How to Tip a Bartender Properly
Tipping — not only appropriately, but well — is a good thing to know how to do. Many people (including dates, bosses, and coworkers) view how a person tips as a reliable criterion of character. Knowing when and how to do it will ensure good service, show others that you’re “socially groomed” (neither a cheapskate nor a showoff), and may cause people to like you more. In general: it’s better to tip generously than badly, but there are critical limits on both ends of the spectrum.
- Assess the crowd. Watch how others are tipping. Use that observation as a “baseline”, and do not tip below it, barring overt rudeness on the part of your server, who is extremely busy.
- Being patient for the first round is the key to an enjoyable evening, whether the bar is visibly “busy” when you walk in or not. Other things outside your purview — shift changes, for instance — may result in slow service of your first drink. A little patience goes a long way in these crucial first moments.
- Always be ready to pay when you order. Have your money out, or close at hand. Don’t wait until the drinks are made and your server has “totaled out” your round before you take your wallet out. Fishing for money not only wastes your server’s time, but annoys others waiting for their drink orders to be taken. (Supposedly, you’re there to socialize with them; and if you make them wait, you alienate yourself from them.)
- Tip $1 per drink as a baseline, lacking anything better to go on, even if the only visible drink preparation involved is opening a bottle of beer. This will vary, depending on the kind of bar you’re in. This is why crowd assessment matters. A tip of $1 per drink is always an “acceptable” tip. On complicated orders, a bit more is always deeply appreciated. Typically $1 is an acceptable tip for a beer (draft or bottle), but tip $2 for mixed drinks. More if its a complicated mixed drink.
- Figure that most mixed drinks cost around five dollars: $1 is therefore around 20%.
- Overt and consistent overtipping is not only “flashy” and “rude”, but in the eyes of bar staff, constitutes an attempt at a bribe to do something that could get them fired and/or land them in jail. Your tip expresses appreciation for services rendered. Nothing more. If your order involves shaking or blending multiple “call” liquors and pouring them into separate chilled glasses, a $2 or even $3 tip per drink is fine. If you’re a martini drinker who draws subtle distinctions between a “whisper” and a “breath” of vermouth, you should pay for this difference to find its way into your cocktails. However: overtipping on simple drinks raises legitimate concerns among staff that you expect “special” treatment in exchange for your exorbitant tip, which will only get you watched like a hawk by employees whose legal certification relies on not overserving intoxicated patrons who they generally have to assume will be driving home, placing not only themselves but the general public at risk.
- Remain aware that bar staff have to protect their jobs — tips notwithstanding. Tipping too much, too often raises red flags, and bar staff doesn’t want to kill innocent people on the roads, even at the risk of alienating tipping customers. Bar staff would rather alienate customers than go to jail so you can get more wasted than you are. Period.
- Handle free drinks carefully. Most bartenders expect tips on free rounds. Tipping more is fine, but don’t tip the full amount of the drink’s cost.
- When at an “open” bar, always tip generously per drink, but not the full amount the drink would cost you if you were paying for it.
- Tipping high for your first drink and then not tipping at all is considered “pathetic” and will make bar staff worry about their third party liability the minute you hit the road.
- Budget the cost of your tips into the cost of your drinks and distribute them more-or-less evenly over the course of your night out. Tipping a bit high early on in the evening is fine, and may expedite service later, but don’t “tip out” completely on your first few rounds, unless you want to get thrown out, later.
- There is almost never a good excuse for not tipping a server. Rude service may deserve a lower tip, but service needs to be considerably bad. Only overtly rude service deserves no tip at all.
- Servers (including bartenders) usually have to give a percentage of their nightly earnings to bussers, food runners, barbacks, dishwashers, and/or doormen/bouncers. If you leave no tip for a server because you disliked your drink, you’re not punishing the owner; you’re punishing the server. Not only are you stiffing the server because you didn’t like your drink, but he still has to pay out the above mentioned staff whether he gets tipped or not. The “tip out” comes from his sales figure, not his actual tip pool.
- In general, err on the side of tipping “generously”, but don’t “overtip” overtly, if you can possibly avoid it.
- If you get another drink without having to ask, do tip a bit extra. If you didn’t want another drink, refuse it politely, and consider tipping if it is a genuine gesture, not an overt effort to earn more tips. (Wasted drinks will come out of your server’s paycheck, in which case it’s best to teach them not to anticipate your intent without punishing them too much — especially if you ever intend to return.)
- Always get the bartender’s name on the first round. Once you’ve got it, use it! Nothing annoys bartenders like being called “Hey Barkeep!” repeatedly over the course of a night by one unruly patron, which is a surefire way to get you 86ed for no good reason.
- Nothing — absolutely nothing — goes farther than good manners! A person who is rude, but who dependably tips, will almost always be served after a patron who is both patient and polite.
- When ordering discounted bar drinks such as specials, happy hour drinks, etc., it takes the same amount of work no matter what the cost to you may be. If you can tip the normal tip (see above) plus the difference in price, this is good. While not strictly necessary, it’s not considered “overtipping”.
- Budget the tip as a part of the cost of the drink. Servers and bartenders depend on tips to make up most of their pay.
- Tipping higher at the first round may help ensure the bartender comes back to you quicker the next time you come back. It also may ensure future rounds will have a bit more alcohol if ordering mixed drinks. Be careful though: your tip from the first round will quickly be forgotten. It is far better, in the long run, to tip as consistently as possible.
- Tipping in different countries varies. For example in the UK, it’s rare that anyone tips a bartender for a round of drinks served at the bar (although such an unusual gesture may well get you served faster next time). If in the UK, it’s acceptable to offer to buy the bartender a drink, normally with the words, “…and one for yourself,” when he’s told you how much the round cost. Don’t worry – he or she won’t opt for an expensive cocktail, but the gesture for a soft-drink or soda will normally be gratefully accepted, and ensure you get served quicker next time.
- Tipping advice often comes from people who make their living on tips. That’s why you get conflicting advice such as “Tip based on the work done if you get a discount, but tip based on the price if little work was done.” Remember to take that into account when receiving advice on the matter.
- Staff (by law, in most states) are sober. Patrons, by definition, are not. Do not assume you are more clever than staff. If you must, do not be surprised to find your hindquarters hitting the pavement for reasons you can’t understand, regardless of how you tip.
- Do not ever argue to the point of fighting with the bartender on duty. The chances of your winning are slim to none. The bartender is the captain of the ship. If you know you are right, ask to speak to a manager. If you must, you can ask for the name of the owner of the bar, but in most states, the manager/bartender on duty is not legally obligated to provide you with this information.
- Losing your cool will get you thrown out and/or get the police called on you. The police will almost always believe a sober bartender, backed up by sober staff, over patrons with alcohol in their bloodstreams.
- Don’t waste your time complaining about prices. Chances are, the bartender doesn’t set the prices.
- If you order something complex, tip to match.
- Never, ever assume that a bartender or any other bar staff member (a) knows where to buy drugs or find prostitutes, (b) has drugs to sell you, (c) will sell them to you if they have them.
- Remember that bartenders depend on the state they work in to certify them as liquor handlers.
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