Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Your Thoughts on Tipping

I've been meaning for a while to ask for your thoughts on tipping at pubs. A few weeks ago I was having a beer with Charles and casually posed the question of how much to tip. Without hesitation, he said "a dollar a beer". Turns out that's pretty standard -- here's a Beer Advocate screed that recommends the same thing.

Confession time: that's toward the upper end of my tipping habits to date. Long ago my wife whipped me into shape on restaurant tipping, so that I go a little over 20% unless I've really been abused. When I run a tab at a bar, I apply the same formula. But if I step up to the bar and pay cash for two or three beers for the table, I tend to cover the whole trip with one dollar, or maybe a dollar and some change.

For a single beer, 50 or 75 cents seemed reasonable to me. Now that I've been corrected I will amend my skinflint ways, but some questions still come to mind:
  • Tip one dollar for one beer whether the beer cost $2 or $6?
  • How much for a pitcher?
  • How much for three or four pints?
  • Same tip for walk-up service as for table service?
  • Same tip at dive bars as at nicer places?
  • What is your remedy if the service is bad?
  • Tips are meant to supplement slave wages.  Do you tip differently when the bar's proprietor is serving you?  (Geoff, Sara, et al., please don't hate me for this question.)
  • How much do you tip when a bartender fills a growler for you?
  • When running a tab, is 20% good, or should you still do a dollar a beer?
Please leave a comment if you have answers for any of those.  I'd love to get the perspective of current and former servers and bar owners.  If I get any good stuff, I'll write a summary next week. [Update: here's the summary.]


    1. I agree with the buck a beer thing, but there are always exceptions. Like when I drink 20 beers.

    2. I usually do $1 a beer, minimum. If buying one drink at a time, the bartender usually wins with me when the beer is priced at $X.50. I don't want to tip .50, and I don't really want the change either, so I leave $1.50.

      If I get several beers and some food on a tab, I usually tip $1 per beer, plus 20% on the food. If the service was really good, I'll tip a bit better.

      If the service was terrible, I don't really see a lower tip as a good way of improving things. I suck it up and tip normal, but then send management an email.

      As for tipping for $2 beers or $6 beers; high end places or dives; etc... Yes, still the same tip. It's not the server's fault the owner hasn't spruced up the place, or raised their beer prices. It's still the same amount of work.

      As far as the business owner serving you, I'd say that yes, tipping is still appropriate. As a business owner myself, I can tell you that, especially with newer businesses (ones carrying loans, etc...) the owner often makes less than his employees! Tips can be a big help. Also, lots of places share tips with the kitchen, bar-backs, etc... so when you don't tip, it's not just the owner that doesn't get paid.

      If the owner doesn't feel comfortable taking your tips, he or she might just end up using them to buy you your next round.

    3. Thanks, pedXer. Especially good point about tipping the owner.

      Angelo, do you tip more when you drink 20 beers?

    4. Oregon doesn't allow tip-slave wages, so I think it's a safe assumption that bartenders make more than burger-flippers even on terribly slow days.

      I tip $1 per beer, even if I order a small glass instead of a big pint, even if the proprietor is serving, even if it's happy hour, whether at a dive bar or a fancy place.

      If I'm running a tab and ordering food, though, I'll generally tip 20% on the whole amount.

      Order-at-the-counter bus-your-own-table places like Hot Lips and Laughing Planet confuse me, though. They're not bars, but you can order beer there. I generally tip $1-2 on the whole beer+food order, since I have to put away my dishes at the end.

    5. Bill,

      Being from New York, we tip accordingly. What does that mean?? We tip based on bill price and quality of service.

      * Tip one dollar for one beer whether the beer cost $2 or $6?

      See above.

      * How much for a pitcher?

      See above.

      * How much for three or four pints?

      See above.

      * Same tip for walk-up service as for table service?

      See above.

      * Same tip at dive bars as at nicer places?

      See above.

      * What is your remedy if the service is bad?

      Easy... a penny. The tip or lack of should send a message to the quality of service.

      * Tips are meant to supplement slave wages. Do you tip differently when the bar's proprietor is serving you?

      Owners don't need to be tipped. Only the help.

      * How much do you tip when a bartender fills a growler for you?

      How else would it get filled? See above.

      * When running a tab, is 20% good, or should you still do a dollar a beer?

      Once again, see above.

