In this article, we’ll discuss gentlemanly behavior and etiquette at the tobacconist and how to maintain decorum while buying cigars at the cigar shop.
Why Cigar Shop Etiquette Matters
If you ask any cigar smoker, they will tell you the difference between cigar smoking and cigarette smoking is that the latter is an addiction whereas cigar smoking is a hobby. For cigar enthusiasts and aficionados, they consider it to be a lifestyle.
For enthusiasts, entering the tobacconist is almost a sacred event. It is a place of solace and fellowship. It’s also a unique shopping environment where scent, taste and intricate temperature and humidity control play a vital part in the end experience of smoking the cigar. Any seasoned cigar smoker will know that even a minute change to the environment or improper handling of a cigar can prove to alter the result the purchaser will experience when smoking it. Therefore, it’s vital that care be taken to ensure every customer of the shop has a good experience.
Being the New Guy
Like walking into a neighbourhood pub, the cigar shop will likely have its share of regulars who consider outsiders an annoyance. Certainly many cigar shops are very welcoming to new customers, but there are still a few remaining tobacconists that generate most of their revenue through regular customers. These tobacco shops will often be less cordial when new walk-in customers come through the doors.
Getting to Know the Tobacconist and Regulars
If you’re new to the shop, the first person to get to know is the tobacconist. Like a good alterations tailor or talented barber, the tobacconist will become your lifeline in the world of cigars and possibly pipe tobacco. At first, you’ll rely on his expertise, but after developing a relationship, he will likely begin to cater to your cigar interests. He may special order certain cigars from his suppliers that he thinks you’ll enjoy. He might contact you to let you know when your favorite cigars are down to the last box. You may even find that he puts together sampler packs for you as a gift now and then to show you new products. The little perks such as free lighter refills, home or office delivery and putting aside cigars for you to age are just a few of the benefits you might experience once you’ve become a regular.
The next group of people you’ll want to get to know is the regulars. Not everyone is an extrovert, and so you may not wish to use the tobacconist as a place to meet likeminded people or share a smoke with a new friend. However, regulars are the best and worst types of customers; especially if they’re very loyal and spend a lot of money at the shop. They’re great because
- They will be happy to discuss cigars and recommend them without caring if you make a purchase.
- They will share tips and tricks that they’ve picked up along the way.
- They will often trade cigars and swap accessories or humidors with other regulars.
- They can be a source of friendship and introduce you to other likeminded individuals.
Unfortunately, they can also:
- Close ranks to newcomers, which is especially challenging if it’s the only local tobacconist.
- Exclude you from the groups of patrons that congregate in the shop or its smoking room.
- Try to exert influence over the shopkeeper.
Typically, you don’t have to be concerned so long as you go in with the understanding that this isn’t The Gap or another clothing store at some shopping mall frequented by teenagers. So long as you treat them with courtesy and respect, chances are you will get the same in return. And so long as you are respectful, most regulars will overlook any missteps that new customers might make such as wearing cologne into the shop or over-handling a cigar. In fact, if you show that you are receptive to learning, even a recalcitrant regular will most likely be flattered to be asked about their knowledge.
The Dos and Don’ts of the Cigar Shop
- Be mindful that for many customers, a visit to the tobacconist is a source of relaxation.
- Dress appropriately. You don’t have to wear a suit, but don’t walk in wearing a swim suit and thong sandals.
- Ensure doors close behind you. There are few things as important as the temperature and humidity of the humidor.
- Enter quietly and introduce yourself to the shopkeeper the way you would at a business meeting.
- Leave your name and email or calling card with those who ask for it. They are not telemarketers. You will not be harassed to buy products. They might simply want to get to know you or notify you of any cigar-related events, sales or offers you might be interested in.
- Walk in disruptively, such as calling across the room or slamming doors.
- Use inappropriate or obscene language or make rude gestures.
- Interrupt someone talking with the shopkeeper.
- Try to engage regulars in conversation unless they are evidently open to conversing with you. This is especially true if there is a smoking room as many men do enjoy talking but some prefer to smoke in silence.
- Wear scented products such as body sprays or cologne. The fragrance can impact the smoking experience.
- Light a cigarette or cigarillo in the smoking room. It is for cigars only and possibly pipes if allowed.
- Act boisterous or arrogant. Purporting to be a cigar expert is a surefire way to alienate yourself if you’re not.
