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Tipping a Bartender

Coming from another thread - I wondered how people view tipping bar tenders and if they compare that at all to how they tip a server. Also while the server's position is largely to serve as an intermediary between the kitchen and the dinner - the bartender not only serves as the customer service provider but also the "kitchen". And if the bartender is responding to requests both directly from customers and orders from servers, then their time available to be friendly or attentive may be strained. Obviously this varies based on how busy the bar is.

When in the States, I've either tipped around a dollar per drink if I'm paying per round or if I pay for the bill all at once, I tip 15-20%. In Jerusalem customary tipping is 10%, and that's what I do generally do.

If the bartender is being particularly attentive/friendly, has given free shots/drinks, or if the bar is particularly busy and I'm waited on quickly then I'm inclined to tip more. If the bar is particularly busy and ordering/paying is frustrating then I'm less inclined to tip as much. I personally view tipping to be largely related to service, and if the service isn't great - I won't tip as much.

Based on the other thread it seems like attitudes on tipping bar tenders can really range and I wonder what comes into pay with other people's choices.

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  1. I'm much like you and typically leave a dollar per drink if I am buying a round and paying for it at that time. If I am sitting at the bar and have an open tab for a few rounds, I typically leave 15-20%. If I am ordering food or having an actual meal at the bar then I also leave usually ~20%.

    1. Bartender tips start at around 20% of final bill, basically meaning that I tip them the same as I would a server if I'm sitting at a table.

      They go up if: bartender is attractive, or particularly friendly or attentive, or I am served free drinks.

      They go down if: I wait for drinks or they have an inhospitable demeanor.

      For servers I consider it tough for them to improve their tip; however, I will ding them if several of the following occur during my meal: I wait longer than I desire for drinks or food or they deliver incorrect items, cold food meant to be warm/hot, forget items, or have an inhospitable demeanor.

      1. As the OP indicates, the culture of tipping bar staff differs depending on where you are in the world. I havnt tipped in a bar here in the UK for many years. It's not expected, although obviously not going to be refused if offered. If there's been a crowd and we've been running a tab, a few coins might be added at the end of the evening - a sort of "keep the change" thing.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Harters

          Again, and depending on the service, I will throw a few £2 coins onto the bar.

          In some cases, I will assume that the "service" is included, though in those few cases, the word "service" does not apply.

          Hunt

          PS - a £ for the coat-check person, the doorman, who hails my cab, etc., is about my norm. At some hotels, I will wait until checkout, and then tip the door staff for the week, as I often find myself without £ coins. Just do not like a pocket full of coins.

        2. North of Boston, MA here...20% if service is what I expect (pleasant bartender, satisfactory drinks), less if service is shoddy, sloppy or the cocktails are crafted poorly, more if the service and drinks are stellar. Pretty much the same thing I do with food.

          1. Having both waited and tended bar back in college, I will say that there is a large difference between the level of service for the two positions. Waiters are really the face of the entire meal, dealing with all the needs of the table, orchestrating service from the kitchen and bar, and serving fewer people, over a long time. Bartenders tend to serve and move on, doing a high volume over a short time interval per customer. Of course, there are exceptions. If the bartender is doing service bar as well, they are tipped out by the waiters.

            In a busy restaurant with a good bar business, the bartenders make as much or more than the waiters. I tip bartenders $1 to $2 a drink, and it will go up from there. If I am running a tab, then I will add about 20%. If I am comped, I will tip close to the value of what I am getting comped. So a free $12 cocktail can easily get a $10 tip. Upgrade me to a super premium for the well price, that is easily worth $5. That goes for servers as well, unless it is to make up for something.

            I don't tip hot bartenders any more than I would normally, even if she is flirting. It makes for a fun night, but that is part of the game to get more in tips.

            4 Replies
            1. re: ocshooter

              Out of curiosity - in regards to the US, I know a lot of discussion regarding tipping servers is related to the fact that they don't make minimum wage and so tips are not just about rewarding service but also ensuring that the person makes a living wage. Is there a standard way in the US that bartenders are paid? If the person tends bar in a bar/restaurant vs a bar-bar? If it's a bar where there are bartenders and also servers, but it's just drinks?

              In Israel bartenders/servers are paid according to minimum wage/living wage standards. So while there's a custom of tipping 10%, it's more inline with in the US if it became customary to tip a 'barista'. That attitude, I think, ultimately leads to the notion that if I'm comped a drink it's going to bump the tip from 10% to 12-15% - not the value of the drink.

