From the Bar Stool: Tipping Your Bartenders

28 04 2012

This is the first of what I call “From the Bar Stool.”  It’ll be about bars or whatever.  Enjoy!

Note: I’m not a bartender and have never been one.  That shit looks too hard.

The idea of bartender tipping should be pretty simple.  A dollar a drink or 20% of your tab, whichever works out to more.  Simple.  Most people follow this or come darn close, which should really be okay.  Some will say that 15% is okay, and whether you agree with that or not, it’s not too bad.  Anything less is a problem though.  Nothing is an insult.

Any server or bartender will have stories about the times they’ve been stiffed.  You might need to ask more than once, because good servers don’t talk shit about their customers to other customers, even if they were really bad.  But yeah, they get stiffed.  It happens.  People can be awful to other people, and jerks stiff their servers.  Why?  It could be many things, but it’s usually pretty basic.  They see servers as someone lesser than themselves, and tipping as “optional.”  Not in this country.  Modern Drunkard puts it best:  “If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to be at a bar.”

You should buy food or drinks assuming you’ll need to toss at least another 20% on top of that.  But some people don’t see it that way- they nod fervently during Mr. Pink’s speech about tipping in Reservoir Dogs.

Oh yeah, WARNING: FOUL LANGUAGE.  It’s a Tarantino movie, so you should’ve known that already.

So he says it’s not his fault that being a server is a rough job.  Remember though, that Mr. Pink is a piece of shit.  Still can’t believe he survives at the end.  Anyway, his is a bad human attitude in any context.  So those people who don’t tip are assholes.

Bad tips, however, are a different case.  In the past, one could kind of forgive the people who were shitty at math, even though 20% in your head or with a pen is some serious third grade stuff.  Now, though, every cell phone comes with a handy calculator.  No more excuses, people who are shitty at math.  Point two times the total equals the tip.  Takes you three seconds.

Maybe someone is just a cheapskate.  Yeah, yeah- the economy sucks.  Your home jewelry “business” isn’t taking off like you thought it would.  Your headshots cost more than you thought.  Great, stay home and drink some two-buck Chuck while gluing beads together and looking for gigs on Craigslist then.  Don’t come to the bar and tip $2 on a $22 tab.

Some might argue that “well, the service was bad” or “the bartender ignored me.”  Unless you killed their dog or something, the bartender doesn’t really care who you are, so it isn’t personal.  They’re busy, not ignoring you.  They have things to do, even if the bar isn’t slammed with people.  They’ll be nice or at least civil to you because, guess what, they have a boss.  Just hold up your end and it’ll be just fine.

Still not convinced?  Go to a bar early, when it’s empty, and watch someone set up a bar.  It’s like setting up a goddamn laboratory.  And doing dishes- that’s a bitch.  You know how you hate washing those three pans in your kitchen sink at home?  It’s that times a thousand.  (Yes, a lot of busier bars will have bar backs doing dishes or hauling kegs and boxes around, which makes things easier for the tenders but means they’re basically doing the worst tasks.  These people are saints, so be nice to them, but bartenders still do dishes sometimes).

And don’t give this line about “well all I had was beer- how tough is it to pour/open a beer?”  Right, it’s not that tough, but they’re taking the time to do it for you.  Stay home and open your own beer, then, cheapass.

Anyway, yeah, the goddamn laboratory.  So much breakable glassware, it’s amazing they don’t lose a finger or have hands like Bruce Willis’ feet in Die Hard every night.  Oh, and tons of ice, and you know that shit is cold… because it’s ice.  Everything gets wet too.  And cutting lemons and limes, that’s torture.  So you have all of these very delicate tasks that need to be done meticulously and while dealing with glassware that can break and become razor sharp.  And you’re always on a deadline.  Brutal stuff.

When the lab is set and the night is rolling, there’s not only all of this work to do to make sure everything is full and there’s ice and the keg isn’t empty and dishes are clean and so on, but also, of course, serving customers who are loud and drunk and possibly talking about your tits or their stupid job or their “swag” or whatever.  From where I sit, bartending is like defusing a bomb while a spastic crackhead shouts obscenities at you (wow, that should be a video game!).  So those tips are important, because when the rigors of the night are over, the bartender can at least take some solace in the wad of cash they accumulated in the process.

So yeah, tip at least 20% or a buck per drink (whatever is more).  Hell, you should definitely go more than that.  I go as high as possible without feeling like I am bankrupting my future children.  “Sorry Dan Jr., no college for you, I had to drop a $20 tip at O’Shea’s that night the game went triple-overtime.”

Thankfully I am a regular at a bar where the drinks are obscenely cheap and the bartenders always treat me like I just got out of prison (in a good way, like for a white-collar crime or something- they treat me like I’m special is what I’m saying).  Those places aren’t easy to find, but when you do, cement a good reputation and leave good tips.  It’s astounding what a few extra bucks on the bar and a nice attitude will do for you.

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