How Much Should You Tip a Bartender?

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Tipping can be a touchy subject. Even in restaurants, where a 15%-20% tip is a pretty well established standard, it can cause anxiety, or drama, or general dread. But when it comes to bar tipping, it’s damn free-for-all.

There’s the $1-per-drink crowd, who consider this flat fee tipping practice a universal standard (and probably learned it in college, at bars where $1 is more than 20% of the cost of that Bud Light). But if you nurse two beers all evening while hogging a bar stool, is $2 really going to cut it?

And then there’s the 20 percenters. It’s the standard for food—why not for drinks? But what happens if you meet a pal for happy hour, and you each order a pair of $15 cocktails? Or $20 glasses of wine? Is an $8 tip really what’s required for a 30 minute gossip session with your coworker?

We asked 5 bartenders from across the country to settle the debate. And their response was…well, it depends. But tipping in cash is always welcome.

For Dinner and Drinks “‘Should’” is a tricky word,” says Laurel Elm of Saint Dinette in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Tipping is always voluntary, and something I believe is earned.” So perhaps if you’re enjoying yourself, you might leave more than you would otherwise. She also acknowledges that dining at the bar, especially in restaurant bars, is more and more common. If you’re enjoying dinner,she says, “consider how engaged your bartender was” and leave the standard restaurant 20%. Otherwise, the per-drink route is fine.

For Busy Friday Nights Aaron Polsky of Harvard & Stone in Los Angeles also nods to a 20% “gold standard.” But when confronted with a packed bar, cash talks: “Tipping heavily and in cash at a busy bar will usually get you remembered.” Shaun Cole of The Edmon, also in LA, agrees. “If you’re at a busy bar and the bartenders are composed and relatively quick, don’t hesitate to tip at least 15%.” Just don’t wave cash in the air and you’ll be fine.

For Open Bars If you’ve ever thought, “Hey, I’m not paying for drinks, so I don’t have to tip,” you are…..very wrong. At office parties, charity events, and even weddings, if there’s an open bar with a tip jar on it, you should be stuffing it with cash. How much cash? Mike Raymond at Reserve 101 in Houston recommends “if you are at a party where it’s an open bar, $1 a drink works.”

When in Doubt Whether your bartender took a good ten minutes to make you a fancy cocktail or just cracked open a High Life, “I have always tipped 20%,” says Hilary Curry of Cannon Green in Charleston. “No matter if the bartender is popping a bottle, opening a can, or mixing a drink. As someone who’s been behind the bar for awhile, I believe it’s a nice gesture.”

MN Magazine

MN Magazine

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