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Tipping on a gifted drink - bartenders?

When out drinking at a bar, I occasionally get gifted a drink from the bartender, for what I assume (confirmed on at least 2 occasions) is appreciation that I am patient, polite, ready to order & clear my glass(es).

My question is: I always over tip when this happens. Should I? Or is it insulting to the person gifting me a drink? I would especially like to get bartenders' takes on this...

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  1. I usually tip about half the cost of the drink. Bartenders where I'm a regular definitely appreciate and wouldn't be insulted by a generous tip.

    1. yup. tip (generously) and ye shall continue to get the comped drinks, and continue to be regarded as a fantastic customer, and continue to enjoy the hospitality of the bar staff, Emmarose, for ye are among the chosen. :)

      (i no longer tend bar, but did for 10 years)

      15 Replies
      1. re: soupkitten


        Jfood trusts your opinion and has always been curious about this issue, so hopefully you can help.

        If the bartender gives free drinks, the resturant generates no income on that drink. Then the customer pays a higher tip than he normally would. So the bartender is making more money than s/he would have, the customer is not paying as much, yet the restaurant owner receives nothing.

        Now jfood has also read that many owners give a certain "allowance" for freebies for the bartender to give to good customers.

        Could you please give some insight into this?


        1. re: jfood

          I don't know how it works in corporate bars but as someone who knows several bar owners I can tell you their takes on the matter. Buy backs are very common in NYC. Usually after 3 rounds the next drink is on the bar. You are right that this benefits the bartender in a bigger tip but it also benefits the bar in that it generates good will and return customers. Having worked in bars I can also tell you that customers rarely leave after their free round and they tend to stay longer, another benefit for the bar owner.

          1. re: KTinNYC

            KTinNYC - "customers rarely leave after their free round" -- you are so right! DH's rule is that you can never leave on a free one. No matter how much you've had. And no matter if you really want to leave. I always thought that was just him; now I know that it's fairly customary. Thanks for the insight.

            1. re: LNG212

              We get comped often but are generally unaware of it until we receive the final tab.

              1. re: Janet from Richmond

                If you are paying by credit card you won't know that you have been given a comp until after the fact. The bar I sub at does not have an itemized credit card receipt so I'll just say to the customer, "I bought one of your rounds" as I hand the customer their credit card slip to sign.

                1. re: KTinNYC

                  Even if we pay cash, we generally run a tab and pay at the end.

          2. re: jfood

            As my owner explains it the cost of the "buyback" is figured into pricing of the drinks, which can be very expensive especially in NYC. However, bars have much different policies, some only comp shots, some it's EVERY 4th drink is on the house. I must ring in all my comps in the computer and they are checked at the end of the night. I get in trouble if it's more then 10 percent of a nights sales.

            1. re: jfood


              thanks for your kind words :) --what KTinNYC said is correct for NYC, where the markup on liquor is quite high. after 3 rounds the establishment has made their money on a customer & wants to encourage lingering, or a return visit, with the "buyback," and this is sanctioned by the management.

              "buy backs" are generally referred to as "comps" elsewhere, where lq markup is high but not so high as in nyc-- and outside of nyc they are much less common and should never be expected by any customer. however, many/most independent bars will give their bartenders *or* their bar manager a limited, discretionary ability to give out comps, and there is usually a "comp tab" as Conngirl describes, to keep track of which liquors are comped. in theory the comps are given to 1) customers who are spending well in order to encourage them to stay (example: a well-timed round of shots to the bachelor party at table 9 can result in them staying an extra couple of hours and can mean a few hundred dollars of revenue for the establishment) 2) regulars, to encourage them to return (sam is a regular, he lives just down the block, he's here like clockwork at 7-10:30 every friday. he treats the staff well & we appreciate his patronage, so we frequently comp one or 2 rounds for him) 3)--this is the shady one-- **the true discretionary comp** a comp the bt may give out to a friend or a flame (or a potential one) :) mgmt may or may not have a limited tolerance for bts having a few "pet customers" who are treated to a round or 2-- mgmt prefers to monitor the drinks the bt gives out to these folks, if they see the same dang grey goose cosmo comp 4 times every sunday night, they'll have words with the bt, they don't want to see anyone getting a free ride--see Mojoeater's post.

