From happy hour beers to the breakfast Bloody Mary’s, alcohol, and those who deliver it to our insatiably thirsty lips, are a part of the modern landscape. Yet I am willing to bet some of you out there have no idea how to properly take care of those who take care of you. Here’s an example:

It's Saturday night.

You and your fellow degenerates are heading downtown to pursue the blackout, as you’re known to do from time to time. You walk in to your regular place and greet your favorite person in the world. The bartender. The ordering of rounds begins. Three bottles of beer, two pints, four shots of tequila, and something pink for the guy who “had a bad experience”.

As the pre-game progresses, more and more drinks flow in and out of you. Some of these drinks are taken care of by the bartender (on the house) and make your night seem all the better. I mean the only thing greater than an ice cold beverage is a free one, right? As the time to settle up and move out into the night approaches, the tab comes due. Decision time. What do you tip?

Let us start with a hopefully obvious line of logic: The people that take care of you are doing so as a part of their livelihood. They are compensated in a way that accounts for tipping as part of their income. The vast majority of servers and bartenders are paid approximately half of minimum wage. Therefore, the addition of a tip is NOT OPTIONAL. These people depend on you to survive just as you depend on them to have a good time.

Now, back the predicament of what to tip your friendly neighborhood bartender...

Consider the facts of the case. You have run a tab with a familiar bartender. You and your fellow drinkers have been treated to free drinks. All your drinks arrived promptly and were well concocted. When the time comes for your tab to be settled, the amount that you owe is less than what it should be on account of the free drinks. So here is what you do:

  1. Tip at least 20% on the amount presented in the tab
  2. Calculate the retail cost of the drinks that you were comped and tip half of their value on top of the standard 20%.
  3. Tip in cash if at all possible

Let’s break these down one at a time:

  1. Twenty percent is the standard for good service. You and your friends had a great time getting sauced, not just because there was alcohol, but because of the fun, friendly, and generous bartender who poured it for you. Have some self respect and pony up.
  2. It is very important to note that free drinks are not free. They are a tool that bartenders, managers, and owners use to build loyalty in their client base. If you do not acknowledge their gesture in your tip, it is not likely to happen again. A tip of half the retail value demonstrates gratitude and increases the likelihood of free drinks in the future.
  3. Cash is king. It’s fast, convenient, and most importantly, not reported to the IRS.

Let us take this to an extreme example:

Your tab comes back and is only ten dollars. You know you drank enough to annihilate all those lazy brain cells that can't hold their booze (“Buffalo Theory”). In this situation, it is my opinion that a little more than half of retail should be given. No one is ever going to fault you for tipping too well as long as it is done with honest gratitude in mind.

This is the key component to the entire concept of gratuity. You are conveying sincere gratitude.

As with many things, this is all a judgment call. The pointers I’ve laid out above should be considered proper conduct for acceptable service. If you can not afford to tip, you probably should not be wining and dining at this level. When you do tip however, do so in a manner that truly says thank you appropriately. You’ll notice your service will be better, your outings more enjoyable, and who knows, maybe a bit more love on that next cocktail.


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