How much you tip in a restaurant is loosely based on the amount of your tab. The accepted minimum is 15%. There are cheap folks who like to preach the literal translation of the word “gratuity” in order to escape even that, but what they don’t realize (or are ignoring) is the fact that tipped servers’ minimum wages are lower than everyone else’s, & that regardless of what you tip them, the IRS is going to ASSUME that they made a certain amount of “gratuity” based on their sales & they will be taxed on it. So that server is counting on that tip. But yeah, there is no law forcing you not to be a cheapskate.
It gets more complicated & less complicated when it comes to bar tips, though.
In a restaurant, you can kind of gauge the amount of service relative to the amount of sale. In a restaurant, there’s a specific routine tied to each course, therefore a generally consistent level of service based on the items ordered, so you can assume 15% & go up or down based on random factors like timeliness, accuracy, etc. If you’re in the industry, chances are the only time you’re going to tip 15% is if the service really did suck; most of the F&B people I know start at 30% & go up based on what special favors were bestowed (complimentary drinks/dessert, exclusive table, etc.) &, most importantly, if we are planning to come back.
Bars are different. There is no routine in a bar, & there is no consistent quantifier of service. I’m of course not including Korean hostess bars, where conceivably you could somewhat calculate service based on how many minutes your server spent holding your dick. I mean regular bars, like Cheers.
A customer can sit in a bar for 2 hours – the average time one would spend in a fine dining restaurant – & spend only $10. This could be because the server comped or bought drinks, or simply because the customer doesn’t drink that much. Since it is literally illegal for someone to be drunk in a bar (it’s true… our Liquor Commission has all kinds of rules set in place so that any time it needs to collect taxes, it can), if 2 beers is someone’s limit, it’s not frowned upon when that’s all they have. I know servers & bartenders who will actually drive drunk customers home just to make sure they got home safe, even when it means spending their own money to catch a cab back to their own car & getting home an hour later. This doesn’t figure in to your tab either.
Regardless of what you order, your server has to provide you service the entire time you are there. The constant dropping by & asking, “Is everything ok?” is service, whether or not it results in a sale. There is no routine, no predictable drinks – apps – entree – dessert – coffee sequence & no obvious conclusion to your server’s relationship with you as a customer (well, unless you get so drunk that you get cut off… but even then, a lot of times you will continue to be served water, & babysat – more service). A bar server’s job isn’t just to bring the drinks; a server also has to manage the people drinking them, because of the nature of alcohol. It’s the one place where the customer isn’t always right, & in fact is most times wrong.
I once had a regular customer who drank Rainbow Martinis all night, & quickly. This is a drink with 3 layers – Midori on the bottom, Malibu/pineapple juice in the middle, & Strasbery Stoli/cranberry juice on the top. These mixes are slightly more difficult than the average layered drink liquers to cleanly layer & also must be, obviously, mixed before they can be layered into the glass. The shaker must also be dumped & rinsed between mixes. All this amounts to a cocktail that takes about 5x the amount of time it would take to make the average shot or cocktail. But does it cost 5x more? No.
Considering the proportionate amount of time & effort I had to spend making that bitch’s drinks every time she dropped in to the bar I should have made a lot more money. The killer was, she was a bartender at another popular bar. I considered revenge but it wasn’t worth it. On busy nights, though, I really wanted to walk over to her table & punch her in the face.
So how much should you actually tip? It’s hard to say. I have customers who tip $25 consistently, with their tab amounting to anywhere from $10 to $50. I have others, in the minority, who show up at opening, drink 5 beers in a row, & tip $2. They’re calculating 15%, but they also drank those beers in less than an hour & took up space that was going to be empty anyway. On top of that, they were pleasant. Pleasantness, not to be confused with friendliness, by the way, counts for a lot.
A guy I dated once asked me about tipping, & said, “I figured $1 per drink is fair, right?” It’s not as myopic as that. I would say that you should consider the amount of time you spent in the bar basically being watched over regardless of what you ordered. Believe me, you are being watched over. Often you are also being entertained, sometimes conversationally, sometimes just visually. I didn’t wear this $48 push up bra because it’s comfortable. Consider also that if the bar is busy, there is only room for so many people, & you are taking up some of it when it could be occupied by someone who might be spending more than you. Sometimes there are measures being taken to keep you safe, or even just to maintain the good mood of the room, like when I kicked those obnoxious tourists out. All so you can hang out here for 3-4 hours, having a quality night, enjoying the fun atmosphere & hopefully the good people. And possibly spend less than $10.
