The Great Tip-Off

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“Tipping would ensure that you’re getting a real drink instead of something phony.”

With bar gratuities now de rigueur, it’s little surprise that the etiquette arbiters at the Emily Post Institute have chimed in. They recommend $1 per drink, or 15 to 20 percent of a tab; add an occasional gratuity if “you are a regular or if the person went above normal service.”

Ross agrees that extra effort demands extra compensation: “A dollar on a well-executed cocktail is not acceptable.” For labor-intensive libations, maybe including muddled herbs or fruits, aromatic bitters or boutique liquors, Ross recommends 20 percent. Toby Maloney, partner and head mixologist at The Violet Hour in Chicago, echoes the sentiment. “A high-end bar is comparable to a high-end restaurant,” he says.

When a bar is super-busy, drinkers find it more vital to leave a large gratuity on the first round, theoretically ensuring faster service. “I always tip about 20 percent to 40 percent on my starting drink,” says Athens, Ohio, Web editor and metal fabricator Cody Shafer, 24, “and then I’ll go up from there.”

For once, bartenders and drinkers agree. “You should always tip well on your first round,” says Jim Meehan, a barkeep at NYC’s pseudo-speakeasy PDT. A generous gratuity functions as a bribe, though don’t expect the barkeep to be your “personal slave” or to pour stiffer drinks. “That’s stealing from the bar,” he says.

Furthermore, adds Ross, asking the bartender to up the alcohol content of your drink is “like telling the chef to put extra garlic in your entrée. It’s saying up yours to all the experimentation we’ve done.”

Even if there’s not much experimentation going on, you should expect to tip well at an open bar at weddings or parties.

“People lose their manners. It’s like they’ve never heard the words free and drink,” says Klemm, who suggests a $5 starting gratuity. “At an open bar, a tip buys you an ally.”

Five dollars seems extravagant to Seva Granik, the proprietor of, which lists free-drink events. “At an open bar, tip $1 a drink; there’s no need to over-do it,” he says. “But at a private loft or a raw-space party, $2 is appropriate.”

More importantly, it fulfills the unwritten social contract between bargoer and bartender. Drink-slingers work on the gratuity system, wherein their livelihood depends on customers’ largesse. That doesn’t mean you should leave exorbitant sums for a pint of IPA. Start with a buck; if appreciate a bartender’s service or skills, tip more. If you’re disappointed, tip less: It’s more powerful, and instructive to bartenders, than not tipping, which is the biggest no-no of all.

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