              comps can really go a long way toward building regular patronage, increasing overall revenue, and getting basic goodwill going at bars. as long as the bts don't abuse the system, and the comp tab does not exceed a certain percentage of the night's sales, mgmt sanctions it. i have worked at independent bars that don't allow comps (generally very cheap prices on drinks) and i would literally reach into my tip bucket in order to buy a customer a drink (the bt is usually on camera, remember!). at one nightclub where i worked for 5 years, dh would sometimes come down after his cooking shift, if he liked the dj or wanted to hang out with friends. since i didn't want to be accused of sliding him free drinks on the comp tab, i trained him to never ever approach my bar without money in his hand and making a purchase-- even if he just wanted to tell me something-- even if my mom was in the hospital! ironically, every other bt at the other bars in the club would comp his drinks or charge him staff prices, & i was the only one who would charge him full price every time LOL!

              1. re: soupkitten

                Thanks S and to KT and conn. Interesting perspective from the BT and owner point of view and it makes complete and total sense.

                BTW - jfood thinks Sam was the bartender and it was Norm who was the regular..."Hi Norm!!!" :-)) (hopefully you remember Cheers)

                1. re: jfood

                  ha! i must've been channeling cheers subliminally, yes! :)

                2. re: soupkitten

                  When i was tending bar in NY, another factor seemd to be that bartenders had their regular customers, often more than the bar itself. Those customers would often follow their favorite bartenders from one place to another, particularly if you were in the same neighborhood. The generous buyback policy and the generous tips engendered helped to make sure that bartender and those customers stayed in your bar and didn't find another one around the corner.

                  1. re: foodhypnosis

                    We followed two bartenders and several waitstaff from a former regular place to our current one.

                3. re: jfood

                  Some restos allow for a certain amt. of "comped" drinks. However, they typically require that they are rung up and then comped so that their inventory is in check. If mgmt doesn't keep tight reigns on the bar inventory all hell can break loose.

                4. re: soupkitten

                  bingo! nail on the head! (tended bar for 5 years)

                  1. re: MattInNJ

                    Thanks Matt & Soupkitten! And everyone else...

                5. I always try to tip based on what I've been served, not what the total of the check in front of me is, necessarily. Often (actually, probably in excess of 95% of the time) what I've been served and the check in front of me line up exactly. If I've been comped dessert or a drink or an appetizer or some other thing for some reason (and that reason wasn't to help make up for a service issue) then I figure my tip based on the idea that I'd purchased all of the things I've been served.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ccbweb

                    Could you let the rest of the dining public know this? That's exactly how one should tip. Unfortunately, many folks go to restos wielding their BOGO coupons (or receiving comps) and then leave lousy tips.

                    1. re: lynnlato

                      You're entirely right. Its such a simple concept but people turn it into something incredibly intricate.

                  2. I have a regular place I go to that pours me a glass of Pinot Noir with a heavy thumb, plus instead of a small glass he pours into a nice large burgandy glass. I never get comped but he gets a very nice tip every time.

                    1. Given these circumstances, I always tip, based on the listed cost of the drinks.


                      1. Yes, it is appropriate to tip generously when you get a free drink/app/whatever. And owners are aware that comps are a good way to keep regular customers coming back. What becomes a problem is when the bartender/server starts to give those comps to friends, rather than paying customers. It usually evens out when the liquor audits are done.

                        1. I'm not a bartender but am a regular at a couple of places where we are generously comped on a number of things, including alcohol and we tip a much higher percentage on items that have been given to us.

                          1. I'm with you - as a regular at a couple of places, I and my friends always overtip when comped drinks/dessert/whatever is given. Being regulars, we kind of know what stuff costs, and invariably, if we don't look at the itemized bill before handing over our CC, we note the total is usually less than we were expecting. Make up for it via the tip.

                            1. I usually tip somewhere between 50-90% of the cost of the drink, depending on how much it is, what makes sense, etc. That way, both of us make out.

