Tips and Tricks: Cigar Store and Lounge Etiquette -or Who Brought This Guy? (To the B&M)
This article focuses on public shops and lounges. Members-Only lounges hold to different rules, and typically police themselves.
In a scene from The Hangover, the character Alan asks the rest of the guys “Are you ready to let the dogs out?” followed by an awkward dance while attempting to sing the line from the song. After shaking off the stunned silence, Phil asks the others “Who brought this guy along?” Most of us probably have friends who do embarrassing things. Some of us have done those embarrassing things all on our own. When visiting your favorite B&M cigar shop, don’t bring this guy.
The BYOC (Bring your own cigars) Guy
When you walk in to a local shop with a baggie of cigars and a six-pack of your favorite beverage, then plop down in a leather chair, crack a beer, fire up a stogie and start puffing away… Most of the other patrons in the shop will have a problem with that and undoubtedly the shop owner will also. Many state laws prohibit a patron from smoking cigars not purchased in the shop where you sit down to smoke. Even with these laws in place, some shops will (sometimes) allow you to bring in some of your own cigars to smoke while you are there. Do not abuse this generosity if offered by the shop owner. Chances are, the shop has a walk-in humidor filled with some great cigars, buy one to take home, or at least buy a beverage to enjoy while you smoke. Could you buy the same cigars for a lower price from an online retailer? Maybe. But smoking at the lounge isn’t about saving money, it is about relationships.
Trust with a B&M owner is a two-way street and contrary to the overused cliché, the customer is not always right. As a patron of the shop, you need to trust that the shop is clean and comfortable and well stocked with quality premium tobacco products. You also need to trust that the owner knows the business and that the owner knows how to cultivate relationships with customers. The owner needs to trust that you (the customer) are in the shop to actually support the business. How do customers support a business? By buying things from the business. A good shop owner is a wealth of knowledge, and probably some great stories. Get to know your shop owner and you will probably gain a friend. Once that relationship is in place, you may notice your shop owner saying OK to you bringing in your travel humidor with a few of your own smokes from time to time. If you keep up your end of the relationship with regular purchases from the shop, a shop owner may be more inclined to give you a pass.
If the shop owner is friendly but still unwilling to bend on customers bringing in their own cigars, guess what… That is his choice and as a customer, you need to abide by that without getting your man-bun in a knot. Release the iron claw that you have clenched around your wallet and make a purchase. Some shops offer locker space for rent, even to non-members. If you like the shop and smoke there often, this is a great option. A shop owner would probably be willing, because he is gaining from a locker rental fee, to let you keep a few of your own cigars in your locker that you purchased elsewhere. It can take a while to build a strong relationship but only a moment to destroy it.
The iconic Peanuts comic strip featured an unforgettable character known for his unkempt appearance, and the cloud of dust that surrounded him. This character, called Pigpen, was a grimy representation of what not to be. When you enjoy your cigars at home you are welcome to be as messy as you want. When you smoke at the B&M, you need to leave the Pigpen at home.
When you find an open chair in your cigar shop and sit down to smoke, consider this… You are a guest in someone’s home. I can hear some of you say “What? This is not someone’s home, it’s a cigar shop!”… Well, cigar shops differ from most other businesses. The atmosphere in a cigar shop is that of a family room. Conversations about all manner of subjects. Maybe the game on TV. Sharing stories about family, work, favorite cigars, and some of the best brotherhood you can find anywhere. Now that we have established the principle that a cigar shop is like someone’s home, you can ask yourself some questions. Would you drop ashes all over the chair and floor in someone’s home? Would you leave empty beverage containers lying around? Would you allow your cigar to put a burn mark on the table or the couch? If you answered yeas to any of these questions, we need to talk.
I am not saying that all cigar shops are nose-in-the-air, posh, exclusive, snobbish sanctuaries of culture and pretension. Most cigar shops are run by regular people for regular people. Most shop patrons just want a place to relax, share some stories, and enjoy some great cigars. The “regular people” who frequent cigar shops do not want a messy and broken down atmosphere in which to enjoy their cigars. The shop owner has enough to tend to around the shop without having to play the role of maid and bus-boy. Most shop owners will not say anything at all about ashes on the floor or empty beer cans left behind, but as a member of the cigar community you need to show a higher level of care for the shop and your fellow smokers. Clean up after yourself. If someone else leaves a mess, clean it up. That’s something a good guest does.
