Do I tip out at the end or with each drink?
July 30, 2012 1:07 PM   Subscribe

When at a bar/pub, I default to tipping on each drink (cash is easy to remember this way, for me). When they hold a running tab, what is the appropriate etiquette when cashing out at the end of the night?

Is tipping throughout the night suitable/enough, or is it generally expected that I see about adding more on at the end?

I want to be reasonable (and I really don't want to be making things harder on anybody working in the service industry), but at the same time I'm still a college student on a budget, so I'd prefer to stay on the side of 'reasonable' rather than 'lavish' until I could otherwise afford as such.

(This isn't a tip-credit state, if it matters for the purposes of answering here. Also, near as I've found holding onto the card for a tab for the night is pretty standard around here. If it varies by type of location, that would be good to know as well.)
posted by CrystalDave to Work & Money (12 answers total)
Best answer: When I have a running tab, I don't tip on every drink and instead add 20%-25%(depending on service and how able to do math I am at the end of the night) on when I cash out at the end of the night. If you're tipping on each drink, I wouldn't worry about tipping at the end of the night, but it's easier for me to just treat it like a restaurant bill and add the tip. That's standard for most people I know.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:11 PM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

My answer assumes that you mean paying and tipping for drinks separately or all together, not paying for drinks separately and then tipping at the end of the night. Tip and pay at the same time. If you buy drinks for exact change, the bartender(s) may think you don't plan to tip at all. That said...

If there is only one bartender, it doesn't matter if you pay at the end or along the way. If there is more than one bartender, look around and see if they pool their tips by putting them in a common container. If yes, then it doesn't matter. If no, then you might want to pay and tip whoever made the drink you just ordered.
posted by carmicha at 1:14 PM on July 30, 2012

I'd say you do one or the other. If you're paying as you go, tip as you go. If you're paying lump-sum at the end, tip lump-sum at the end.
posted by Decani at 1:21 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're tipping in cash on each drink while running a tab then you're fine and you don't need to tip more when cashing out.

You can also just write a tip on the charge when closing out. That's what I usually do. Doing the mental math might be a little harder so yeah, 20 to 25 percent is fine.

That said, your current approach is a good one - tip cash on each drink. Most servers I know prefer cash.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:22 PM on July 30, 2012

If I run a tab, then at the end of the night I tip like I'm at a restaurant and have just finished dinner - 20ish%, 5-10% more if the bartender is a friend or especially awesome.
posted by elizardbits at 1:22 PM on July 30, 2012

If you're running a tab, it makes sense to add your tip on at the end of the night when you clear up your tab, rather than tipping for each individual drink throughout the night. That's what I do, as well as everyone else I know. I've never heard of tipping the bartender/server for each drink as it arrives unless you're paying for the drink at the same time rather than running a tab.
posted by asnider at 2:24 PM on July 30, 2012

I tip generously on the first drink and then afterwards, I do whatever's most convenient.
posted by blue t-shirt at 2:33 PM on July 30, 2012

From friends that work/have worked as bartenders/servers dealing with running tabs, I think the expectation was generally "tip on the bill at the end." 20% wouldn't be considered stingy, I don't think. Tipping as you go and not at all at the end of the night could be taken quite badly, depending on the serving situation (if you are served by multiple people all night, and the person who settles your tab at the end of the night isn't one of those people that served you, they could think you're not tipping at ALL).
posted by antifuse at 2:36 PM on July 30, 2012

(so basically, what I'm saying is - if you're going to tip on every drink during the night, you still might have to tip at the end of the night too depending on the situation)
posted by antifuse at 2:37 PM on July 30, 2012

When I run a tab I treat it like a restaurant check and either double the tax or tip ~20-25%, depending on the specifics of the situation (is there a tax amount listed on the bill? how drunk am I? etc).

If I have small bills on hand but not enough cash to pay for everything that way, I just tip cash on every round as I normally would.
posted by Sara C. at 3:30 PM on July 30, 2012

If I'm running a tab at the bar, I generally tip 20-25% or $1 a drink- whichever is more. If I'm paying cash for each drink, I generally tip $1-2 a drink. There's no need to tip twice if you're running a tab.
posted by jaksemas at 4:18 PM on July 30, 2012

If I open a tab, I put a tip on at the end, same as I would on any other restaurant check. Generally I tip a higher percentage, like 20-25% minimum, because serving drinks is pretty labor intensive and the cost per item is lower than most meals. At minimum, I'd tip $1/drink, so it can easily be 30-50% if the drinks are only $2-3 (e.g. happy hour specials). If a drink is complex or obviously not what the bar makes (e.g. you're with someone who orders a pina colada or something similarly facepalmy at a beer-and-whiskey bar) then I'd throw on even more.

While I guess you could tip cash on the first drink, this has always struck me as a bit, um, declasse. I'd only do it at a trashy (or very crowded) bar. It seems to be in the same category (file under "petit bribery") as slipping something to the maitre d' for a good table. I don't think it's immoral, just slightly crass.

If you are going to advance-tip heavily, do it when nobody but the bartender is watching if you can. It might create the perception in others that they'll only get good service if they too bribe tip in advance, which is not that cool.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:31 PM on July 30, 2012

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