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Always Tip Your Bartender


Local customs may vary, however, most bartenders work for less than minimum wage, typically closer to $2.15 an hour. In some states, if the percentage of the bartender’s alcohol sales is is minimum wage or lower, the employer does not have to provide any type of base compensation. So how is bartending such a lucrative career, you may ask? Well it’s all driven by the tips! This fact alone is why you should always tip your bartender, especially if the service warrants the tip. However, when tipping, you should keep in mind that depending on what type of establishment you’re in, the bartender must also pay a percentage of their tips to the barback, servers, dishwashers, food runners and the table bussers. In the American culture, it is customary to tip those who are in the service industry based upon the level of service received but there are some “unwritten” minimum standards that should always be taken into consideration.

Here is the inside scoop on tipping practices that are helpful in almost any situation!

Tipping Like the Local Celeb

In the industry, it’s quite common to tip big on the first round and if you do, you’ll usually get a drink on the house. By throwing down a generous tip at the beginning of the night (in the ballpark of $20-$50 for the round), you’re definitely creating goodwill with your bartender and you can expect better service. Be sure however that your bartender is not going to end their shift before you are ready to go. Tipping higher at the first round may help ensure the bartender comes back to you quicker the next time you come back their bar. It also may ensure future rounds will have a bit more alcohol if ordering mixed drinks. Be careful though in busy or high volume bars; your tip from the first round could quickly be forgotten. So in a high volume environment, it is far better, in the long run, to tip throughout the duration of your stay.

Consistent Over Tipping

Tip at least $10.00 your first round and then scale down from there. This way the bartender remembers you. If you see someone else doing this, chances are they work in the hospitality industry. It is a very common practice and one that will not leave you standing in a 30 minute order line. A bartender will not remember any tip under $5.00 unless you are a regular. Remember that at a nightclub you are paying the bartender with your tip to save you time in line.

Cash vs. Credit Card

Keep in mind that bartenders always prefer cash. It is a matter of getting paid that night or waiting until the weekly or bi-weekly pay day to see the tip in their check. Alternatively, you can pay with a credit card and then leave the tip in cash, which is a nice gesture.

Night Club vs. Restaurant Tipping

Ultimately, a lot of people think tipping a dollar per drink is the way to go, which is cool in a high volume dive bar. But if you’re going to a more upscale establishment, 20% should be the rule of thumb just as it is in a restaurant.

Good Service vs. Bad Service

Tipping based upon service is a general rule but be sure you’re making the point to the right person…the poor service provider. There is undoubtedly a number of establishments with horrible customer service, which by our standards is simply subpar to be in the hospitality industry and not treat your customers well. However, if you decide not the leave a tip for the server who brought you your drink, you're not punishing the owner or the server; you're punishing the bartender. Remember, the bartender still has to pay out the above mentioned staff whether he/she gets tipped or not. So as a kind gesture, walk over to the bar and tip the bartender separately.

Open Bar

When at an "open" bar, always tip as much as you would if you were purchasing a well drink. The open bar saves you money on the drinks but does not mean that you should stiff the bartender who is serving you those free drinks. Here it is customary to tip $1 - $2 per drink.

International Tipping

Navigating tipping customs can be difficult when you’re traveling abroad. In England, for instance, you would never tip in a pub, but you would buy the bartender a drink. It’s a way of showing respect for the bartender. If you go to a cocktail bar in London, however, you’re expected to tip. In the U.S. it’s almost expected to tip even if you have bad service. However, Japan is the polar opposite. Because service is so entrenched in the Japanese culture, tipping would be an insult since serving is what they do — it’s an art. So you would not tip in a Japanese bar. If you’re still not sure, don’t hesitate to ask the bartender. The bartender’s job is to be your man of local knowledge. He will likely tell you the best-case scenario for a bartender of course, but he won’t mind you asking.

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