Different drinks and different situations call for different tips when you’re at the bar, but it’s tough to know what tip is expected for each drink. While there are exceptions to every rule — particularly when it comes to local customs — we’ve outlined some ‘best practices’ for proper tipping, along with why you should tip a given amount.
If you object to tipping on moral or ethical grounds, that’s fine, but please do your fellow citizens a favor and drink at home. You should of course reward good service with a generous tip, but a decent tip is par for the course when it comes to public drinking. No one likes to reward poor service with a tip, but in most situations, that’s what you’ve got to do. Don’t be a self-entitled jerk with the people who provide you booze, of all things! Customs may be different in other countries (they often are) but this is how bar and wait-staff employees are compensated in America. As George Costanza once said, “You know we’re living in a society,” so do your part and act like it.
You can also find a handy chart, which includes all of the info in a compact list, between the drink guide and our additional tipping advice.
Beer Bottle: $1 – $2
You know what that long, slim metal bottle opener you sometimes see bartenders use is called? A speed opener. Opening a bottle or a can is the easiest thing you’ll ask of a bartender. The basic dollar-per-drink rule works fine here.
Beer Draft: $1 – $2
Pouring a draft is probably the 2nd easiest thing a bartender can do behind popping open a bottle or a can. Time isn’t a factor, so all you’re paying for here is good service. If you order a Guinness or any other nitrogen fed beer, know that pouring, waiting, and then pouring again is a real pain, so err toward $2 dollars.
Wine Glass: $1 – $2
The wine by the glass program at a restaurant or bar is a major profit center, even amongst the high markups you see on the rest of the booze. Again, this is just the way the hospitality industry has evolved, so while you can often feel like you’re getting ripped off, tip as you would on any other easy-to-pour drink. That said, some restaurants and wine bars have amazing wine by the glass programs, and the markups aren’t always out of line. When it comes to wine by the glass, if you know exactly what you want, or you’re dealing with a place where the options are light red, heavy red, light white, heavy white, a dollar-a-drink tip is just fine. However, if we’re talking about a place that has put care into its selections, and a bartender helps guide you to a great glass, you should tip at least $2, if not $3 for truly exceptional service. Think about it — someone helped you discover an amazing glass of wine. Who better than them to reward with a great tip?
This depends on price, but if it is less than $50, tip at 20%; if greater than $50 at 15%. If there was truly exceptional advice and service tip higher at your discretion.
$1 per shot up to four shots. After three or four shots add an additional dollar, or if the mood is right, buy the bartender a shot. If you ask for the shots to be chilled, add an extra dollar or two. We’re going to assume you’re ordering shots with an s; if you’re going solo you probably want to tip generously, especially if you’re the type of solo drinker that bartenders cannot stand. You know who you are.
A Shot & A Beer (Boilermaker): $1 – $2
You’re ordering this combo at a dive bar, a faux dive bar, or a trendy-as-hell bar. Your situation helps frame how you tip. If you’re at a real or faux dive and your order involves pouring a shot of well liquor from the speed rack and popping open a cheap can of beer, feel free to tip a dollar. If the bartender on the other hand needs to pour you a draft and pull some higher end bottle off the back bar for your shot selection, then you’d be wise to tip $2 dollars. Nicer (read more expensive) drinks and more time spent by the bartender translate into a better tip. If you’re somewhere super-trendy, the bartender is probably overwhelmed with customers all evening, so tip well.
Spirits (Neat, On The Rocks, Etc): $1 – $3
Pouring out spirits can range from systematic in bars that mandate jiggers or use specialized spouts to pours left to the discretion of the bartender (within the limits of how the bar handles settling everything up at the end of the shift). If a bartender has to use a jigger or the bar has stuck a specialized spout on the bottle, don’t take it out on the bartender, as the establishment makes the rules. The guidelines here are pretty simple: a dollar tip is fine in some situations, but as prices escalate — hopefully on nicer spirits, not just because you’re getting ripped off — your tip should rise accordingly. As the great Vince Lombardi said, “When you go into the endzone, act like you’ve been there before.” You want to order top-shelf rare-as-hell Bourbon served with a giant (as in it won’t melt) ice cube? Tip like you’ve been there before.
Basic Cocktail: $1 – $3
If the cocktail in question is something like rum and Coca-Cola sprayed out the soda gun, paired with a questionable looking lime, then feel free to tip a dollar. If you’re ordering something that requires a bit more effort, up the tip accordingly.
Craft Cocktail: $3
While cocktails that require five different ingredients and take two or three minutes to make often cost an arm-and-a-leg, they also take up the bartender’s most precious commodity: time. The more time the bartender spends making a drink, the less time they have to serve another customer and earn another tip. This is a situation where you always want to be generous. If you find $15+ dollar cocktails offensive, don’t take it out on the bartender who is slaving away making them; don’t order them. You can always learn how to make tasty cocktails at home. If that sounds like a pain, well now you know why you should tip generously when you order a well crafted, time-intensive cocktail (and a second one with completely different ingredients and preparation methods for your drinking companion).
If you’ve been drinking for more than three rounds, you should up the tip a dollar or two every now and then for good service.
If the bartender comps you a drink, understand that while it may come out of a pool of free drinks they are allocated per shift, you should tip at the very least what is outlined above, if not more.
Tipping Extra-Generously On The First Drink At A Busy Bar
If done properly, this is a great way to let the bartender know that you’re going to take care of them if they pay attention to you while you’re waiting (patiently!) for their attention when it’s time to order the next round. If they repay your generosity with obviously quick attention on subsequent rounds, you’ll look like a real jerk if you don’t occasionally up your tip, say on the third drink, and at the end of the evening.
The Quandary Of The Open Tab
Opening up a tab is convenient if you like to pay with credit card and expect to have a few rounds. Just make sure you’re sober enough at the end of the evening to add up all your tips properly.
Closing Out A Credit Card Each Round
Don’t do this. Ever. You won’t just look like a jerk. You will be a jerk. Most service industry folks like to see their tips in cash, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with paying by credit card, do so only once, at the end of the evening (or for a single order if you won’t be drinking multiple rounds). Why? For the same reason that you should tip generously on cocktails that take a couple of minutes to put together — swiping a credit card, printing a receipt, and waiting for you to sign, takes up precious time that the bartender could be using to serve other customers and earn more tips.
Tipping As A Regular
We hate to say it but if you’re a regular at a bar and you haven’t established a healthy tipping rapport with the bartender, then one of you is a jerk. Either way, it’s time to find a new bar.