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Tipping a bartender on an absolute, bare minimum, to the drop pour.

The other night at a restaurant on the upper west side of Manhattan I sat at the bar while waiting for a friend to join me. I asked the bartender (a young blond actress type wishing she was clearly someplace else) about the 3 Rosés they had and if I could have a taste of two of them to choose. No problem. One was decent; typically in restaurants, Rosés are lifeless and plain but this was pleasant enough. It was $9 a glass. I watched her eyeball the pour to maybe, maybe 4 and a half oz. While pouring she had the concentration of a neurosurgeon removing a tumor to pouring the absolute minimum. Not one drop extra would be in the glass. In fact, she left about 1 oz in the bottle, corked it and put it back in the ice bin. (Later I watched her pour the remnants of that bottle into another customer's glass, open another bottle and top off the glass to her minimum standard again.)

Okay, I see where we are. It's my choice how we go forward as the lesson is mine. Fool me once... Maybe the owners watch her like a hawk, but that didn't make sense as she was allowed to free pour the cocktails and not measure as I would expect with a hawkish owner. Those pours were also scant at best. Nope, I think she's doing what she thinks is best, but it's definitely not in her best interest to make money.

Then, despite all the evidence I had, I ordered another one. I really didn't expect anything different and she performed exactly as predicted. It was a roll of the dice.

So, now I'm stuck. I know she's making a living off of tips and I feel like a schmuck. Problem is: she's a terrible, terrible bartender. I feel incredibly guilty not tipping her. But I also feel slighted, taken advantage of, a John Doe, captive to protocol, and in a hole of expectations. I look like the jerk if I don't tip. Here's the thing: I have the money, you have the booze. This is a symbiotic relationship. It's quid pro quo. You take care of me and I take care of you. The owner gets the $9 for the glass and your fate is by the pour. The bartender has given me even less then the bare minimum and I'm supposed to give the full price plus a tip? I was really torn. What do you all think? What do you do?

(Yes, I tipped. I gave a buck a drink but loathed it.)

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  1. I never recall ever asking for for a free sample of alcohol anywhere. Perhaps it's just my region. In some cases, I've been offered a sample/comparison if I asked for a recommendation. In that case, I did not watch the amount of the pour. I just appreciated a chance to check first. It did not take much for me to know if I wanted to order or not.

    5 Replies
    1. re: CyndiA

      Most of the bars I most frequently patronize will pour a free shot, or maybe a little more, of whatever beer they have on tap if a customer asks what one of the offerings is like. I'm not sure I've ever seen a free sample of wine or liquor given, though.

      1. re: MonMauler

        Yeah, most places I go will give a free taste of a beer on tap if you're undecided. Though I think we're both near Pittsburgh. Still, I think that's fairly common in a lot of regions. I've also been offered small tastes of wine when I'm buying by the glass and asked for a recommendation between two or three choices. Never seen it with liquor though.

        1. re: cowboyardee

          Yep, Pittsburgh here; however, it does seem that the practice of offering free samples of beer to undecided customers is typical in most of the places I've traveled throughout this country. I usually don't drink wine at the bar, which probably accounts for my lack of familiarity with the practice in that regard.

        2. re: MonMauler

          I've not seen a free sample of liquor. But a "taste" pour of a wine? Yup, most bars will do that. At least here in New England they do.

        3. re: CyndiA

          Here in Richmond, VA, it is not uncommon at all for a bartender to offer a taste of wine that is offered by the glass if a customer is undecided.

        4. The original comment has been removed
          1. I should put out the disclaimer, I am a bartender myself. It was kind of her to give you the samples, especially if a manager/owner is watching her like a hawk, he likely would not allow that. I would guess her to the drop pour is also a management thing. Many managers feel that her method is the only way to do it; and the customer to customer consistency is their "it" factor. The reality though, is that most people generally don't tip just because you pour a stiff drink, they tip because you are a nice person, you are efficient, you make your customers comfortable. If she didn't hit those points for you, leave a buck, it's worth her time, and it's only about 10%. If she was stellar, tip more; but please understand that pour is often out of our control. You did the right thing by tipping her a buck, and my advice would be to get your Vino somewhere else next time, where the service can match or at least make up for the pour.