These may seem like a lot of factors to hold in your head, especially after a few drinks. But just do it anyway, especially if you’re planning to come back.
Some good questions from Sober In Salt Lake (haha, funny!):
1. Are you saying that as long as I tip thoughtfully, I don’t have to feel stressed out about how long I’m sitting in a booth? Sports bars seem to invite long stays, but I don’t want to get sloshed and I don’t want to put on a million pounds. Can I order just a plate of chili cheese fries with a couple of beers over the course of a three-hour football game without incurring the wrath of the servers, as long as I’m tipping well? I think so. In places where the servers are pressured to make a certain amount of sales this might be different, but in most places a guy who is 1) pleasant, 2) ordering something, & 3) tipping well is someone they’ll always be happy to see in the bar. Especially if you show up regularly. That gives you Bread N’ Buttah status.
2. I go to bars to be out, to be near people, but also to be alone. I love to hear the chatter of strangers, but don’t necessarily want to be engaged similarly. I want to read my book, or work on my crossword puzzle, or do some of the mountainous take-home work I often have. Am I a loser, and should I just stick to cafes? Actually you are the type that would end up being everyone’s friend in a neighborhood (small, regular driven) bar. You get accepted into the fold without even doing anything, just showing up & minding your own business, because everyone loves the quiet, nice guy. I can’t give you good odds on being left alone, but I can assure you people won’t mind your presence. In a larger bar your chances of being bothered are much less though.
3. I knew they were flirtatious in those K-Bars (I’ve never been in one, as far as I can tell), but do they really hold your schlong? Ew. And how do you tip for that? I thought you were just expected to buy the hostess a drink. I’ve seen some women grab the jewels in a friendly way as an opener, but naturally only with the expectation of drinks to follow because they know he’s a big spender. I’ve seen women sit with a guy & literally tease his anatomy to physiologically loosen his wallet, & if it doesn’t loosen at regular intervals they will leave & take their hand with them. A KB handjob, though, is generally initially a serendipitous thing that comes (heh, sorry) after repeat nights of spending big bucks, making a good impression, & getting your girl to feel that you deserve it! It’s like that George Harrison song. When you buy a girl a $20 drink, she’s getting part of that $20; usually $15 but it varies. When you buy a $200 bottle of champagne for her she gets a proportionately bigger cut. If you buy the $2000 limo ride together with a couple bottles of the $200 bubbly you will almost certainly get a happy ending. That’s provided you didn’t get the girl who gets her jollies off of taking guys for the figurative ride alone.
4. Is it clueless of me to ask for a Sam Adams? I often get weird looks, and I almost never get what I want, usually settling for a Corona. IMO, Corona is a great-tasting beer as long as you don’t put a lime in it. Most bars will have their beer selection posted somewhere; if you’re savvy you’ll look for it. To be honest, I have never tried Sam Adams so I wouldn’t know what to suggest to you in its stead. Newcastle? Hm. My new mission this week is to drink a Sam Adams.
5. I’m not a huge lover of beer, and I actually drink it for the taste, mostly. My personal limit is usually two beers. Since it’s not the buzz I’m usually going after, I’d really rather have a Diet Pepsi than settle for a Bud Light or a Coors. Am I a beer snob? Yes you are, & be proud. If I went to a bar to watch a game & all they had was Coors Light, I would hand my server a $5 & ask for a glass of nothing. My God, I can’t drink that sour watery crap.
6. What are your thoughts on laptop computers in bars? I’d be there asking if you played WoW & then if you told me you had a 2400+ rating Troll Shammy I’d probably be hitting on you. But in other bars, I dunno.
7. Today I hit a sports bar that had “bar and grill” in the title. It didn’t actually have a grill; nor did it have a Sam Adams. I was invited to bring in food from the plate-lunch place next door (which I did). I was there for about forty-five minutes, during which I had the Corona and a Diet Coke ($3.50 and $2.50 each, I think). I left a five-dollar tip. Good or bad? Heh, you were at Scores? Just guessing. If you were just a random walk in, a stranger, a $5 tip on 2 drinks & less than an hour is nice of you. If you really were at Scores, that place garners exceptionally below average tips (it is, after all, the home of Three Dollah Shots) & your waittress probably stared at you longingly as you departed.
Good questions, buddy!