What is an Appropriate Tip at a Bar?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

There is some dispute about what constitutes an appropriate bar tip. When people pay for drinks one at a time, they usually tip the bartender about $1 US Dollar (USD) per drink. Free drinks delivered in a casino setting tend to require a tip of $1 to $2 USD.

Buying drinks one at a time usually involves tipping the bartender $1 per drink.
Buying drinks one at a time usually involves tipping the bartender $1 per drink.

When a person has a tab at a bar, usually a tip is calculated as 15-20% of the total cost before tax. If it is happy hour, the tip should be calculated toward the higher end, since the drinks are being offered at discounted prices. For example a tip on a “buy one, get one free” offer should reflect the total price of the drinks prior to the discount. The bartender is still serving two drinks, and it is unfair to tip him or her for only one.

Happy hour tips should be slightly larger than normal tips.
Happy hour tips should be slightly larger than normal tips.

There is some confusion about what to do if the bartender is also the proprietor of an establishment. It used to be the custom never to tip the owner since he or she has a greater share of the ultimate profits of the restaurant. This custom is now being replaced by in general tipping anyone who serves one a drink at a bar. Often it is hard to know if a person is the owner or not, and of course, a generous tip at a place a person frequents may result in free drinks down the line.

A patron should tip at least $1 on each free drink served at a casino or similar establishment.
A patron should tip at least $1 on each free drink served at a casino or similar establishment.

Sometimes, a proprietor will refuse a tip, or may give the money to employees as part of their nightly take. For etiquette’s sake, unless a customer knows the proprietor won’t accept a tip, it is always appropriate to offer one.

During happy hour, some bars run a "2 for 1" special.
During happy hour, some bars run a "2 for 1" special.

When a person attends a wedding with a bartender, even if the drinks are free, the standard bar tip is still $1 USD per drink. Some feel this violates etiquette by requiring an invited guest to offer a tip to the bartender. In reality, a tip is not required of the guest, but neither is ordering a complex drink. Offering a tip at a wedding or similar celebration is simply a mark of good manners.

Most bartenders make the majority of their earnings through tips, and this is no less true at a wedding or special event. Though the bartender is likely to be paid slightly more than minimum wage, it is still a nice gesture to recognize the work involved and accordingly give a decent tip.

A bartender should be tipped appropriately for making a complex shot or drink.
A bartender should be tipped appropriately for making a complex shot or drink.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I disagree with not tipping the owner of an establishment. I think you get better service with the owner and I think you should tip based on service provided. Some owners don't even get paid through their business because the business is in debt that much. Therefore, we work harder to provide good service and the money made off the product goes into paying the bills, not the owner.


This is one reason why it's such a good idea to run a tab at a bar, rather than paying cash per drink. When you pay per drink, it's customary (leaving the right and wrong totally out of it - it's what people do, and therefore what the bartender/server will expect) to tip each time you receive a drink. You will therefore end up leaving a dollar or more for each round, even if the drinks are nasty and correspondingly very cheap, because who would leave less than a dollar?

But if you wait until closeout to tip, you can tip the standard amount (plus or minus 20 percent) of the total tab, which generally ends up being quite a bit less, and yet is (as far as I know - not that I've ever tended bar, so I guess that's a bit of a disclaimer) entirely respectable, and should by no means get your drink spat in at any point during the evening, as long as you are polite and friendly towards those who are serving you.

Actually, as a side note, I think bartenders tend to show approval/disapproval by how strong your drink is. I don't know that they ever spit in one, though I ought to add I've never been overtly dreadful to one, unlike my sister, who once, in a bout of cheerful abandon, poured her beer over a bartender's head, in response to which he drove her bodily out of the bar with a soda sprayer, but she lives on the wild side as a general rule, and your mileage may vary.

Anyway, it's a good idea to run a tab, that's all I'm really getting at here. Try not to leave without your card at the end of the night.


I think it's kind of funny that while researching whether or not a guest should tip a bartender at a wedding all the bartender education websites state that you should while all the etiquette websites say it's inappropriate.


@copperpipe -- It's always nice to give a tip, those people work hard and often make very little money. Even if you're just there for dancing, if they fix you a drink, then give them a tip -- it's just proper etiquette.

Nobody likes a shoddy tipper, and this is especially important if you go to an establishment regularly. Believe me, you don't even want to think about what a bartender can do to your drink if you make them feel like you disrespect them or don't appreciate their work.


What about at clubs with bars? Should you still tip there? For instance, if I go to a club and bar for dancing, do I still need to tip the bartender?


Many local taverns and bars have a bar tip jar that the bartenders just split at the end of the night.

This works really well for small local bars that are busy enough to generate good tips, and it can keep the bartenders from having to keep up with their own tips while they're working.


I do not agree with any of this! I have been in the service industry since 1986 and things are getting way out of hand.

1) A tip is just that, a tip for performance above and beyond standard. I am tired of being given bad service, then being scowled at for leaving a corresponding tip. If you want better tips, step up and provide better service. I never had any trouble walking with 20 percent through making my customers very happy.

2) Tipping the owner of an establishment is becoming a norm through ignorance, not etiquette. It is not appropriate to tip the owner of any establishment, bar, hair salon, taxi company etc.

3) Bartenders at a wedding or celebration that has an open bar are generally receiving a tip of 18 percent from the person throwing the party. It is insulting to the host for the bartender to solicit additional tips from guests, although if the guest insists the bartender should accept.

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