The Coach and the Drill Sergeant
The kind and gentle coach. An encouraging father figure who only wants the best for you and the team. Contrast that with the intense, in-your-face, drill instructor who only wants to tell you what a screw up you are. Ernie Pantusso, otherwise known as “Coach”, was a character in the beloved TV series, Cheers. Coach was a bit on the dim-witted side, but was always there to encourage and bring a laugh to the gang at Cheers. On the other side of the coin, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, the unforgettable character in the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket. “Gunny” was the Drill Sergeant tasked with shaping Marine recruits into fighting form.
Picture yourself relaxing at your favorite cigar shop. You got there early enough to pick out your smokes from the humidor and still get a seat in your favorite chair. You have a quick and friendly conversation with the owner and lament how your favorite sports franchise just blew it for the umpteenth year in a row. As you light your cigar and sit back, some other patrons file in. Some people you know, and some you don’t. A group gathers in the chairs and couches around you. In the midst of the conversation, you see it. It could be a number of different things, but you know because of your years of refined and expert cigar experience that someone has just made a mistake. Maybe he cut his cigar past the cap. Maybe he is smoking way too fast, causing his cigar to go up like a tire fire. Maybe he is dropping ashes all over the place while simultaneously spilling his coffee. Perhaps he doesn’t toast the foot of his cigar. Maybe he gets down to the nub of his cigar and mashes it down in the ashtray like it was a Lucky Strike.
When you see these so-called infractions, you have a choice to make. Will you be the Coach or the Drill Sergeant? Before you make this decision, you need to go back to the relationship question. Is this someone you know? If so, is it a close friend? The action you take should be determined by the relationship you have with this person. If he is a good friend, chances are you can lay it on thick with a good amount of razzing. In many cases, that’s what friends do. They know it’s all in good fun and no harm is done. If you don’t know them, you need to use tact and reason when you bring up any possible infraction. Coach would kindly, and with just the right amount of humor, talk to him about the generally accepted action that addresses the cigar lounge rules of the game. On the other hand, Gunny would launch into a tirade and publicly call him out for the blatant breach in protocol.
Chances are, you don’t need to say anything at all. Ask yourself a few questions before you say something. Is the action taken going to have an adverse effect on your smoking experience or relaxation? Are any of the other patrons in the shop also seemingly annoyed or concerned with the action taken? Will anyone involved, including you, truly benefit from what could be an uncomfortable and drawn out conversation about the finer points of cigar smoking 101?
Now, if the offending party is being a royal ass and deliberately annoying other patrons, the story may be different. I am not suggesting you throw down the gloves and call someone out. Just take a moment to collect your thoughts and then have a brief and discreet conversation with the shop owner. Again, take a moment to clearly decide if it’s even worth talking about. Not every cigar smoker will smoke the same way you do, and not every cigar smoker knows or cares about these “best practices” the way you might. Just relax and go back to enjoying your cigar. Save the coaching for the cigar shop softball league.
The Name Dropper
While enjoying one of your favorite cigars at the cigar lounge, you expel another draw and smile. You say something like “Man, I love this cigar” or “These never disappoint” or similarly affirming comment. Somebody nearby chimes in with “Yeah, but the XYZ cigar is so much better than that one”. Really, dude? If you are enjoying your cigar, that’s all that should matter. Nobody wants to hear about how some other cigar is better than the one he is smoking at that moment. You may have an endless cigar budget. You may have been to every country that is a major producer of cigars. You may be the President of Cigarpurostogieland. Guess what… NOBODY CARES!
It’s OK if you want to ask “Hey, have you tried the XYZ cigar?” and say “I enjoyed that one” or something to that effect. Sharing ideas about what to smoke next is part of the fun of being a member of the cigar community. Word of mouth is how many of us come to learn about new blends or brands. We have all seen a cigar that we decided to try because we found it on social media our favorite cigar website. Maybe you’ll see someone at the lounge smoking a cigar that you did not care for. There is no point in listing all of the cigars that you think are better than the one he is smoking. It serves no purpose. It is fine to mention that you didn’t necessarily care for that one, but don’t try to one-up a fellow cigar smoker.
