Bartenders Reveal the Truth About How Much You Really Should Tip Per Drink

There are no hard and fast rules for tipping in the U.S. — instead, most people leave a tip they feel is appropriate for the level of service they received. You know you’re supposed to tip a bartender, check. But do you know what he or she feels is an appropriate gratuity? Probably not.

Alcohol.org, a website dedicated to keeping the American public informed about alcohol use, surveyed more than 260 U.S. current and ex-bartenders and asked them what they think is a decent tip for a drink. Read on and see if you agree.

1. $1 a drink

Bartender

This is probably all you need for a dive. | Manderl Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

According to the survey, almost 38 percent of bartenders said that $1 for each drink is an appropriate tip amount — particularly if the bar is a dive. Dive bars will likely have cheap drinks, which makes that amount reasonable. That said, if you’re in a fancy place it might not be.

Next: The amount rises

2. 18% to 20%

Bartender

This depends on the drink you get. | Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Twenty-eight percent of the bartenders surveyed said that they feel customers should be tipping from 18% to 20%. If you buy a beer for $5, that’s still just $1, so that seems fair. However, if you buy a top-shelf shot of vodka for, say, $12, a 20% tip would come to $2.40. That might seem a bit high for having the bartender just pour a shot. If you order a labor-intensive cocktail, however, it seems fair.

Next: The 15% rule

3. 15% to 17%

Bartender behind bar counter in pub, portrait

This is what many Americans are used to. | Allen Simon/DigitalVison/Getty Images

A good number of bartenders, at least 19% of the ones surveyed, feel that an appropriate tip is between 15% and 17%. The 15% rule is one most Americans are familiar with, so that seems appropriate. If you buy a beer for $5, that means you’d tip only 75 cents, not the $1 that the largest number of bartenders feel is adequate for one drink.

Next: You’ll get off easy with these bartenders.

4. Less than 15%

Bartender pouring cocktail for customers

Hopefully, they didn’t make anything too time-consuming. | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

Surprisingly, 3% of the bartenders in the survey felt customers need to tip less than 15%. Let’s say you go with 10% and have a well drink for $8 — this group of bartenders thinks an appropriate tip on that would be 80 cents. And if you had a $15 specialty cocktail you’d be tipping only $1.50.

Next: This doesn’t sound fair across the board.

5. $2 per drink

bartender, worst jobs

This depends on the type of drink. | iStock/Getty Images

Only 8% of the bartenders in the survey said they expect customers to leave them $2 per drink. Although some drinks are definitely worth a $2 tip — think Long Island Iced Tea or any kind of frozen concoction — but ordering a vodka and tonic doesn’t seem to warrant one.

Next: You won’t believe this one.

6. More than $2 per drink

Bartender

This should definitely depend on the type of drink. | Jochen Sand/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Hmmm … 2% of the bartenders in the survey said they think that it’s appropriate to tip more than $2 per drink. What? Once again, if you have a $15, fancy cocktail you might want to slip him or her an extra buck or so, but more than $2 for a well drink or a beer? That sounds high.

Next: Unrealistic expectations? 

7. More than 20%

bartender with cocktail

That is quite a lot on some drinks. | Nisimo/iStock/Getty Images

Thank goodness only 3% of the surveyed bartenders said they think customers should tip more than 20%. Let’s say you tipped 25% on a $5 beer — it would end up costing you $6.25. And if you tipped 25% on a signature cocktail that costs $20? You’re talking a total of $25 with that kind of tip — now that’s a mighty expensive cocktail.

Next: Don’t cheap out on twofers.

8. Tip big on two-for-one deals

That drink may hit you harder than you think.

You should be tipping on all of the drinks. | Bogdanhoda/iStock/Getty images

According to Food&Wine, bartenders get really grumpy when you tip them for only one drink when the bar is running a two-for-one special. A New Haven, Connecticut bartender said: “When people get free drinks or two-for-one specials and don’t tip, or tip on only one drink, that s@#* gets me fired up.”

Next: Tip on tax, too?

9. Tip on the total

a group of people clinking beer bottles together

Tip with tax included. | Kzenon/iStock/Getty Images

People often tip bartenders on the bill’s subtotal, not the total. Here’s what one bartender said about that to Food&Wine: “A lot of people think you should tip on just the subtotal before tax. No. Don’t do this.” Well alrighty, then.

Next: Help a bartender out.

10. Tip generously

Barman is making cocktail at night club.

Many don’t even make minimum wage. | Santypan/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re able, tip your bartender generously. According to what one bartender told Food&Wine, bartenders don’t even make minimum wage. In other words, they survive on the tips they make. Help bartenders make a livable wage by shelling out the proper tip for a drink in a bar.

Read more: Places Where People Tip (and Don’t Tip) Around the World

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