            1 Reply
            1. re: GlynessD

              I agree with this.

              Tipping bartenders should be on service, not the pour, and her service seemed horrible.

            2. Oh, so you think after you got a *free* sample, that somehow you are entitled to an over pour for *what reason* exactly? What am I missing here? First, you judge by looks, and assume not a professional, why? Then you want a over pour...and feel entitled, why?
              She works for the house and not you. She must pour the exact serve. Why do you feel, you deserve, oh wait, are entitled to more? You said you had scant pours, so I must assume you measured. Otherwise, it is just what you "observed". So owner gets what? OMG...you think you should get over-pours, on the basis of WHAT?
              So what do I think? I think you suck up "free" (as if) samples, then expect overpours and maybe you will tip. cheep cheep cheep...a baby chuck just got here.

              15 Replies
              1. re: Quine

                You ask, "What am I missing here?" and I'll answer -- a great deal. As I explain deeper in the thread, I wasn't drinking "free" samples and complaining about the pour of the samples. That would be crass, don't you think? I was noting that the initial pour of the drink I ordered after the "taste" was well short of any reasonable pour. (see my explanation of a "taste" below; it's not what you're thinking.) Not an over pour, just the common 8 oz pour. I didn't feel I was entitled to more I felt entitled to 8 oz not less than 5. While I always appreciate and like more I didn't expect it. Ironically, 90% of the bartenders in the city, outside of the tourist traps, pour very, very generously.

                Nope, I didn't measure. I did however use the last 30 years experience of drinking wine at restaurants and bars to be able to tell when I'm getting slighted. I used that same experience to make a pretty good guess that her career ambitions did not have anything to do with being behind this particular restaurant bar. Since she's probably going to starve and lose the apartment if she's counting on tips from her service I suspect she's a far more accomplished professional in her future ventures.

                1. re: Particular

                  A "standard" wine serving size is 4 to 6oz, not 8oz. This is of course not necessarily a community "standard", but it is a standard as used by most government when teaching "rule of thumb" guidelines for drivers ed, FDA measurements of servings per container, etc.

                  Some restaurants (I'm looking at you national chain owned restaurants!) allow their bar staff choice to either free pour or measure their drinks, but in order to free-pour, they actually test them to insure they pour within 5% to 10% of the chain's standard of a proper measure. While you may be used to an 8 oz pour, national chains don't give a rats ass about what you are used to. From my experience, while some places in NYC have a standard pour well in excess of 8oz for a glass of wine, enough places in NYC that I have gone to do follow an ~4oz serving size that I would not consider it unusual. Then chain restaurant management may also reconcile inventory tallies over time vs number of drinks rung up in the register to see if there is any significant deviation over time by the bar staff.

                  While I don't think that she short-changed you, nor did she do anything wrong, a "tip" is not only left to make up for a scandalous minimum wage, but it is also as an appreciation of service above and beyond a minimum. It appears that from your description, she did a minimum service to you, no more no less (though you may have thought otherwise), so she should have gotten the minimum tip. As for the amount, $1.00 per drink per pour in NYC at a non-college bar is about right, in part because neither the customer nor the staff want to deal with change.

                  1. re: Particular

                    No where in the world is 8oz considered a standard pour of wine.
                    Standard pour of wine is from 4-5oz. A generous overpour is 6oz
                    Standard pour of fortified wine (port,sherry) is 3.5-4oz.

                    1. re: RichardBreadcrumb

                      Not entirely true in NYC - there are plenty of "local" bars where when you order wine, they actually top off the wine glass. I can't speak to Particular's experience, but in my experience, these establishments are usually serving from 1.5 liter bottles of Yellowtail or some equivalent in response to an order that is by wine type (eg "glass of white wine please", or "glass of merlot"). Free "all you can drink" wine with your meal that serves from a box also tops the glass. On the other hand, I have also been to plenty of restaurants where if you order a fairly nice glass of wine from the available by the glass selections off of an extensive wine menu with your meal, while not 8oz, the serving is definitely larger than 4oz. However, the restaurants often charge noticeably more than 1/8th of the cost of a bottle for a "by the glass" serving vs ordering the entire bottle, so the increased size is factored in even if the consumer is not conscious of it.

