A Lousy Tipper Walks Into a Bar ...

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

20090401-dollar.jpgIn yesterday's Diner's Journal, Frank Bruni ordered a round and in the process opened a can of worms: How does one calculate the bartender's tip?

At some point, probably back when a beer was normally $3 and a cocktail around $5, it became one of those common rules of thumb that $1 per drink was both fair and easy. But that was then. Today, it's not uncommon to find a beer or glass of wine starting at $6, and a cocktail ranging anywhere between $10 and $20--a situation where that $1 you leave on the bar may easily be less than 10 percent of the overall bill.

As Bruni and the commenters to his post have pointed out, unanswered is the question of how you tip differently based on what you order.

If the bartender is simply opening a beer or pouring a glass of Scotch, $1 per drink may still make sense; but what about those bars where ordering a drink is more along the lines of ordering an entrée in a restaurant--drinks that require a bartender to not merely crack a bottle but engage in a lengthy preparation process with sometimes spectacular results?

Taking this consideration a step further, commenter Slkinsey notes, "At a good cocktail bar, the bartender is both preparing and serving your drink, unlike in a restaurant, where the server does not prepare your food. So at the very least you should tip the bartender with the same percentage tip you would give to a server in a restaurant."

I usually fall into the performance-based bracket when it comes to tipping a bartender, and unless I am just ordering a beer - in which case I still employ the dollar-a-drink rule - or if I'm really blown away by the bar staff, I typically tip in the same 15-20 percent range that I use when tipping a server in a restaurant. But if the comments to Bruni's post are any indication, I'm in the minority.

So what's the answer? Do you still employ the dollar-a-drink rule, or do you tip your bartender in the same manner in which you tip your server? And do you tip differently when you've ordered a bottle of Bud than when you order a complex cocktail? Let's work this out...