              1. re: cresyd

                bartenders in us are tipped employees and make same sub-min wage as servers (exception san francisco etc). no difference in type of establishment. in a restaurant or busy pub/nightclub where the bartender(s) make all of the "service station" drinks for the servers, the bartenders will be "tipped out" a percentage of total tips by each server, and in turn the bartenders will generally "tip out" a percentage of the total to barbacks. these barbacks change kegs, fetch cold cases of bottled beer and liquor bottles, keep ice wells filled, etc. and generally keep the bartenders able to most efficiently serve.

                1. re: soupkitten

                  I think just like most things in life, there can be some variance in bartender pay, especially based on the type of establishment, locale, etc. I bartended in a restaurant where aside from weekend nights and a few hour rush on weeknights, the actual bar side was fairly slow and my time was primarily spent getting drinks for servers or studying. We weren't tipped out from the servers and it wasn't really custom for people to tip well in the bar. It was a rural area, probably half of the customers wouldn't leave the quarter if they got a $1.75 beer, let alone a dollar per drink or 15-20%). I started at minimum wage and was making $10/hour when I moved away. I've had friends who have tended bar in similar situations or in actual bars and there is no way they could have survived on tips alone in small towns where people just don't tip at bars.

                  My boss grew up on a farm in rural Nebraska. The closest town (~1000 people) was 20 miles away, the closest city, Omaha, was 4hrs away. Since then he has lived in Portland, Philly, and now KC. He has traveled the world. He still won't leave the $2 in change for a $18 pitcher of beer at a bar. When asked why, he said, why would I tip at a bar? He tips 20+% at restaurants, gives money to the car hops at Sonic, but just grew up in a culture where you didn't tip at bars.

                2. re: cresyd

                  The deviation from the standard minimum wage for tipped employees present in federal law and some state minimum wage laws is a credit and does not allow for the employee to make less than the minimum wage. For example, if the federal minimum wage is $7.25 and the tip credit is $5.12, the employer is only obligated to pay an employee in the "tipped" category $2.13 per hour as long as that employee makes at least $5.12 in tips. If the employee makes less than that in tips, the employer is legally obligated to make up the difference. If you assume that most people tip the bartender at least one buck per drink, it would probably have to be a pretty slow night for that to happen. And a lot of states don't have a tip credit in their minimum wage laws.

              2. A complimentary drink deserves the same tip as if it were charged.

                8 Replies
                1. re: GH1618

                  I agree.

                  For me, it is like dining with a Gift Certificate, or similar. I want to tip on what the bill WOULD have been, and so long as the service was good, that is usually 20-25%. Now, if I get bad treatment, with a GC, or discount, the tip does decline, but that is due to attitude, and to service, or lack, thereof.

                  Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Then you guys must not get a lot of free drinks. I don't have a regular bar anymore, but if there is no difference between what I am being tipped for a free drink and a charged drink, I am charging you.

                    If a bartender comps you a cocktail, tipping $5 or even $10 is still a discount to what you would be paying for the drink and a tip. Now, if the freebie is to make up for something, that that is a different story. Make me wait an hour in the bar for my reservation and buy me a round to make up for it, then $1-2 per drink is just fine. Comp my 3rd cocktail because I am a witty conversationalist, then a nice tip is due.

                    1. re: ocshooter

                      I personally don't tip for comped drinks at the bars where I'm a regular (both abroad and in the US). I may tip at a slightly higher percentage - but not for the comped drink.

                      Personally, in the situations where I get comped the most it's in places where I'm pretty friendly with management at come at a variety of non-peak hours for sporting events. Sometimes the comped beverage is directly from the owner and other times from the bartender - but perhaps the fact that I'm there when there aren't huge crowds (especially in the US during European football games), it's a different dynamic.

                      In my experience, most bars where I have been a regular reward that regardless of tipping in excess.

                      1. re: ocshooter

                        We are basically winos, but there have been occasions, where we HAVE been comp'ed wines, and tastings. That is never my intent, but it has happened.

                        I've had (and so has wife) bartenders/sommeliers, do a tasting, before they make a wine list change, just for input.

                        Wife has had that at several United Red Carpet Clubs, when they are thinking about changes, and in two instances, went with her recs. (PHX and ORD).

                        Hunt

                        1. re: ocshooter

                          I get (or used to, when I was drinking more) a reasonable number of free drinks at places where I am a regular, often the remainder in a wine bottle, but sometimes a full drink. I'm not going to bribe a bartender for a free drink, however. That's an incentive to steal from the business.

                          1. re: ocshooter

                            I just had three pretty high abv beers for lunch. All in the 8% range, and my total bill came to $12. That is low. I was either being charged half-price or the bartender left off a pour. I tipped $10.

                            1. re: MonMauler

                              You, my good man, are a gentleman.

                        2. It depends ON the bartender.

                          Going back some years, we did a wine tasting at a restaurant, before our seating. The bartender knew is wines pretty well, and poured some nice Chards. He was friendly, and entertaining.