                      I'd guess that Particular is moving in the direction of many people to a larger norm of portion sizes where a serving is larger and the price is higher to make up for it without the consumer being conscious of it. For example, I'm used to 1 oz = 1 shot, 2oz = a double, but now many people are used to 1 shot = 1.5 oz, and some people expect a shot to be 2 oz, and a double to be 3 to 4 oz. Just as a portion size of liquid is 8oz, but the actual serving sizes tend to be 12 to 16oz, or a portion size of fish/meat is 3oz, but the actual serving sizes tend to be 8 to 12oz and 3oz burgers are "sliders"/ appetizers.

                      1. re: khuzdul

                        Yikes! 8 oz of Yellowtail! How much do I have to pay to NOT drink that stuff.

                        Don't get your point about 1/8 of the cost of a bottle.A pour of that size would be really small. Pricing that I typically see of wines BTG is about 1/4 of the price of a bottle.

                        The standard shot size when making mixed drinks is 1.5 oz.

                        1. re: Bkeats

                          I typed wrong about the 1/8th... I meant about 1/6th, as 4 oz is approx 1/6th of a 750ml bottle (I realize that no one would simply charge 1/6th of a bottle of wine for a glass, but I've heard so many times from someone eyeballing a bottle of wine or liquor, guess the price, and then do a straight division to complain about drink prices). My point about the cost of the glass was simply that the places that have a policy of pouring "more" by the glass are not doing it gratis to the consumer - they charge whatever amount they think is appropriate for the quantity that they serve, because if they didn't they would be out of business.

                          As for standard shot size, my point about "shot" size was "standard' is a vague term which differs from place to place, group to group, one time to another. I learned my drinking and mixing habits from books that followed the various UK "Weights and Measures Acts" before they metricized (though a "shot" is still pretty much the same amount in mL terms after metricization). Thus to me a shot is 1oz, a double is 2oz, and a jigger is 1.5oz. The two sided bar tool called a "Jigger" used to be a jigger measure on one side (1.5 oz) and a pony measure on the other (1 oz), now you can get Jiggers in many sizes, so the term Jigger is not associated to a specific measure. To me, a shot=pony, shot!=jigger. While this "standard" may be useful when reading old cocktail books, I understand that this is not the "standard' in U.S. bars today and I use the appropriate "standard" for the situation.

                        2. re: khuzdul

                          sorry -- I quit drinking wine at restaurants that pour wine to the brim of a wine glass a long time ago.

                          More is not always better.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            precisely, and if someone doesn't know that a half-decent wine needs a little room to grow, well...

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              normally when restaurants pour wine to the brim, the wine they are pouring is rotgut.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                that, too -- but it's just a flashing neon sign that they know jack about wine.

                        3. re: Particular

                          Pouring generously so you get bigger tips is stealing from the owner. Don't you ever watch "Bar Rescue"? Ninety percent of the time the overpours are what's sinking the bar. I watched one last week where the take was $1600 for the night but the bartenders had poured $2795 worth of booze so they could get tips. That's theft.

                          1. re: Particular

                            Weight Watchers also says that a standard glass of wine is 4 oz. I agree with khuzdul.

                            1. re: Particular

                              EIGHT ounces is a standard pour to you? for wine?

                              not in any restaurant/bar i have ever frequented.
                              where is THAT the normal amount?

                              eight ounces is the normal pour for orange juice, not for wine.

                            2. re: Quine

                              Right on Quine! I tended bar at a place with craft beers and we were encouraged to give samples. The vast majority of bartenders DO NOT have the freedom to give away a product that they do not own. Many of us are on camera. Meter pouring and shot pouring are dictates of ownership whether corporate or individual and policy is violated at the peril of the bartender.

                              Furthermore, places that promote from within have servers who will rat you out at the drop of a cocktail napkin. What makes tip money is good face time with guests and prompt service.

                              Oh yeah, i work as a spotter and have on and off for 20 years.