      My basic tip is based on American Standards; Speed, politeness, interaction, friendliness, efficiency & knowledge. 15% for good, 20% for no flaws and more if exceptional.

      In a busy bar, I don't expect a lot of speed, but expect to be acknowledged. A look, a word or a glance that they know I'm there.

      Poor service gets a "penny" which makes the statement, you think the server did a lousy job and needs to do better if they want a real tip. Management should be contacted first, but if management is just as big a loser... leave the penny.

      $5 beer - .75 cents or $1 tip

      It's pretty basic tipping ettiquette.

      Wiki has pretty standard tip info @

      Here's the penny tip info:

      "When a server has not adequately addressed issues a customer has with service, the patron may choose to speak with management to have the problems corrected before considering reducing the tip. In extreme cases of inferior service, the patron may choose not to leave a tip. Though not considered a standard business practice, some dissatisfied customers go so far as to leave a very small tip, such as one penny, as a personal insult."

    6. @Hugh,

      Despite your somewhat condescending assertion that this is all well-known and settled, let me quote from the wikipedia article you use as support: "Tipping is customary in restaurants offering traditional table service" and "Tipping is not traditionally required for non-table services". These both come from the section on restaurants in the US. Whether or not this should apply to bars seems unclear.

    7. @Kevin

      While proper tipping may not be common knowledge to everybody, there are plenty of search engines on the web that will quickly give you an answer to all your questions. One doesn't need to be arrogant to know how to use a search engine, do they?

      Here's an extensive web page on Tipping. ( You will find how to appropriately tip almost everybody, even the difference for Restaurant vs. Bar.

      Here are some quotes.

      "Remember that tipping is discretionary. If you don't think tipping is necessary in a particular circumstance, then don't tip. This is a guide for people who are planning to tip and want to know the customary amount. If you think tipping in general is stupid, then don't tip."

      # Counter service - 15-20%.
      # Cocktail server - 15-20%. For free drinks in Vegas, tip $1-2 per round.
      # Bartender - 15-20% or $1 per drink. If at the bar before a meal, settle up with the bartender before you go to your table.
      # Wine steward or sommelier - 10% of wine bill.
      # If a bar has a cover charge, you do not tip on it.

      Don't be so quick to judge without proper research!

    8. Of course, we could all just google "how much should I tip" and be done. In fact, I did google it, which led me to the Beer Advocate article and a couple of other $1/beer pointers that showed me that my tipping habits were behind the times.

      But I'm glad to have some local opinions and see the differences. Interesting to see pedXer's difference with Hugh Johnson (these names are killing me, guys) -- pedX cites good reasons for tipping the proprietor, and even tips for bad service, while Hugh balks at both.

    9. Mara (or anyone): what is the hourly bartender wage hereabouts?

    10. My thing about tipping for bad service is as follows:

      I just don't think a poor tip is going to improve my service next time. If anything, I fear that I will be remembered as the guy that leaves lousy tips, and that the service will be even worse because of it on my next visit. Some people have a hard time connecting the dots, especially when it involves accepting blame, so I fear it's not always an effective signal.

      Leaving an adequate tip and contacting management at a later time makes your complaint anonymous as far as the server is concerned. Their manager may choose to talk to them to remedy the situation, and he/she may also offer you some sort of compensation for the trouble - so you might even recoup that tip (and then some) for speaking up.

      Most importantly, next time you come in, you wont have a vindictive server on your hands!

      My name is Jeff btw, if that's easier!

    11. Hugh "Dick" JohnsonMarch 3, 2010 at 3:19 PM

      I'm just following what I've been taught or have read is appropriate tipping etiquette. I'm not making this stuff up, just following pre-existing standards.

      I think a poor tip does make an impression. I've been told by restaurant and bar managers to leave a crappy tip or a penny, it makes the server think about their service quality. If management doesn't care about service they shouldn't be in the service business.

      You can call me "Dick."

    12. I pretty much completely agree with pedXer.

      $1 is standard. If you are in a restaurant or something and being waited on then 20% minimum but I definitely go above that based on service and difficulty.

      Leaving a bad tip for poor service definitely does not work. For one thing bartenders often get blamed for bad service for things out of their control. I would leave a buck a beer no matter what unless the bartender/server is a dick to you. I mean rude. Slow service is no reason to tip badly. You have no idea what they are dealing with. They could be sweeping up someones broken glass, waiting on the credit card machine to go through, the pos system is down, they have to change a keg, clean a keg line.

