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Tipping in Bars


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I went to the same wine bar twice this week and though I was received warmly both times, I feel I may not have tipped appropriately. I've worked as a bartender and also a barista, so I'm very sensitive to the whole tipping issue...perhaps a little too sensitive as I know how nuaced the whole thing can be and what might be perfectly fine for one situation is not for another. If you go to a bar and drink beer or cocktails, most people will tip per drink ($1 per drink seems to be most common). However, If you go to a restaurant you would tip a percentage of the total bill. So my question is, when you go to a wine bar how do you figure the tip? Percentage of total bill or per "drink"? And if you figure per drink is it by the bottle, glass or what?

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I also tip 20% to a touch more because I would cry if I lost my one and only wine bar. Plus the wines are reasonable at a $10 per bottle markup so even with a good tip I'm getting good value. Plus, its good service incl. little tastes of wines your are contemplating ordering, the occasional free taste of something pricy/interesting , winery info, advice, glass polishing etc. and these add up to a fair amount of service.

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There's an interesting little bit in the current NY Magazine entitled Why $1 Isn’t Enough : Bartenders have been getting tipped a buck a drink since the sixties. They want more.

The dollar-a-drink rule, it seems, has shown dogged persistence. Zagat’s reports that for its 2002-03 New York City Nightlife guide the average price of a drink—cocktail, wine, or beer—was $6.92. For the 2005-06 edition it was $8.83. Since that’s a 27.6 percent spike, you might think those tipping $1 three years ago would leave $1.28 today. Not likely, bartenders and tipping experts say. Most people abhor tipping in coins, says Michael Lynn, a professor at Cornell University who studies tipping. “It’s an inconvenience to handle small money. We don’t pass that on.” This means, however, that instead of incremental raises in tips, there’s a 100 percent jump to $2 if you’re feeling generous at the bar. For many, that’s a hike that remains too stiff to swallow.

There are also some interesting quotes from several street interviews. I especially like the one from the girl who says she tips "maybe a dollar" because "it's not like they have to work that hard." She might think of staying out of the bars for a while.

So... what are your tipping practices in bars? I have to admit that I am likely to tip a dollar a drink if I'm in a place where the person behind the bar is just pouring me a few drafts. In cocktail bars, though, I try to tip at least 20%.

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From a related NY Magazine Aubust, 2000 article entitled: Tipping Points : If it's true that money talks, what are your tips saying about you? we have this interesting tidbit:

Bartenders are a different story. The point of tipping bartenders isn't so much to reward the service you've already received as to insure promptness (supposedly the seventeenth-century English origin of the word: t.i.p.) the next time you order a round. Expectations vary: A buck a drink is generous at the Blarney Stone, an insult at the Bowery Bar. "At dive bars, they make great money, because they're banging out drinks," explains Rich, a bartender at Lotus. "But at a place like this, it's more about presentation, so it takes longer." Rich concedes that a dollar is okay if you're ordering a Bud, but for a $10 Cosmopolitan, the fair tip is $2 or $3.

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I agree with the dollar a drink in plain bars/pubs/taverns, and 20% or more in fancier places. If I'm running a tab, it's at least 20%.

I also never leave coins, unless the service was poor and I'm leaving close to 15%.

Thanks,

Kevin

DarkSide Member #005-03-07-06

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with nyc drink prices (mixed drinks up to 15.00 for nothing too special)

I leave 20 percent. I always start a tab when I can so I can do good solid math...

otherwise

up to 5o% tip on free drinks

1 buck a beer in a bar- not a lounge, or club or otherwise ambient place.

2 for wine

3 for fancy margaritas or girlie drinks.

my bf tips 1 for anything but he's learning through example...

does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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How many cocktails does a high-end bartender put out in a shift? A hundred, three hundred, five hundred? Knowing that might shed some light on the reasonableness of a $1, $2 or $3 tip per drink. Of course they could just charge enough for the drinks to pay the bartender a living wage, and put an end to all the guesswork.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Of course they could just charge enough for the drinks to pay the bartender a living wage, and put an end to all the guesswork.

"They" could do that for waitstaff, baristas and many other tradespeople in the service industry but apart from few folks like Keller who switched to a built-in gratuity at Per Se - I don't see it happening anytime soon.