- Ask for favours or discounts if you’re new to the shop. Even if you hear others asking favours or getting discounts, chances are they are receiving them due to their ongoing patronage and loyalty to the shop.
- Attempt to haggle prices. However, you can ask if there are discounts for buying in bulk.
- Sit down in a smoking chair if other people are around without first asking if the seat is taken. Sometimes the individual in the seat may be selecting a cigar in the humidor or those in the chairs nearby may be conducting private business. The smoking area may also be available for private bookings.
- Light a cigar or smoke one without first asking the shopkeeper’s permission.
- Bring in your own cigars to smoke unless you have permission and buy other cigars from the shop that are of equal or greater value.
One could argue that there are enough etiquette rules to fill a book, however, the standard rule-of-thumb is simply to think before you act or speak and ensure you’re treating others the way you would want to be treated. If you do inadvertently and unintentionally offend someone, a simple apology goes a long way. If you are made to feel out of place and the tobacconist seems too cliquish, consider spending your money elsewhere and at a shop that is deserving of your business.
What Questions to Ask
When it comes time to purchasing cigars, if you’re new, this can be a daunting task. Simply saying “I tried a Dominican cigar I once liked” isn’t enough information for the tobacconist to help select the perfect cigar for your tastes.
When you are new to a shop, it’s important to ask questions, but there is a fine line between the right amount of questions and too many. For whatever reason, many shopkeepers – although happy to answer questions – will get aggravated when their time is monopolized. Especially if there are other customers waiting. If you can, try to research or at least think about what characteristics you want in a cigar. Then you can quickly ask enough questions to get the answers and expertise you need.
Here are a few factors to consider when asking for help selecting a cigar:
- Time. How long do you want to spend smoking the cigar? 30 minutes? An hour? Two hours? Knowing how much time you have to enjoy the cigar will help the tobacconist decide what size and shape of cigar to recommend.
- Strength. For most new cigar smokers, it is recommended that you start with a mild-bodied cigar before progressing into medium and full-bodied cigars. However, if you have a preference or are a seasoned cigar smoker, be sure to tell the tobacconist what strength you prefer.
- Region and Type. If you have enjoyed certain cigars from specific regions or cigars made of a specific type of tobacco, it doesn’t hurt to mention the region and type provided you can give more information than just that.
- Cigars Enjoyed or Disliked. If you have enjoyed specific cigars or disliked others, mention those in hopes of finding a suitable recommendation.
- Flavor. The flavor profile of the cigar is the most enjoyable part of the smoking experience. Rather than simply saying “I like a sweeter cigar,” try to analyze the flavor profiles you enjoy to give the tobacconist a clearer perspective of what type of cigar you might want to try. Here are a few flavours worth mentioning that you like or don’t like:
- Cocoa, milk chocolate and dark chocolate
- Toffee, caramel, vanilla, molasses, syrup and honey
- Bread, pastry, and brioche
- Coffee, espresso, roasted beans, café au lait
- Cherry, citrus, orange and orange zest, pineapple, raisins, plums, prunes and other dried fruits.
- Cedar, Oak, and other woods
- Hay, grass or flowers
- Smoke or Charcoal
- Anise, cumin, cloves, black or white pepper, cinnamon, cardamon
- Earth, minerals, must, lead, salt
- Almonds, walnuts, cashews, marzipan, hazelnuts and other nuts
The more information you provide and the more qualified questions you ask, the better service you’ll receive. Having a plan in place ensures that you won’t waste their time or your own. If you do plan to ask questions, it is always polite to buy at least something small, even if you give it away as a gift.
The most important thing to keep in mind when asking for help is, to be honest. Far too many new cigar smokers feel the need to pretend they enjoy the more popular, expensive or well-known cigars. The only thing that really matters is that you enjoy it, and the only way your tobacconist can point you in the right direction is if you’re honest about what you like and dislike. Tobacconists generally pride themselves on their ability to remember all of their customers. If you initially tell them you regularly smoke Cohiba Esplendidos when you only tried one and didn’t like it, chances are they will remember that for the course of your relationship with them.
Dos and Don’ts of Handling Cigars
One of the easiest ways to offend fellow smokers and the tobacconist is by improperly handling cigars in the humidor.
How to Handle Cigars
Do gently roll the cigar between your fingers to ensure it’s well rolled and not firm in some spots and soft in others.
