If you're sitting, standing, or leaning at the bar, dollar-a-drink is a pretty safe bet for a tip -- but there are situations where "how much green?" can enter a gray area. We hit up a handful of experts (okay, we went on a bar crawl) to find out how best to navigate 10 of those situations where you want to do the right thing, but just aren’t sure what that entails.
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Eating at the Bar
Treat your bartender the same way you’d treat a server and tip a percentage. They might not come to check on you three times per meal or be able to relay dinner specials with awe-inspiring thoroughness, but that's only because they have this other job they're doing.
Buying By the Carafe
Ordering a carafe at the bar can get tricky. Most of the pros we talked to agreed that tipping 20% on a $60 vessel of wine would be over-doing it considering that order would require the same level of attention as a $20 vessel. So, just tip dollar for every glass you get out of the carafe, and try not to use the word "vessel" in casual conversation.
Running Up a Cocktail Tab
When you're paying for an expensive, complicated cocktail with cash, throwing down a buck is generally totally cool. But, if you plan on running up a tab that requires your bartender to make 4+ complicated drinks, tip them 20%, because they've certainly earning it, and damn, you are having a fancy night.
Running Up a Beer Tab
On the other hand, running up a beer tab doesn’t merit 20%, because regardless of the price of the brew, pouring a beer is pouring a beer. Stick to the dollar per beer formula -- unless you're one of those dudes who's always asking for samples, in which case, tip heavier, because you're kind of a pain in the ass.
Retrieving Lost Belongings
What’s worse than leaving your dignity at the bar? Leaving your work laptop or a $500 leather jacket. Even though the bar probably sports a sign that says "not responsible for lost or stolen property," a standup bartender will find a safe spot for your valuables. Most of the bartenders we spoke to confirmed that while it is by no means expected, a few bucks upon retrieval is a classy move.
Retrieving Your Lost Credit Card
This all-too-common problem is somewhat tricky to resolve, because the bar probably closed out your tab on the night you left the card behind. Did they include an automatic gratuity? That’s a 50-50 question, based on the discretion of the business. If they did, dropping a few extra bucks would be cool, but not essential; if they didn't, leave the tip now... plus a few extra bucks.
Drinking at an Open Bar Wedding
We ran across a fellow patron at an Irish bar who happened to be a professional caterer -- how serendipitous. He definitively stated that in his operation, gratuity is always negotiated at the top level at weddings, and that bartenders are not supposed to accept those dollars that get slammed down in the midst of shouting, “a little bit louder now!” If the bartender says they can’t accept tips, put it away; and if he looks at you like he's expecting a tip, find another bartender.
Drinking at an Open Bar Event “Non-wedding events are trickier,” our catering contact continued. “All the private events we hold at bars include gratuity in the cost, but many event companies don’t partake in these negotiations.” In this case, it’s safest to assume you should tip a few bucks here and there. But again, if they aren’t accepting, don’t force it! You can make it rain elsewhere.
Drinking For Happy Hour
Tip based on the full-priced bill. “Happy hour is a service provided to you by the bar, not the bartender. Treat him or her like it’s a normal day,” says... all of the bartenders we talked to.
Tipping on Top Shelf
Something to take away as a general rule: when it comes to bar tipping, you’re rewarding good, attentive service, not the value of the drinks. Just because you ordered an exotically aged spirit for $20 a pour, doesn’t mean bartenders expect you to tip more than if you ordered a well shot. Follow the usual rules, regardless of price.
Tipping On Buybacks
Tip as if the drink was actually billed -- if you bought two drinks and the third was free, tip for all three -- then throw down a few extra bucks for the gesture. You'll still be saving money, and it'll ensure more... gestures down the road.