                            3. Couple of things seem to have been confused here -- perhaps it was my prose. First, there was no "free sample.' There was a taste. You have more saliva in your mouth than what a bartender will pour for a taste and it's extremely common here in New York. It's about the same amount you've left in your glass that ran down the sides when you're through drinking. And owner/manager approved. Competition among bars/restaurants in New York is fierce since one can easily walk out the front door, turn right or left and walk 15 steps to a different one. A "taste" for comparison is common. The rosés came from very different grapes and regions. Second, I purchased the drinks. 2 for $18. Third, my argument was about fairness. 8 oz. is an expected pour. Both of mine were less than 2/3 that. That was not management, that was the bartender. And brings me again to my dilemma: how do I justify doing anything extra when even the most simplest of expectations fell so short. In my eyes, out of two drinks, she's completely screwed me out of at least 6 ounces, and, I'm the jerk for not wanting to tip. Remember, the "taste" is common -- it's nothing special here.

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: Particular

                                I would never expect an 8oz pour of wine.

                                Maybe she had just been told to watch her pouring. Her job is probably worth more to her than your $1 tip.

                                1. re: jaykayen

                                  I think you're correct jaykayen. You got me thinking and pouring here at home. And, 6 oz seems to be my mental image of the correct pour. I also poured 4.5 in a glass and that looks a little more than what she poured me that night. Still, in this town, outside of some red-sauce joint in Little Italy that's a slight.

                                2. re: Particular

                                  If you think 8 oz is a "normal" and "standard" pour for a glass of wine, you need to read this:

                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/777634

                                  1. re: Particular

                                    I think that a huge part of this is that the serving size was combined with mediocre to poor customer service.

                                    While the tight pour may have been mandated by management, combining that with the minimum of customer service shouldn't result in a great tip. How many times do servers get shorted on a tip because of something entirely to do with the kitchen? If the kitchen is behind so the meal takes a long time, AND the server is just going through the motions - I'm sure lots of patrons wouldn't leave a wonderful tip.

                                    Also, while 4.5 oz might be required in that bar, she's probably aware it's a smaller serving than lots of other bars (or she's just really inexperienced in the area, or doesn't care). And so in those situations it's even more required for "better service". Where I currently live, a standard mixed drink (i.e. gin & tonic as opposed to a true cocktail) comes with two shots of alcohol. So should a bar open where a gin & tonic is going to be served with one shot of gin and be priced similar to what the competitors are charging - the bar tender would be aware. Now perhaps people would still not go because of the 'poor value' - but if the service was great then the bartender would not be the person to pay the immediate cost of management's decision.

                                    1. re: Particular

                                      I think your idea of the amount of wine in a glass is way out of proportion. 8oz is nearly 1/3 of a bottle. When I'm at home and entertaining and open a bottle of wine for 4, a bottle will be enough to pour wine for all four and then have wine left in the bottle. Usually enough left for at least one more glass. So I think of a typical glass being 4.5 to 5 oz. 6 would be generous. I don't think I have wine glasses that would hold 8oz without the risk of spilling. So you didn't get a generous pour but you didn't get cheated.

                                      1. re: Particular

                                        where exactly is it "common" to expect something for nothing?

                                        1. re: Particular

                                          You've said it twice so far that 8 oz. is a standard "expected pour." I have *never* seen 8 oz. be a standard pour. Anywhere. Not in NJ, NYC, anywhere in New England, Pennsylvania, California, Seattle, Phoenix, Richmond, VA, Charlotte, NC, Orlando, New Orleans, Chicago, London, Galway, Mexico - wherever I've been, 6 oz. is a *most* generous pour.

                                          But 8 oz? No. Two glasses for $9.00 each is about right on the pricing, depending on the quality of the wine, which you said was "decent enough."

                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                            You are right — 8 oz is not a typical pour for wine. There should be four glasses from a 750 ml bottle, which is 6.5 oz each. A minimum pour should be 6 oz, which in practice will fall between 6 and 6.5 oz.

                                            1. re: GH1618

                                              My understanding is that there is often up to 5 glasses from a bottle of wine, so 5 oz. per glass would be minimum.

                                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                                INDUSTRY STANDARD IS VARIABLE 4,5 or 6 pours per 750ml bottle,the variable often is based on the value,caliber of wines poured .... quite a few places are very upfront about it on a printed menu...
                                                .for some very costly bottles it's not unusual to pricing at 3oz,8 pours

                                                all this crap about 8oz pours being normal is just that crap

                                                1. re: LindaWhit

                                                  Clearly it is a choice each establishment makes for itself.