starter has likely piqued the interest of a potential client with the question "What's in that?" (Your answer: Equal parts bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth.)
That's not to say you have to drink at all. The idea, says bartender Mindy Kucan of Houston's popular Anvil cocktail bar, is to think creatively or let the person making your drink do the work for you. "Don't be afraid to let the bartender hold your hand," she says. More often than not, he or she will be excited to make something more interesting than a cran and soda or a cosmo. Whether or not the drink has alcohol in it, your willingness to try something new reflects well on you.
To help you decipher the psychology behind the booze, Bloomberg Businessweek called on Boelte, Kucan, and Jayson Wilde of San Francisco's Bourbon and Branch cocktail bar. The one drink type we didn't ask them to address? Shots. Because they're never a good idea.