Don’t squeeze the cigar or handle it with dirty hands or hands you just cleaned with sanitizer or lotion.
Do smell the cigar to ensure you enjoy its scent by running the length of it under your nose.
Don’t put it against your nose or your lips while smelling it. If you don’t buy it, the person who does will be touching your germs and possibly saliva or mucus.
Do look in opened cigar boxes to examine the cigars.
Don’t open wrapped boxes or leave closed boxes open after you’re finished.
Do handle cigars you are interested in purchasing.
Don’t handle cigars you aren’t considering for purchase.
Do ask questions before handling the cigar or after.
Don’t continue to hold or handle the cigar as you discuss it.
Do examine the cigar for craftsmanship and quality.
Don’t pick, peel or try to mend any defects or issues with the cigar.
Do ask what the cigar tastes like.
Don’t lick the cigar or put it to your mouth.
Do touch the cigar only as much as necessary.
Don’t touch it more than necessary or touch the ends of the cigar unless absolutely necessary.
Do examine the wrapper to confirm it’s not a counterfeit.
Don’t remove the wrapper or try to scratch/rub it.
Do ask if you can examine each cigar before buying a box or sampler.
Don’t handle every cigar in the box without asking permission or open a sealed box without approval.
A Few Final Tips
- Do not apply hand lotion or hand sanitizer before handling cigars. If you must clean your hands, ask for a restroom and do so with water and mild soap being sure to rinse well and dry.
- If you’re carrying a bag or briefcase, ask the shopkeeper to store it behind the counter for you while you’re inside the humidor.
- Try to avoid wearing dirty or muddy shoes.
- If you have facial hair, don’t allow cigars to touch your beard or moustache when smelling them.
- Don’t visit the tobacconist if you’re sick with a cold, flu or other contagious illness.
- Be sure to cover your mouth with your elbow if you have to cough, sneeze, yawn or belch.
- Try to wear business attire when attending the shop. Although there will likely be no dress code, etiquette is about making the people around you feel comfortable.
- Be sure to wait your turn before entering the humidor. If there are others in it, wait outside to prevent changing the temperature or humidity.
- When you enter the humidor, ensure the door closes and latches behind you. If you open any boxes, cupboards or doors, be sure to close them as quickly as possible. NEVER change any dials or controls in the humidor. The humidor may not be set to the same degree as yours at home. If you suspect a problem, notify the shopkeeper immediately.
- View the humidor as an antique store. Be careful not to knock anything over, drop any items or mishandle products. A cigar is as fragile as an antique.
- It is fine to return any merchandise such as humidors or accessories that are defective, but you shouldn’t try to return cigars.
Product Maintenance, Favors, and Lighter Refills
Once you have been attending and purchasing items from a tobacconist for a period of time, chances are you will be offered the chance to ask for special favours.
It is not unusual for a tobacconist to clean your cutter, refill your lighter or even give you a few cigars on the house. However, always expect to pay for it. Even if you normally receive the service or product free of charge.
A perfect example is you may receive a free box of cedar strips, a refill of your lighter or perhaps a small accessory on the house each time you come in. However, the person giving it you may not be the owner and you never know when policies change, or they have to be careful not to let someone know they’ve been offering a service to you. Even if it is an owner, you may suddenly find you’re paying for the $5 cutter because the owner doesn’t want another customer in the room assuming they also get it for free. There could be a number of reasons for a change in policy, and it may be temporary, or it could be permanent. If you suddenly find you are being charged for something you previously haven’t had to pay for or a favour is being denied that would normally be accepted graciously, it’s okay to ask so long as it’s done so with discretion. The best bet, however, is to simply pay for it as other customers would.
If you are planning to ask for a favour big or small, do so when no one else is around, so it doesn’t make the shopkeeper or other customers feel uncomfortable. It’s only considered special treatment because not everyone gets treated that way. However, shopkeepers will be careful not to upset or offend other customers. If you need to discuss something privately or have questions, simply ask the tobacconist to call you when he’s free. Chances are a good tobacconist will know what you want before you even ask for it. They’re like a good tailor that way.
There are many rules in most cigar shops and sometimes they will be posted on the wall whereas others will keep them private and open to change. The biggest rule is simply to treat everyone with respect, never impact another person’s experience and always remember that just because you get a special privilege, service or favour doesn’t mean other regular customers do. Discretion is advised. What advice do you have?