Thursday, March 11, 2010

Beer Tipping Etiquette

Last week I asked you "How much should I tip the bartender?", and a bunch of people fired back with useful information. I especially want to thank Jeff over at the Beer Cave -- yikes, another interesting Portland beer blog? -- for some great insight, but really all the comments were appreciated, even the somewhat long-winded ones from Hugh "Doctor" Johnson. As promised, here is a summary of how you can win friends and influence bartenders by tipping appropriately:
  • Tip $1 per beer minimum.
  • Tip 20% minimum on a big tab.
  • Pay the tip with cash.
  • Tip for bad service, too.
  • Even if the owner serves you, leave a tip.
  • Kick in some more for special favors, like samples.
A lot of you are probably stunned to hear that your 50- or 75-cent tip is no longer in style.  I sure was.  It's why I asked the question in the first place.  Don't take it personally, just breathe deep and enter the 21st century.  If your inner banker gives you a hard time about it, compare good and bad tips to the total tab.  For instance, if you buy 3 beers for $3.50 each, tipping 50 cents a beer brings the total to $12, versus a total of $13.50 if you tip $1 a beer.  Hopefully you got a couple hours enjoyment out of your investment, so don't split hairs on the final $1.50.

What about when you don't enjoy your visit to the pub, because the service is bad?  Short answer: tip normally anyway.  For one thing, if you plan on visiting the establishment again, you don't want to get a reputation as a non-tipper.  For another, failing to tip doesn't fix the problem. The remedy for bad (or rude) service is to let management know -- on the spot if that is convenient or comfortable for you; otherwise later on with an email or a phone call.  Not tipping the front-line employee isn't going to teach them a lesson -- if anything they might feel justified in their treatment of you -- and the message isn't going to reach the manager who could do something about it.  A competing school of thought says to leave a symbolic insulting tip like one penny.  That only seems like an option if you know you'll never be back, but it's also very petty.  Don't be petty.  Be big and then wash your hands of the place.  Another thing to consider: people don't stay in the same service jobs forever, and the surly bartender you stiff today might show up at your favorite haunt tomorrow.

Another thing I was curious about was the etiquette of tipping the owner of a bar.  In the comments, Jeff set me straight pretty quick about that:  tip the owner normally.  For one thing, if the owner is working a shift behind the bar instead of relaxing by the pool, he or she is probably working for a lower hourly figure than the employees.  Secondly, some of that tip money goes to the other employees on duty at the time.  And finally, if the proprietor finds you to be too generous, it's within his or her power to make it up to you -- or, to put it another way, why wouldn't you try and get on the good side of the owner of a bar you like to go to?

Finally, there's the question of cash.  Forget about the tax angle -- let's assume that our bartenders are honest citizens who will pay whatever taxes are due on the tips.  There are two issues with cash.  First of all, on the previous post, Ezra pointed out that the surest way to make sure that your tip goes to the server you want to flatter, is to put your cash on the barrelhead.  In his experience, the credit card tips are averaged for the week and distributed based on the number of hours worked.  Furthermore, as I've pointed out before, more of your money stays local if you pay in cash, instead of having the bar pay roughly a 4% tax to out-of-state credit card processors.

Thanks again to everyone who chimed in on the earlier discussion.  Tip your bartender, and tell 'em It's Pub Night sent you.


  1. Hey, thanks for the mention, but I hope my blog wont bore to death any of your readers who click over to it!

    There will be no breaking stories, interviews, insightful beer reviews from someone with a refined palate, or announcements about upcoming events on there. At best, there are occasional mildly entertaining stories about camping trips gone horribly wrong after excessive beer consumption, and the like...

  2. I would like to add another account of tipping that I should have related before. At some places only a few employees are allowed to collect the tips and then they disperse them how they see fit.
    For example Laurelwood is like this.
    They have "servers" who take your order and run your bill and bring you beers but then they have the actual wait staff or runners who bring you your food, set the table and clean up after you. Many people make the mistake of thinking they are your server when they are not even allowed to take orders or get you a beer, just deliver it and clean it up. They are also not allowed to get tips. the "servers" collect the tips and then they disperse those tips however they see fit when you get your paycheck. This system is so F'd up I dont even know where to start. For one thing when the runners get those tips they dont know who tipped them what, customers or servers and that makes it easy for them to be massively undertipped. I did this briefly and made an average of only $40 in tips for a week from this bullshit system. Needless to say got out of there fast.

  3. Jeff: That's my method also. So anyone who endures this blog can endure yours too.

    SA: That's demented. Are a lot of places like that? What is the solution for the customer, stick the tip in the runner's waistband?

  4. I just need a little clarification.

    What exactly does a tip represent? Why do we tip? There's a reason why we tip? What's that reason?

    Just curious. I thought it was for the quality of services rendered.