      And I can tell you for a fact if you dont leave a good tip you will be remembered and your service will only get worse. After all if your a busy bartender and you see 4 guys at the bar that are good or fair tippers and there is one guy you know to tip badly then why would you not ignore the bad tipper to give even better service to the good ones.

      Another interesting thing I would like to note is that as a bartender you rarely get breaks. When I bartended at Belmont Station I got one 20 minute break a day. Thats it. The law states you should have a 30 minute lunch break and 2 separate 10 minute breaks. But how do you explain to that guy at the bar waiting for his beer that you want to take your break. No you think to yourself after I finish this order I will take it, but you never can. And certainly no one is going to be happy with you if you just leave for 10 minutes including your fellow bartenders and servers.

      Fun fact: many bartenders smoke, some do it simply so that they can get a break. Its your one chance to get outside for a reason and oddly most establishments are ok with that. You go outside smoke and bullshit for 10 minutes. At Belmont Station I was often frustrated by this because I would never get those 10 minute breaks. I decided to take up smoking suddenly to get those breaks and no one batted an I at me suddenly deciding to smoke.

    13. I agree, slow service doesn't deserve a low tip, if the pub is busy. If there's three guys at the bar and the bartender is ignoring you or obviously catering to one group? Maybe a short tip can be legit.


      A good manager would tell you, "Everybody in that bar is an important customer." Good business PR makes for a healthy influx of clientele. Bad PR leaves you with an empty bar.

    14. Down here in Eugene, we have the luxury of beer rarely costing more than $4 a pint. At this price and anything less ($1-$2 Ninkasi nights are still around), I tip $1. Now, it seems that this is at the upper end of the Eugene tipping spectrum, where I commonly see $.50 laid down.

      Recently several bars in the area have gone the of the coffee huts and set prices to end in $.25. When I questioned this, the response was, bigger tips. At these establishments, I tip the $.75 they are looking for.

      Here is another question for everyone. If you are paying with plastic, do you still cary cash for your tips?

      I rarely have cash on me, but I usually make an effort to swing by an ATM before heading off to the bar. While beer is charged to my card, I will tip in cash when I am served.

      By tipping in cash, I know the money is going to the bar tender that served me. When I tip on my card, I am at the mercy of the restaurant/bar. Also, I have always had the impression that it is easier to under report tips (not that I'm advocating the practice) when the tips are in cash.



    15. A variation on the theme; I tip the pre-tax tab.

      I note the pre-tax sub-total of the bill, determine 20%, do the sum, and round up to the nearest $1, in most cases.

    16. jbx: You ain't from around here, are ya? (No sales tax in Oregon.)

      Kevin: I wouldn't worry too much about the credit card thing. After all, some employee is going to cash out the register at the end of the night -- they will know what the tip total is, right? (Of course, I'm a firm believer in paying local businesses in cash anyway...)

      It is interesting what you wrote about the $x.25 price. When Rogue bumped the Green Dragon prices from $4.25 to $4.75, I bet the servers got doubly screwed on tips -- fewer drinks sold and lots of 75-cent tips morphing into 25-cent tips.

    17. It's 2010, who carries cash? Even the Downtown parking meters take a Debit card and the BUMS don't. What a shame. ;-}

    18. As someone who drinks out a lot and has also done some time serving, I'll echo the $1 a beer thing unless someone is rude as hell to you. Also, if are given tastes (either unsolicited or asked for) in addition to the pints/glasses you order, throwing in an extra buck or two is a good call.

      I worked in a place that used to be a bottle shop and then installed taps and we got shafted on tips in the beginning. People figured it's a bottle shop not a bar and a lot of them didn't tip when you poured them a beer. Things got a little better as time went by. I'd like to chalk it up to people being thrown off by the change in the business. But really, the fact is too many people are just shitty tippers.

    19. Bill: My thing with cash is, a lot of bars I go to still use the only diner pads for orders and key the amount straight into the credit card processer, no POS system to tie and order an order to a server.

      I image that when they have to go back and add the tip to the card, the money is split between the servers or all employees depending on the establishment. I like to make sure that the indiviual serving me is receiving my tip, regardless of if they are split later. Of course, I have never worked in the restaurant industry, so I am only speculating on how credit card tips are distributed.

