Should you tip the same for a simple pour of whiskey as for a cocktail? What about a pricier whiskey? Reporter Tan Vinh asks the experts.
A few months back, a debate ensued among some dudes at a bar, and it didn’t even involve sports. Go figure. It was about tipping; specifically, how much to give for a pour of whiskey. Should it be $1 per single pour?
Why would you tip differently for an $18 pour of whiskey than you would an $18 cocktail, anyway?
The debate came about because the patron’s bill was $50 after tax for his and his friend’s drink, and he was going to tip $2 for the two shots. His buddy thought that was a poor tip and joked that the barman would post the receipt online as public shaming.
What’s a proper tip? The short answer: a buck or two for a single pour of a spirit. But when it comes to cocktails, the standard percentage tip applies because mixed drinks require more labor and ingredients. Andrew Friedman, owner of the Capitol Hill bar Liberty, concurs.
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One caveat: I like to nurse an expensive whiskey, and if the bar is busy, I’ll tip a lot more because I might be holding up a seat that could cost the bartender other tips.
But let’s bring in bar owner Jim Meehan of PDT in the East Village, one of the world’s most acclaimed cocktail bars. His advice carries much weight in the industry. He has interesting thoughts on this subject. Meehan, a Portland resident, doesn’t base his tip solely on the cost of the drink but also on his experience at the bar. He suggests we do the same. He takes us through his thought process on how he would tip for something as simple as a pour of whiskey.
His edited answer:
“ — If the bar was busy, was the bartender attentive or was it difficult to get the bartender’s attention?
— Did the guests chat with the bartender or was the interaction solely transactional? If they chatted, did they appreciate the face time or was it intrusive? Based on the interaction, do they ‘like’ the bartender? This is subjective and unquantifiable but important.
— Did they know what type of whiskey they wanted or did the bartender help them pick the perfect dram? If the bartender helped, was the suggestion well-received?
— Was the pour generous, precise or stingy? Was the glass clean? Did the bartender wait for the cube to temper or pour the whiskey on top too soon and it cracked?
— Was their spot at the bar kept clean during their experience? Was it clean when they arrived? If the bar was busy, did the bartender respect the sovereignty of their space or did the bartender serve between them or over their shoulder?
— Was the bartender entertaining other people or was the bartender a dark, miserable black hole of a person sucking up all the energy in the room?
— Did they say thank you when they dropped the check? Did they make eye contact? Was the check presented clean?
I could go on and on, but what I’m getting at is bartending — and tipping at a bar — shouldn’t be formulaic or based solely on the cost of goods. Generally speaking, I tip 20 percent if I pay with a credit card and a dollar a drink for items like bottled beer and more for orders that require real knowledge or elbow grease.”