  5. Hugh: Valid question. The tip represents your contribution to the server's wage, based on services rendered. Quality enters into it, but convention dictates a minimum amount.

    The minimum is only a convention, so you can ignore it and pay a similar price to what you pay for ignoring other social conventions: being looked at as an outsider by your fellow primates.

    Someone pointed out on the other post that in many places in the world, the minimum tip is included on the tab, non-negotiable. When I was in Jamaica recently, there is a 10% tip on every restaurant bill. From travels in years past, I remember that in Finland the tip is included invisibly in the price of every item; in Hungary you negotiate the tip face-to-face with the server.

  6. Bill,

    Your last response reminded me of something similar that happens here in the US.

    What's up with all the places that automatically add 18% gratuity to parties of 6 or more.

    I would have probably just paid 20% anyway, so it's not that I mind paying that amount, I just kind of resent the fact that I'm being stripped of my power to choose.
    Tipping well makes me feel good about myself! When I'm not required (even if it's expected) to tip any certain amount, and I still do, I get that momentary feeling of "I did the right thing!". When I go somewhere with 5 other people and they just tell you what to pay, even if it's the same as what I would have paid anyway, it's kind of a let down. It's no longer "man, I'm such a nice guy!", but rather "well, I did what I had to do."

    The whole thing about mandatory tipping, here or anywhere else doesn't make sense to me. If you don't have a say in the matter, it's not a tip, it's a charge.

  7. OK. So we live in a country where we can give whatever tip we feel is appropriate based on service.

    Since I've worked in Europe, I can tell you those added Gratuities on the bill go to the house, not to the Server. The house then "MAY" give part of that gratuity to the server. Based on quality of service, not because he showed up for work and sleeps on a cot behind the kitchen.

    I don't really give a shit about societies moral trends of guilt for a guy who pours me a beer. I can pour my own beer if needed. Looks like ya tilt the glass and pull on the tap??? Yea, I think I can handle that. Now all they really have to do is take my order and bring the beer to my presence.

    Why does this guarantee a tip?

    How much is that worth compared to a bartender who entertains the crowd like a Flare bartender or the Coyote Ugly girls?

    I'm already paying an inflated rate for a beer at a pub or bar. Now, the guy or gal who takes my beer order and pulls a tap is guaranteed a tip? Working the Drive-up at McDonalds is more complicated and I don't tip that poor kid! How much of a tip should we give the kid who takes my order and relays it to the kitchen; Organizes my food order; Check all my order; Works those fancy drink dispensers and the like; Then actually gives me my order correctly and then says, "Have a nice day." That kid deserves a tip. Why don't we tip them?

  8. Man, I thought I was cheap.

    Why does this guarantee a tip?

    Because the people serving the beer get paid to do the work. For whatever reason, in our system that means the bar pays them a small wage, and the customers are expected to pay a customary amount.

    You might think that's a stupid system, and I might just agree with you. But if you want to hang out in bars, I recommend playing by their rules. Otherwise, stay home, put your savings in the bank, and retire early.

  9. So, why don't we tip kids at McDonalds? They're working harder, don't they deserve something? ;-}

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Den Dover,
    I might agree with you about why we tip certain people and not others. I have often thought the same.
    But you are somehow using that as a way to justify your own cheapskatedness (yeah thats a word) as if you should punish one group of workers for the wrongs of another. Thats not logical, thats just being a douchebag. Buy bottles. stay home

  12. I'm more than willing to tip properly for proper service. I just don't believe in tipping for poor service. Don't see anything cheap about that.

    See the link I added to one of my posts on tipping etiquette.

    You don't get something for nothing, that's life. I work hard for my money and so should everyone else.

  13. Aha, so it's only the "tip for bad service" advice you disagree with.

    Fair enough. It's only advice, take it or leave it. But here are some reasons it's a good idea to tip even when service is bad:

    1. A low tip doesn't fix the service, or send a message to the management.

    2. Servers already think "it's not my fault", and when you leave them no tip it will convince them everything is your fault.

    3. If you're ever coming back to the place, your tip -- low or high -- might be remembered and impact your service in the future.

    4. The server failed his obligation to you. You can either be a legalistic harpy and say that lets you out of your end of the bargain, or you can man up and leave the minimum tip.

    5. Say your tab is $20. Is the last $4 really such a big deal?

    6. I didn't mention this in the article, but in most places the tips will be split amongst employees, some of whom might have been doing things right.

    By the way, since you mentioned your earlier link about etiquette, it doesn't unequivocally say not to leave a tip for bad service. In fact, it advises giving the server and then the management a chance to make things right "before considering reducing the tip". Did you complain to the server? Did you complain to the manager? No? Then don't be a crybaby, just leave the tip and get on with your life.

  14. Hey Cheap Willie, how about a new post?