      As for beers sold at $x.25, $x.50 and $x.75, more often than not what I see is that:
      tip = coin change from the purchase, no matter how small.

      I find it funny how $.75 tips on $4.25 beers suddenly morph into $.25 tips during $2.75 happy hour.

      Here is another one, what does everybody tip at a brewery during a tasting?

      This is one I have been going back and forth on. Ninkasi and Steelhead both charge for sample trays; $5.50 for any 5 at Ninkasi and $7.50 for the four regulars and 2 seasonals at Steelhead. In either case, I usually leave $1.00.

      Oakshire on the other hand offers free samples and usually has 6-8 beers available. At the 'shire I usually tip $5.00 when I am done.

      I believe the Eugene City Brewery offers a sample tray, but I have always been given a free sample if I asked to try something. In this case, I just make sure I tip well when I leave.


    20. Gotta second Kevin on everything he said. And Bill your wrong on not mattering weather cash or card.

      Belmont Station would keep all the credit card tips until the paychecks and then disperse them on how many hours you worked actually included in your check. So that way you if someone especially appreciated your service and tipped you well it would not matter if it was on a card. Not to mention the taxes that the establishment automatically takes out of it when they put it on your paycheck.
      So if I worked only 16 hours in a week I would get a very small percentage of the tips even if worked hard and was tipped highly.

      And yeah people always just give you their change if you handed them back .50 cents or .25 which may be an argument for places like Spints to charge $5 for a pint.

    21. Wow, I stand corrected about the credit cards! Thanks for bringing it up Kevin, and thanks for the clarification Ezra. Just one more reason to go cash all the way -- good for the business, good for the workers.

    22. $1-2 cash tip per drink.

      $2 for sure if I'm sticking around for another and want the bartender to remember me, possibly be generous (don't tell OLCC).

      Food 30% because being a server is such a pain.

    23. Despite knowing several bartenders I still generally tip %15 on my bar tab rounding up to the nearest dollar. That comes out to a dollar a beer if I'm only having a couple, which I usually do. My bartender friends all tell me this is crap though when I order several drinks or a round, but to be honost their thinking of the extra tips they want in their pocket when they serve. I rarely see people I know who bartend over tip.

      I think we often forget that tipping is not mandatory. We've been made to feel like we are cheepskates or jerks if we leave just the minimum %15. The bartenders I know and like get above that automaticaly, others have to earn their tips.

      Also as to credit cards. Different places handle their credit cards differently. There are a couple bars here in Salem where the bartender totals their tips on the receipts and pulls out ccash equivelent from the till. Then the extra charge on the card for the tip just goes to the bar.

      lastly, if the place treats their bartenders like crap why should you make up for it? If the system is a POS, or there's a large crowd, or the credit card machine is always slow, then go the extra mile to make up for what you automatically if you know it will be slow service, Anyone even take pride in the job they do anymore?

    24. Along Kevin's point, it it's x.25 or x.50 I'll typically leave the .50-.75 as a tip. If not, I'll often do a buck every other, or 2/3, or 3/4 or whatever works for my state of mind and how happy I am with the environment, which may or may not be impacted by service. And sometimes I'll tip well in excess of that, for the same reasons.

      As far as a pitcher, I'll usually leave 2-3 bucks.

      I don't really differentiate between bartender/table/counter/whatnot.

      I think the important thing is that it is discretionary. I don't believe in a hard/fast rule like "buck a beer" and I think it's strange that such a thing would be demanded.

    25. Jared: I think you might have misunderstood Kevin's comment about the POS system. He was talking about the point-of-sale credit-card terminal, not saying to have pity on the poor employees who work for a POS boss. He mangled his comment some, it's easier to follow if you remove the words "and order".

    26. rick: See, your system sounded perfectly reasonable to me -- it's basically what I did.

      But, judging from most of the comments here and a quick scan of internet Emily Posts, it's not the modern reality. So I have resolved to move to the dollar-a-beer plan.

    27. OK guess reading through so many comments about poor bartenders I just took POS for a slow broken system for tracking tabs and cashing out :P


      I have little pity on most bartenders out there because there are few good ones. The ones that do a good job get extra. By switching to a buck a beer system you just encourage mediocre service since bartenders expect that regardless of how well they preform, the quality of the drinks, or the quality of the establishment.