                          When we were seated, I asked for the bill. He informed me that the tasting (about 9 higher-end US Chards), plus some great apps. were free, and included, as we were dining with them. Well, with no bill to judge things on, he got US $ 50. I only wish that the flounder from the apps. offerings had been on the menu that night!

                          In some other cases, bartenders have gotten from 10% to 25% of the bar tab. It just depends.

                          Hunt

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            And in addition to all of the above, it has long been said that a bartender is one of the very few people that is typically tipped up front, for obvious reasons. The other entrepreneur that should be tipped up front I will not mention for fear of offending the sensibilities of many on the board.

                            1. re: singlemalt

                              I always tip moving people up front, on account of they are carrying my stuff.

                              1. re: redfish62

                                I think singlemalt meant "moving people" in a sense. Just different moves. Sometimes involving a pole.

                                  1. re: staughton

                                    Well, I guess that's three entrepreneurs that should be tipped "up front".

                            2. Reading some of these responses, that range from taking the server's "attractiveness" into consideration when tipping to what they tip in other countries, it's no wonder that there are so many disagreements on this issue.

                              I don't care what someone looks like (as long as they don't look dangerously unhygienic) or how much they smile or make idle chit-chat. That's not really their job. I do take into consideration their understanding of basic bartender knowledge. I DO tire of young bartenders listing scotches and bourbons as options because they don't have the Crown Royal or Canadian Club I've ordered.

                              Having bartended myself, I know how to assess a bar and its bartenders and figure out what their capabilities are. I don't request Pisco sours or Pimm's cups in dive bars and I don't expect premium wines by the glass in chain restaurants. Nor do I gripe that the four-star restaurant doesn't carry my favorite cheap beer on tap (you'd be surprised how many people do, before you ask, "Who does?"). I certainly don't ask for or expect "tastes" and "sips" of every other wine on the by-the-glass list. A basic description usually suffices, especially when it comes from someone who actually drinks wine.

                              That said, I generally tip around 20%, sometimes more, rarely less.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: staughton

                                Being a straight male, I never bother to notice "attractiveness," male, or female. I tip on service, regardless. I actually seldom notice the physical attributes, but DO notice the timeliness, the efficiency, the treatment of the glassware (remember, I am a wino), and then, should I get hung up on the wine list, their ability to offer some info, should I not know a producer.

                                Now, "eye candy" is fine, but is never reflected in my tips. It is about service.

                                Hunt

                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  "Being a straight male..." That's funny. In my experience, it's the straight males who most often bring up a server's attractiveness (especially if the server is a straight female) when discussing how they tip.

                                  1. re: staughton

                                    In my case, their "attractiveness," regardless of gender/sex, is never a consideration.

                                    Hunt

                                    1. re: staughton

                                      Being a straight male ... a female bartender's attractiveness is always a factor in how I tip. I am not alone in this practice from what I can discern from the tipping practices of my fellow patrons...

                                2. We rarely just drink at a bar, however we very often have drinks and dinner while seated at a bar. This is extremely common in southern CA where we live. I always tip a bartender exactly as I would a server and really see no reason to do otherwise. We tip 20% as a rule, but somewhat more for great service. On the rare occasion when we might have a drink at the bar while waiting for a table, we always settle our tab with the bartender rather than transferring it to the table. Most bartenders appreciate this.

                                  I'm surprised by the CH's who talk about being given comped drinks. This has only happened very rarely to me. Unless the drink is being comped by the owner/management (rather than the bartender), this is not something I would feel comfortable with. It Is IMHO basically stealing from the house to get a better tip...not an honorable thing to do!

                                  15 Replies
                                  1. re: josephnl

                                    It doesn't happen that often, is generally done for regulars, and is a goodwill gesture rather than a ploy to get more tips. And, often it is the owner, GM, or bar manager who will do it. It is not a dishonorable practice when used appropriately — the management sets the tone and may well have a policy of taking care of good customers. Now if a bartender invites his or her friends in, and charges them for cheaper drinks than what is being ordered, or pours free drinks, that's stealing.

                                    1. re: josephnl

                                      I'm actually surprised at the lack of CH's who talk about being given comped drinks. Of the four times or so a week I go to the bar I would venture to guess that I receive a free drink an average of three out of the four days. Sometimes it is the owner that orders it for me; much more often it is one of the bartenders.

                                      1. re: MonMauler

                                        Once again, I am shocked by the number of CH's saying how often they are comped with drinks. We regularly eat dinner at the bar at several restaurants where we are known, and are clearly "regulars". We are excellent tippers and on great terms with the bartenders...and we are essentially never "comped". Perhaps it's a regional thing (we're in southern CA). Maybe I''m overly cynical, but unless the comping is obviously being done be the owner/management, I can't help but think that the bartender is essentially stealing from the restaurant/bar in the hope of getting bigger tips.

