We spoke with bartenders across the country to clear up some tipping confusion.
While for many restaurants—and countries—we live in a post-tipping era, bartenders often rely on tips to make a livable wage. As the standards of tipping etiquette have become somewhat less clear, we asked bartenders what they wish customers knew about tipping for their alcoholic beverages…aside from “please do it,” of course.
1. Tipping big early on won’t necessarily get you better service.
“I’ve heard a lot of bartenders say you can’t buy their attention or affection with a big tip,” one New York server told me. “Sometimes people drop a major tip at the beginning of the night to get an ‘in,’ but a busy bar is a busy bar.”
2. Tip on the total, not the subtotal.
“A lot of people think you should tip on just the subtotal before tax,” a Brooklyn bartender said. “No. Don’t do this.”
3. The $1 for 1 drink rule is totally acceptable—except when you’re ordering cocktails.
The consensus among most of the bartenders I spoke with is that you should tip $1 per beer, but $2 per cocktail.
“A lot of people will go to a bar, and they’ll order a round for their friends,” a New Orleans bartender said. “If it’s a round of cocktails, they’ll only tip me four dollars, and that’s a dick move.”
4. Tip first in cash.
“Even if you plan to use a card,” said one bartender. “Too many times people skimp when the tab gets too large, and bartenders know it.”
5. If it’s a 2-for-1 special, tip for TWO drinks.
“When people get free drinks or 2-for-1 specials and don’t tip, or tip on only one drink, that shit gets me fired up,” a New Haven bartender said. “What, you think your tip goes toward the cost of a drink? Like at the end of the night the boss makes us cover the deficit? Nah man, I serve you a drink, you slip me a tip. That’s literally my take home pay. The cost be damned.”
6. Many bartenders rely on tips for a livable wage.
Tip generously if you can.
“I wish to Christ people knew that bartenders, like a lot of servers, get paid less than minimum wage,” one bartender told me. “We survive on tips.”
7. Many non-American bartenders are skeptical of the tipping model in general.
“Tipping is a symptom of a dysfunctional economy and a poor substitute for the collective bargaining power of a fully unionized workforce,” a British bartender said. “It’s not really done here, except in the absolute worst bars. But you get paid better. So, there’s no additional emotional labor, and you get an actual wage that isn't dependent on your capacity to bow and scrape.”
8. If you hate your bartender, you should still tip properly.
“It’s a pool,” said one bartender. “If you hate me, fine, don't order from me. But if you stiff me and keep ordering, my bar back is getting screwed by you as well.”
9. There’s no need to wave cash around.
It won’t get you served faster.
“Don't wave your money or try and flag me down with a full bar,” a bartender tweeted at me. “I see you, and working on getting to you.”