                              1. What a refreshing thread! So far no negativity etc. . . that seem to plague the tipping threads.

                                It's always nice to get comped, and I'll at least add the price of the drink to what I would have tipped, and if I've had a few, the BT's usually make out quite well. One hazard I would encourage BT's to avoid, though, based on experience:

                                A friend and I were drinking and having snacks at a very nice bar ($10-12 drinks, high quality, in Boston, not NY) where I was a regular and brought in good business (I hope), she was the good business. We split the check at the end of the night (mostly not sober), we realized about half my tab had been comped while none of hers had (I think comping drinks is technically illegal in Massachusetts, but hooray for breaking the law). She mentioned that just a little loudly and I was totally mortified. Lesson: please comp the chick a drink instead of just me or get me the next time when I'm solo or with a buddy.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: sailormouth

                                  When that happens with me and my friends I just split the cost of the drinks we have been charged for. But then generally we split our checks evenly anyway.

                                2. A former bartender, I usually tip half the cost of any comped drink.

                                  1. I tip on the drink as if I payed for it.

                                    I tip 20% per drink or shot( I am a beer and tequila drinker only).

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: swsidejim

                                      so on $1.00 beer night I should flip the bartenders .20 cents. Should I tell her here ya go sweetie get yourself something nice? Hey if I have 5 beers she gets a whole dollar at the end of the evening. Bet she's glad she came to work.

                                      1. re: GodfatherofLunch

                                        no $1.00 beer nights where I drink, so that is never an issue. Must be nice. If I ever came upon such a deal, I would tip $1 per $1 beer.

                                        I drink a shot and a beer with each drink order. A $3.00 Budweiser, and a shot of tequila that costs anywhere from $6.00 to $25.00 per shot, per round.

                                        1. re: swsidejim

                                          Wow dude $3.00 for the beer, $25.00 for the tequila, $5.60 for you tip. Thats $33.60 per round. At your prices I would have to take out a home equity line just to catch a buzz. Hats off to you for you expensive habit. I myself would sign up for a 12 step program to stop such an expensive hobby.

                                          1. re: GodfatherofLunch

                                            the Don Julio1942 @ $25 per glass is a rare treat(maybe once a month). But well worth it. Most of the time its a Tres Generaciones, or Cazadores as my tequila choices that run about $6 per glass. So thats about $11/round with tip, not gonna break the bank, or my liver doing 2 or 3 rounds like that.

                                        2. re: GodfatherofLunch

                                          I'm gonna bet that if you give her $1 per beer that you'd get some great service considering that most folks there probably are not doing anything like that.

                                          1. re: jgg13

                                            I worked in restaurants for years, and I know any job in a restaurant, front of the house, or back of the house isnt easy, and one of the crappier jobs I have ever had. So I will not stiff anyone with a .20 cent tip for a drink no matter what the cost.

                                            1. re: swsidejim

                                              I'm very much *not* one of those people that tips out of sympathy for service people, the "I've done it and know how muc hit sucks", the "hardest in the world" folks, etc - but I do try to tip bartenders well.


                                              Because it is much easier to use it as a carrot/stick for good service at a bar where you're repeatedly purchasing drinks (and thus tipping repeatedly) than with waitstaff who you're only tipping once per meal (and presumably not eating there all the time).

                                              If I'm not running a tab I try to tip well (relative to the place) the first couple of rounds in an effort to establish myself. If I don't start getting some beneficial response (IOW, they seem to "notice me" faster when I sidle back up for another round), then it goes down to normal tipping levels. If I seem to be getting some sort of preferetntial treatment, I continue tipping at those levels.

                                              There are some spots where I regularly frequent and I don't use this method, but for places where I don't know the bartenders this is exactly what I do. You get a few good ones free, but after that you better start working for *me* to get a good tip.

                                      2. Bars have a "buy back policy" for example the bartender buys you a drink after every third drink.
                                        Tipping well is no insult to anyone ever. When in doubt = TIP - really confused = TIP BIG
                                        Insulting someone by tipping them too much = impossible Tip till it hurts.