Why You Should Always Tip Your Bartender
my story of the hardships of a full-time bartender
You may be surprised to know that full-time bartenders (unless you have an amazing owner/manager who provides a higher hourly base wage) make pretty much the entirety of their income based on the generosity of others, aka tips. That's right, our customers support our livelihood. It's not just "fun money" or extra money; it's our bills, our rent, our groceries, our medications, our doctor visits, our ability to help others - our basic necessities. For this reason alone, you should always tip your bartender.
Now let me go into a little more depth behind the "why"...
Because this is how we make money, it can be really hard to see a $0 on the tip line of a receipt. Or let's say, a $2 tip on a $50 tab. Especially when you gave your best advice and service, or at least the bare minimum of being helpful and answering questions with a smile. Most bartenders want you to have a great experience at their establishment. If a customer doesn't, it reflects poorly on the bartender and their place of work. We want to keep our jobs, we depend on them to survive. Contrary to what some people may think, we don't want to purposely make your experience a bad one.
Seeing that $0 on the tip line is like having the bottom of your heart drop out.
You wonder if it was something you said. Did you come across a certain way that they didn't like? Maybe they don't understand that your income comes from tips? Or maybe they just don't care. Either way, it leaves you feeling defeated.
Not only do most people not understand or care about tip etiquette, but they are also unsure what a "good" tip is.
So, how much should you tip, then? Easy, a baseline 20% or at least $1 per drink. However, if your bartender has been super helpful, took the time to answer your questions, offer samples of products, or create a custom drink for you, they deserve a little extra love.
If you're reading this and saying, "I can't afford to tip 20% or more, or even $1!" then I'm not sure going out and drinking should be your priority. Please be mindful that bartenders see a fraction of the money that you pay when you purchase a drink. So saying, "Well, I paid $7 for that beer, they don't need a tip." ensures that we pretty much won't be bringing home money from that interaction/transaction. After all, a very small portion of the business's revenue (read: what a drink costs) goes to bartender wages. Moreover, taxes are taken out of those wages (which are already extremely low) as well as the tips we receive, hence, why your tips are basically our whole income.
Bartending during this covid pandemic has been excruciating.
Take yesterday for example, I bartended for 8 hours and pre-tax made less than $40. That's approximately $5 an hour, all of which I will not see in my take-home pay. Not nearly enough to be able to contribute to paying for my rent, groceries, utilities, student loans from engineering school or counseling. Part of this is because less people are going out, and part of this is from lack of adequate tipping from those who are.
When this pandemic hit I lost my full time job and this was pretty much my only option - although I've been looking for a job for over 8 months now. I wasn't making much money before but I am certainly making less now. Most days I find myself feeling like I'm wasting my time, energy and gifts because things are so mind-numbingly slow. So, on the days when I see all of 25 people come in over the span of 8 hours, it's even harder when the tips are underwhelming. I know this is temporary, but it is probably the hardest in-between I have ever been in.
For the most part, bartending is mentally and physically easy work, but it can be extremely taxing emotionally.
I once had a young woman who was getting a beer tell her partner that she wished all she had to do all day was pull tap handles. While she may not have meant that in a condescending way, it hurt, and made me feel like my time and energy spent helping them was totally wasted and not important.
Not to mention some of the things we deal with during a bartending shift are astounding. It can be pretty difficult not to see the entitlement, lack of respect and pure obliviousness of some people; especially if you're a sensitive, empathic person like myself.
I've had people ask me questions when the information was directly in front of them on a sign. I've had people leave all of their trash, including trash that did not originate from the bar, at their table because they believe it's my job to pick up after them so they don't have to clean up after themselves. I've had people smack their hand on the bar or yell at me to get my attention when I was busy with another customer. I've had people continue arguing with me when there is nothing more I can do to resolve the situation and when they finally leave fall to my knees crying because I just spent so much energy holding back my emotions to provide "good customer service." I've had people call me names under their breath and scoff at me for no reason. I've had people blatantly disregard my instructions because they felt they were above the rules made to help them have a safer experience. Honestly, I could go on but I'm hoping you get the picture.
Bottom line: tipping is necessary, not encouraged.
I probably don't speak for how all bartenders feel about this, but I hope that I've at least given you some insight into the way most full time bartenders get paid. Times are difficult for everyone right now, but the service industry is one of the ones hit the hardest economically. Our paychecks are never the same, never steady; not even during "normal" times. And one night of really good tips doesn't make up for the other shitty tips we received the rest of the week. I guess this is my way of helping other bartenders out - by telling my story in the hopes that readers think differently the next time they are given the opportunity to tip a bartender.
There is one other thing I'd like to clarify about bartenders and anyone else who works in the service industry.
We are not your servant, we are there to be OF service to you. While some job titles display a moniker like server, they are not defined by the title and they should be treated with respect. Now, I understand that you get the occasional Rude Judy or Mean Steve but it is almost impossible for you to know what they are going through in their own life that is leading them to display that behavior. As much as we try to be courteous, smiling and helpful individuals, sometimes life gives us lemon juice when all we wanted was lemonade. Putting aside your emotions and troubles in the name of providing "good customer service" can be very challenging and, more often than not, makes you feel even more drained. It's like comedians who are actually suffering on the inside but put on a happy face because that's what the world expects from them.
Speaking from personal experience, it can be very hard to put on a smiling face when all you want to do is cry or hide from the world. And when you depend on your job to survive, as most people do, your only choice is to try to keep your emotions in check and put yourself in front of customers. We are human beings, too, and we experience life just as you do. So please, for the love of all that is good and holy, be kind.
And the next time you go to stiff your bartender, please remember that they depend on your generosity to survive.