I don't get to cocktail bars in my travels mostly because I don't drink. But in dive bars where soft drinks are a buck I'll tip 50 cents, in upscale places where the cusomter volume is lower I tip a buck on a soda even if the soda is only $1.50. And when I order and pay for alcoholic drinks for friends I generally tip 20%.

I agree with the sort of scale I've seen here with 20% as a good average for cocktaiel bars and other places where drink prices are higher. But what if one orders... let's say... a rare single malt whiskey at $30 per glass or has the bartender bring a $100 bottle of champagne to the bar? No sommelier service... no extra effort any different than pouring any other drink (actually far less time and effort required of the bartender than making a frou-frou or blend drink).

Do you still tip a flat 20% "just because"?

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I guess I usually use more or less the same rules for bartenders as for waiters, at maybe 5% less. Not sure why.

Surly or incompetent bartender is going to get 10%, normal bartender 15%, and one that goes out of their way to make my stay pleasant, 20%.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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How many cocktails does a high-end bartender put out in a shift? A hundred, three hundred, five hundred? Knowing that might shed some light on the reasonableness of a $1, $2 or $3 tip per drink.

That's a difficult one to estimate. On a busy Saturday night at someplace like Pegu or Flatiron it could be as many as 300, maybe more. On a slow Tuesday night it would likely be significantly fewer than 100. These are only guesses, though, based on my observations and doing some quick math. Others in these forums are in a position to ofter more definitive data. The point is, I think, that a good bartender at the right place can make several hundred dollars in tips on a busy weekend night, but he/she will also have to come in on slow nights when there isn't that much money to be made. Not too many bars are going to allow a bartender to only work shifts on the busy money-making nights.

I agree with the sort of scale I've seen here with 20% as a good average for cocktaiel bars and other places where drink prices are higher.  But what if one orders...  let's say...  a rare single malt whiskey at $30 per glass or has the bartender bring a $100 bottle of champagne to the bar?  No sommelier service...  no extra effort any different than pouring any other drink (actually far less time and effort required of the bartender than making a frou-frou or blend drink).

As with tipping on wine in a restaurant, I think there has to be some reasonable adjustment made if you're getting something that involved minimal service. Pouring a snifter of scotch or bringing out an iced bottle of champagne isn't quite the same thing as shaking up a perfectly balanced specialty cocktail. That said, as with a restaurant, one should figure into the tip the level of service that led to that scotch or champagne being served. There are plenty of places where you can order a $30 glass of scotch where the bartender is doing little more than pouring the malt you ask for. At other places, like the Brandy Library, the "spirits sommelier" is going through the list with you and helping you choose just the right cognac from their repertoire of several hundred. This means that I'm likely to leave a higher percentage tip at Brandy Library than I am at Macduff's Tavern.

Do you still tip a flat 20% "just because"?

I actually rarely tip exactly 20%, although that's my general rule of thumb. I'm likely to tip 20% if it's a straight situation of "I ordered ABC and XYZ and was billed the standard amount for ABC and XYZ." Since I tend to frequent bars where I'm known and where I have friends or personal recommendations, I'll find myself in situations where my bill doesn't reflect what I've poured into my liver. Any time I've benefitted from someone's generosity I try to be as generous in return as my circumstances allow, and often wish my finances allowed me to leave more. If no one's taking my money, I like to leave at least $20. I often worry that I should leave more.

Personally, I think a good bartender deserves at least as much as a waiter in a restaurant, considering that he/she is sommelier, waiter, cook and busboy all in one.

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I also never leave coins, unless the service was poor and I'm leaving close to 15%.

When I tended bar the quarters added up. Five quaters beats a one dollar bill anytime. If a beer was 2.25 I was content with the three quarters. I worked at some upscale places, but it has been a while, never served a 15 dollar drink. A buck a drink ain't bad. I certainly do better than that if i feel it is earned.

The amount of the tip is detemined by the place not the service? Bad service in a nice place with high priced drinks deserves a better tip than great service in a plain old bar? That logic escapes me.

Edited by lancastermike (log)
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Personally, I think a good bartender deserves at least as much as a waiter in a restaurant, considering that he/she is sommelier, waiter, cook and busboy all in one.

Not to mention potentially psychologist and therapist!

