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Sales tax on food consumed at the bar

I seem to remember from my visits to NYC that when ordering and consuming food at the bar, as opposed to at a table, I ended up paying less in sales tax. Does anyone know if this sounds right? If so, why is there a difference? Restaurants also never seem to let you "transfer" tab started at the bar (which you might have started while waiting for a date) to the table (where you would want to go after your date showed up) - is this perhaps due to tax differences at the bar v. table, or is it just that they don't want you to stiff the bartender for tips?

Confused European

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  1. I cannot think of a single time when dining in NYC that the transfer of the tab started at the bar to the table HAS NOT been offered. There have been times when we have asked to settle the bar tab before moving to the table.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Spiritchaser

      Looking back, I see my claim that restaurants "never" let you transfer tab was a bit strong, based on my tiny bit of evidence. It's just that I myself have only tried doing this a few times, and all of those time I wasn't allowed. I distinctly remember this happening at Fig & Olive in the Meatpacking district, and at Sauce in LES. But OK, perhaps they just don't want me doing it!

      1. re: kcorbs

        I know i have been a few places they wanted the bar bill paid seperate at the bar as well, can't think of specifics right now but were smaller very busy not fine dining

    2. There's a "luxury" tax here on liquor/beer/wine so if anything I would think the tax would be higher at the bar.

      But I've never heard of anything like that myself. State and local taxes are sort of set in stone as far as I know. As far as paying your tab before going to your table, I'm going to venture that perhaps they're more afraid you're going to run out the door without paying your bar bill. Sort of kidding. If the bartender makes you pay it's more likely he doesn't trust the rest of the staff to give him his true tip, but he'd be the one making the call there.

      From the NYC website, restaurant tax rates: "The City Sales Tax rate is 4.5%, NY State Sales and Use Tax is 4% and the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District surcharge of 0.375% for a total Sales and Use Tax of 8.875 percent."

      2 Replies
      1. re: coll

        Yeah, it may just be something about drink taxes that have confused me...

        1. re: kcorbs

          Same here. When I first read your post, I distinctly remembered accidently stiffing a bartender on a tip many, many years ago because I merely doubled the tax at the time. (Not to worry, my friend and I were regulars so we made it up to him.)

          But it sounds like it must have been something else that tripped me up that night. Maybe it was simply all the wine. ;-)

      2. The tax is the same at the bar as it is at a table. I have been asked to settle bar tabs before moving to the dining room, which I assume is to ensure that the bartender gets tipped, as you said. But it's rare.

        1. I have never noticed any kind of different or tiered tax rate bar vs. table. I will also note I tend not to pay too much attention to those details, being from NJ I honestly don't even know what the NY State sales tax is. (8%?)

          I have also never experienced a problem transferring a check from the bar to table either. However, normally I'll put a $10 or $20 on the bar, tell the bartender "that's for you, transfer my check to my table please"..........

          1. Different tax treatment for dine-in (e.g. sit down) versus takeout but never for bar versus table.

            4 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              No the tax treatment is the same for take-out and bar/table. The tax is the same on alcohol and food. It's 8.875% in NYC period. (Other NYS jurisdictions have different rates.) Nothing complicated in a restaurant, although supermarket tax rules are somewhat confusing.

              1. re: bobjbkln

                I think @ipsedixit is onto something there.
                According to the New York State website, to-go food is not taxable if sold unheated or in the same "way" you would find it at a grocery store...

                http://www.tax.ny.gov/pubs_and_bulls/...

                1. re: kcorbs

                  That's the cog in the wheel when you're trying to calculate tax. Especially when grocery shopping! "Prepared food" is taxable, like their salad bar or rotisserie chicken, but even then the establishment is the one who programs it into the computer so it's not always consistant.

              2. I know many bars - as in places that are primarily bars, not restaurants - the tax is included in the price. Makes it easier for bartenders doing high-volume to not have to deal with loose change and such. (When's the last time anyone ordered a beer and it was $5.44 or $3.26 or something?)

                I've been in some bars where if you paid cash there'd be no tax, but as soon as you opened a CC tab it would magically appear - basically, they don't report most cash sales but had no choice as soon as the transaction had an electronic record.

                I could see that discrepancy happening at a divey restaurant - have a beer while waiting on a table, settle the bar tab in cash, no tax - then wind up paying tax on food and drinks at the table. But at a higher-end place, where they print a bill / receipt for everything, that wouldn't happen.

                Pretty much every mid-range and up restaurant I've ever been to does tab transferring, in fact most places it's the only option. In which case I'll often drop a little extra cash tip on the bar when I go to my table, if that bartender was particularly good.

                Occasionally I'll encounter otherwise, at places where the bartenders aren't part of the general tip pool but are tipped individually - like at some bars, if you happen to overlap a shift change, sometimes they'll ask you to pay your current tab and then start afresh with the new bartender.