                                        1. re: josephnl

                                          My only thoughts regarding this would be either the always relevant point of "it's regional" - but that at times free drinks can be part of a bigger plan of the bar, not just a specific bartender.

                                          In Israel in general and Jerusalem particularly, drinking culture is pretty different and generically speaking large chunks of locals drink a lot less. Seeing two men share a beer here is not "weird". Therefore for bar owners, getting a good base of Europeans/Americans/heavier drinkers is very good for business - and depending on the kind of bar you want, targetting "long-term" foreigners vs tourists can also be part of the plan. Therefore when I am served free drinks at my local or am presented with a free bottle of cava on my birthday - it's clearly part of the bar's longer-term plan than a bartender looking for an extra tip.

                                          Whether a bar's trying to cultivate a following for specific sporting events, or attract a certain kind of clientele (or just any clientele) - I think all of that can impact free drinks.

                                          1. re: josephnl

                                            I know the owners/management of several places and been often comped drinks/apps/desserts. Servers who have served us several times and know us and how we tip have been known to buy us drinks as thanks for the many tips.

                                            1. re: Bkeats

                                              When you say that the servers "buy" you drinks, are they actually paying for them? If not, they using the restaurant's resources to increase their personal income. Unless this is done with the explicit knowledge and approval of the proprietor(s)...this is stealing. I have had restaurant owners on occasion send over a treat, but this is usually as a way of saying thanks for coming, as a way of helping us celebrate an occasion, or to ask forgiveness for something that went wrong. Servers/bartenders who do this on their own to say thanks for generous tips is a very different story!

                                              1. re: josephnl

                                                They are buying them. There are half a dozen places we go to at least once a month. Owners send us free stuff and servers buy us drinks. Given what we spend/tip, its a nie thing to receive back.

                                                1. re: Bkeats

                                                  Wow! We must go to the wrong places. We are very good tippers (20-25%) and although management has on occasion send something over to us, I can't remember a bartender " buying" me a drink, although I think it may have happened once or twice in the distant past.

                                                  1. re: josephnl

                                                    I don't know any bartenders that "buy" drinks for customers. They are pouring free ones, so in essence, they are stealing from the house, but it is something that a good owner will leave up to the discretion of the bartender. Waiters do not get the same discretion.

                                                    Unless the shots are measured, there is always going to be some variation in the number of drinks per bottle. If a bar can get 20 1 1/2 ounce shots out of a bottle, that still leaves 2 shots in the bottle. For a super premium, that is going to be $300 from a $15-$20 bottle. Using those extra shots to comp a customer that is in the bar every week with friends and generating a few $100 a month in bar business is just smart.

                                                    1. re: ocshooter

                                                      If it's with the owner's knowledge and approval, it's absolutely fine and perhaps even smart. If not, any bartender who pours free drinks for whatever reason (bigger tips, more business, being a "good guy", etc.) is stealing, plain and simple!

                                                      1. re: josephnl

                                                        At places I frequent, I presume that management knows the comped drinks are being given partially because part of the time they're the ones giving them or they're around when they're handed out. At places I don't frequent, when I've received a comped drink, then I really assume that management must be ok with it in some way - because that bartender has no reason to believe a better tip will follow. With the exception of traveling to to poorer non-Western countries - I doubt I've ever entered a bar and had anyone think "she'll tip amazingly if we treat her well".

                                                        The only time a bartender has ever "stollen" for me, was when a friend of mine was bartending and would occasionally ask me to come by and keep him company if it was a slow night. He'd generically undercharge me, and I'd over tip him - but this was truly the case of hanging out with a friend. Not something he'd do just in hopes of getting a better tip from a generic patron.

                                                      2. re: ocshooter

                                                        I used to work at a bar. We would frequently buy drinks for people. And yes, we actually BOUGHT them. We had a tab running to which we would add these drinks. This was also the case at bars I frequented.

                                                      3. re: josephnl

                                                        I'm with you josephnl. I used to live in New England where we were comped drinks once in awhile, but here in So Cal it basically has never happened even at places we go to regularly and where we tip very well., Now we do get very good service and they will modify a dish in ways they wouldn't otherwise (I think) but I've never expected to get a free anything.............they are in business.

                                                  1. re: josephnl

                                                    There are four places where we are regularly comped.....one place in particular at a level that never ceases to amaze me. In every case it is done either by the manager/owner or with their knowledge. Three of the places also give us a bottle of wine to take home for ourselves when we come in during the holiday season.