That's a good point, and really, caused me to think while I was posting.

Why do I tend to tip bartenders less than waiters?

Though, I will say, it can be more work (and time) for a bartender to pull a $5 guinness or cask ale on a hand pump than whip out a $10 cosmo.

edit - Why can I never spell "guinness" correctly?

Edited by eje (log)

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I also never leave coins, unless the service was poor and I'm leaving close to 15%.
When I tended bar the quarters added up. Five quaters beats a one dollar bill anytime. If a beer was 2.25 I was content with the three quarters. I worked at some upscale places, but it has been a while, never served a 15 dollar drink. A buck a drink ain't bad. I certainly do better than that if i feel it is earned.

The amount of the tip is detemined by the place not the service? Bad service in a nice place with high priced drinks deserves a better tip than great service in a plain old bar? That logic escapes me.

Perhaps I should have been more clear. If I get a $2.25 beer, I'll always leave a dollar (unless I'm running a tab, or the bartender was a jerk). If a beer is $5 or more, I'll likely leave two dollars. I would leave three dollars before I'd leave $2.50 (I wouldn't leave $2.50, but I understand what you mean that $2.50 is better than $2.00).

No, bad service in a nice place would not get a higher tip than great service in a plain place. Good service gets a good tip and bad service gets a bad tip. While it's true equall service would likely get a better tip in a nicer place, since the drinks are more expensive, I don't tip more only because the tab is higher. Overtipping is my policy, whether I'm downing a boilermaker in a dive, or sipping a $40.00 single malt in a swank club, but the person has to earn it.

Thanks,

Kevin

DarkSide Member #005-03-07-06

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The volume seems important, because I think many people want to support their servers but don't feel it's appropriate for servers to receive a windfall "just because." After all, most customers aren't wealthy either. I'm happy to kick in a dollar, or two, or three per drink if it results in a fair wage to the bartender. But if the bartender serves 300 cocktails in a shift and expects $3 on each, I'm not playing that game.

I mean, theoretically, if a bartender is putting out 300 drinks on Friday and Saturday nights and works three other nights at 100 drinks each that's a total of 900 drinks for the week. At $1 per drink that's $900 per week ($45,000 per year in tips, plus whatever minimum wage amount the restaurant is paying), at $2 per drink that's $1,800 per week ($90,000 per year in tips) and at $3 per drink that's $2,700 per week ($135,000 per year in tips).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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No, bad service in a nice place would not get a higher tip than great service in a plain place.  Good service gets a good tip and bad service gets a bad tip.  While it's true equall service would likely get a better tip in a nicer place, since the drinks are more expensive, I don't tip more only because the tab is higher.  Overtipping is my policy, whether I'm downing a boilermaker in a dive, or sipping a $40.00 single malt in a swank club, but the person has to earn it.

This is how I feel. Though sometimes it's hard to make an accurate assessment of the quality of service after one has had a number of drinks.

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The volume seems important, because I think many people want to support their servers but don't feel it's appropriate for servers to receive a windfall "just because." After all, most customers aren't wealthy either. I'm happy to kick in a dollar, or two, or three per drink if it results in a fair wage to the bartender. But if the bartender serves 300 cocktails in a shift and expects $3 on each, I'm not playing that game.

I mean, theoretically, if a bartender is putting out 300 drinks on Friday and Saturday nights and works three other nights at 100 drinks each that's a total of 900 drinks for the week. At $1 per drink that's $900 per week ($45,000 per year in tips, plus whatever minimum wage amount the restaurant is paying), at $2 per drink that's $1,800 per week ($90,000 per year in tips) and at $3 per drink that's $2,700 per week ($135,000 per year in tips).

I think most bartenders, at the higher end places anyway, share tips with the barbacks, etc.

Also, practically no bartender that is in a position to be serving that many drinks per shift works 5 days a week. I know of one person who works that many days at that level, and everyone thinks he's some combination of insane and Superman to sustain that level. A typical Saturday night bar shift at one of these places is going to be around 8 hours on your feet with no break, shaking constantly. That takes a tremendous toll on the body.