Maybe you’ve smoked every high-profile, limited edition, rare, out of production, expensive vintage cigar in the world… Good for you. Perhaps your 5000-count cabinet humidor at home is made from the reclaimed timbers of Noah’s Ark and has door handles made from Mastodon ivory… Yippee. Maybe you only use Unicorn tears in your humidifier because distilled water just isn’t pure enough… Yawn. If your need to save the rest of us from our “common” cigars is so strong, maybe you should smoke at home while taking a selfie in front of your rack of full Behike boxes and smoking the cigar that was given to you personally by Castro and drinking your Scotch distilled by William Wallace himself.
Mr. Grabby Hands
For cigar lovers, it can be such a joy to step inside the walk-in humidor at our favorite cigar shop. You can almost hear angels sing as beams of light shine down upon the endless shelves of broadleaf goodness. It is so much fun to walk the aisles of a well-stocked cigar shop. Seeing all of those beautiful blends laid out in stunning fashion for all to see. It can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. Choices, choices, choices.
Now imagine a guy who was in the humidor a few minutes before you. He stumbles in and starts eyeballing the cigars like he’s in the produce section of the supermarket. Instead of plums or tomatoes or melons, he is handling all the cigars. Seeing a box that looks good, he picks of one of the cigars and squeezes it like a roll of toilet paper from a 1970’s TV commercial. He rolls it between his fingers while holding it up to his ear. Not liking something, he puts that cigar back in the box and looks to his next victim. On another shelf, a cigar catches his eye. He grabs one from the box and partially removes the cigar from the cellophane. Sticking the foot of the cigar up his nose, he takes a whiff that would make a coke addict jealous. Then rolling the cigar lengthwise under his nose while sniffing like a bloodhound on a manhunt. He decides that one is not for him. He slides the cigar back into the cellophane and tosses the cigar back in the box.
If you are choosing items from your supermarket for your next fruit salad, by all means, pick up the fruits in the produce section. Squeeze and tap on the fruits. Give them a good up close smell to make sure they are just right. If you don’t choose that piece of fruit and someone else does, they can wash it at home before using it. We can’t wash the cigars from the shop humidor that you slobbered all over and then put back in the box. Yes, you can handle the cigars and perhaps give it a gentle pinch to make sure it’s packed or humidified properly. You can give it a little sniff, provided you put some distance between the cigar and your moustache. But if you’re going to have intimate relations with that cigar, please take it from the humidor to the counter. Pay for it, and smoke it. Nobody wants to put a cigar in their mouth that you just made out with.
Poverty is a real problem around the world. I’m sure all of us have, at one time or another, seen an individual with a cardboard sign asking for help. It would be impossible to dig down to the heart of each person’s motives and what drives them to do this. Some are in genuine need and some are scam artists looking for easy money. It can be seen in any major city in the world.
For a far less poetic reason, this behavior can also be seen at the cigar lounge. Most of us have seen the cigar panhandler before. He might buy one cigar at the shop. Likely, the cheapest stick in the humidor. Then he starts making the rounds. In the beginning, it may be masked with curiosity and feigned interest in the cigar you are smoking. Perhaps some questions about the brand or the blend. It might be a comment about how cool the band looks or how beautiful the wrapper on that cigar is. These conversations can be perfectly innocent but they can also hide an intent to mooch. If all else fails, a bold panhandler will eventually just ask “You mind if I try one of those?”
As for me (and most of the people I smoke with), I pick out a selection of smokes at the shop that I want to try. I also pick out a selection of favorites. Many times I will get more than one of a particular cigar specifically with the intent to share it with another person. I will give cigars to friends and even to new acquaintances. It’s a great way to get conversations going and a great way show generosity. I have been on the receiving end of some outstanding generosity before and I have tried to be on the giving end of that generosity as well.
Sharing is one of the great joys of life. It is impossible to do something nice for someone and not feel subsequent happiness. Be quicker to offer a cigar than to ask for a cigar. You will be better for it. Certain sayings can be viewed as cliché or platitude, but one holds true no matter how old… It is better to give than to receive.
-Matthew T. (A Huge Nerd)