Depending on where you are in the world, what you’re ordering, and type of establishment, tipping can be tricky. What is considered a bad tip? When is the tip included and when isn’t it? Is there ever a time where you shouldn’t tip well? Tipping is not a city in China!
These are all common questions that have been on people’s minds forever. Nevertheless, there’s one kind of tipping that stays pretty consistent across the board and should be: tipping a bartender.
No matter what, if you’re at a bar or receiving bar service, there are a few rules of thumb to follow when you tip the bartender. It doesn’t matter if you are just imbibing on a few drinks, spending the whole night in the bar, or a guest at a wedding.
You should tip your bartenders because drinking alcohol at a bar, club, event, or party is 100% recreational. Some people tip house-movers, pizza deliverers, and taxi service, but I can understand why you would have some reservations given the circumstances. Heck, some rich people actually tip their mechanic or manicurist. The bartender thing is non-negotiable, though, and I don't say this to promote the profession and hold bartenders up as being god-like; bartenders aren't any better or more important than any other service professional. I know a lot of people that tend bar, and they represent humanity's good and bad traits. Regardless, you have to tip bartenders because, as mentioned above, you only engage their services when you're feeling free and easy, and more important, because they don't get paid otherwise.
Local wage laws vary, but in Pennsylvania, as an example, bartenders can make as little as $3-$5 per hour. In Massachusetts, it’s a measly $2.60. That's right: As you may already know, there's a special sub-minimum wage for workers who also receive tips. We may not like the fact that the bar owner is allowed to shift the bulk of his payroll obligations onto us, but that's the deal to which we agree when we enter the bar.
When you go out drinking on Saturday night, the bartenders may seem to be getting rich a soggy dollar at a time—but what about the dozens of hours a week when you're not there and neither is anyone else? That's when they're cutting limes, lugging beer, stocking shelves, cleaning bottles, and cleaning bathrooms for $3 an hour. And most bartenders don't receive any health benefits or paid leave and have little job security. This lack of guaranteed income is why you need to tip bartenders even when you're not thrilled with their service. You still have to pay the dental hygienist even if he makes your gums bleed or mechanic who messes up your alignment. Most Americans get paid when they under-perform, and there's no ethical grounds to exclude bartenders from this beautiful racket.
And, you should tip more than a dollar a drink. That dollar-a-drink guideline has been in place for decades—but your bartender's rent hasn't remained fixed since 1990, so why should her wage? You could mess around with fractions and coins and percentages, or you could just leave two bucks a drink. Do that instead. Don’t leave change - it’s an insult (Unless you get some complicated 7-step, $13-dollar cocktail; then you should tip at least $3-$4.)
Bartenders are a proud species. For the most part, they'll keep serving you if you’re a bad tipper, because most are decent people and people-pleasers who want to make a living and don't want to be terrible at their jobs. They'll hate you, sure, and will probably make you wait a little longer to serve you, but it’s a competitive world we live in. Contrary to the old adage, we don't really tip as an incentive for better service. We tip to be decent, good people.
After all that ranting, here is a brief guide on tipping your bartender. And, remember, if it weren’t for your bartender, you wouldn’t be having so much fun no matter where you are at.
Beer is the easiest drink to tip for. If you’re ordering a beer or two, a dollar or two to match is fine. Picking up a beer and opening it doesn’t take the same skill as creating a cocktail, but the bartender is still serving you as quick as possible amongst the crowd of people. Same applies to wine. If you open up a fresh bottle of red just for you, throw them an extra tip.
A gin and tonic or vodka soda calls for at least $2. It’s not as simple as grabbing a beer and opening it, but it does take some work for the reasons given above.
Cocktails Made With a Shaker
Anything that’s made with a shaker whether it’s served straight or on ice is worth at least a $3 tip. Being cheap becomes more of an issue with fancier cocktails. The longer the drink takes to make, the more you should tip, i.e. muddled drinks.
Is the Bar Packed or Is Your Tab High?
In both of these instances, you should probably forgo these rules and tip well regardless of what you order. Working on a crowded night can be stressful, and bartenders are doing the best they can. Therefore, it never hurts to show your appreciation and give them some extra cash.
A Few General Things to Keep in Mind When Tipping
Not all cultures are the same when it comes to tipping. Some cultures actually believe that it’s rude to tip at all. In Europe, for example, bartending is considered a noble profession and bartenders are paid a salary along with health benefits and time off so not tipping there isn’t as crucial.
There are valid arguments to make against tipping providers of various services, but I can offer one firm and fair rule: You should always tip your bartender—every drink, without exception—and probably more than you currently do.