It's not clear to me that a bartender on a busy Saturday night necessarily expects a three dollar tip on a vodka tonic. But perhaps not unreasonable for a specialty cocktail prepared by an expert. That said, three dollars strikes me as a bit steep if one is going to tip on a per-drink basis, unless it's a $16 dollar cocktail. This is one reason I think it makes more sense to tip a percentage of the tab.

This also goes back to my earlier remarks as to what you're getting and what kind of place you're in. If I pay eight bucks for a beer where all the bartender has had to do is pop the top off the bottle, a dollar strikes me as pretty reasonable. If I'm paying twelve dollars for an expertly mixed cocktail, two dollars (or 20%) also strikes me as pretty reasonable. As for volume, it doesn't make too much difference to me as long as I am getting good service and a quality libation. Do we tip a smaller percentage in restaurants that turn more tables?

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Since I tend to frequent bars where I'm known and where I have friends or personal recommendations, I'll find myself in situations where my bill doesn't reflect what I've poured into my liver. Any time I've benefitted from someone's generosity I try to be as generous in return as my circumstances allow, and often wish my finances allowed me to leave more. If no one's taking my money, I like to leave at least $20. I often worry that I should leave more.

And that's a real good way for bartenders to manipulate there tip. And bartenders can get away with it, as most places expect a percentage to go away and make it coming back. This is a real difference between a waiter and a bartender, waiters have alot less leeway giving you something to make there tip higher.

And if you want show you gratitude for their generosity, perhaps you should tip the owner, it's their liquor the bartender is being generous with. I don't want to sound sanctimonious, i gave away lots of drinks in my time. later when I was in managment I saw the other side of this as well.

From both sides i saw how bartenders made sure they got theirs. When I was in managment i just had to make sure the bartenders share was a fair one

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I'm pretty sure I have seen people on this board say that bartenders usually have a certain number of discretionary comps. How do I know if that's what's going on or if the bartender is doing it on the sly?

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I don't think it's up to the customer to question whether the bartender does or doesn't have the right to comp. If I'm comped by the bartender, I consider it a nice gesture and tip accordingly (at least $2 extra per drink).

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I wasn't planning on asking the question. I was a little taken aback at the idea that the bartender might be (in effect) stealing from the establishment. That just never occurs to me on the rare occasion I do get a free drink.

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I tip 20% as well on all restaurant/bar bills, as long as service is good.

Cheers!

Yes, I tip %20 at restaurants as well, but at bars I tip at least a dollar a drink, usually more, depending on the bartender. Maybe I should explain why I don't know whether a percentage is appropriate: If I order 2 bottles of wine that cost $20 each, a %20 tip would be $8. If I order 2 bottles of wine that cost $40 each a %20 tip would be $16. Yes, the bill is double, but the amount of work that the bartender/waiter does is the same. Perhaps I'm the only person that worries about this. When I worked as a barista, I would get pissed off when people did things like tipping pennies or nickles, even though it might be a %20 tip. A cafe is more like a bar, where I think there is a minimum acceptable tip. Of course, I always said thanks, because if you haven't worked in a cafe you might think any tip in a tip jar is good. That's why I'm curious about the wine bar situation...anybody who has worked in one want to chime in?

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As a bartender I'm happy with a dollar a drink, whether it's a $25 shot of scotch or a $7 cocktail. What I really appreciate is a larger tip when you have special requests and expect me to remember that drink in 20 minutes. If you tip me a quarter, I'm likely to not put any effort into memorizing your drink, nor will I return that quickly. Sadly, if someone is tipping me well, they will get more of my attention.

In reality, I wish tips were eliminated and bartenders (and servers) were paid a fair wage. That way I could just serve everyone to the best of my abilities without worrying about making enough tips to pay my mortgage.

We may make great money on a Friday night, but it all balances out when you work the Monday afternoon shift and make a whole $4 (yes that's $4). We also don't get breaks, I work 8 hours straight and if I make a mistake on an order the company I work for makes us pay for it. We also tip out our support staff (bussers and barbacks). Many times we make a boat load of drinks for servers, but rarely get a tip out from them. It's hard work, very physical and mentally trying. Even if you are having the worst day of your life, as bartender you need to act like every day is great to make our money. So do we deserve to make as much as a union construction worker? I beleive so.

Darcy S. O'Neil

Chemist | Bartender | Writer

Website: Art of Drink

Book: Fix the Pumps

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