tipping at an open bar
December 5, 2007 10:43 AM   Subscribe

How much to tip at an open bar?

A quick search turns up lots of advice, but it sounds stingy to me, and I'd like feedback from more discriminating bargoers. The Google concensus seems to be $1 for each drink from an open bar (in the U.S.). That sounds low, but I don't know what a proper tip would be: X dollars a round? X dollars a drink? the full price I would expect the drinks to cost?

Does your open-bar tip vary based on location? If it's a wedding reception in a catering hall or club, do you tip less (or more?) than at a private party in a restaurant or bar?
posted by Elsa to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've always tipped around $1 per drink at an open bar. If the drinks seem particularly elegant, it can't hurt to add in a little more.
posted by bassjump at 10:45 AM on December 5, 2007

$1 a drink sounds normal to me, open bar or not.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:45 AM on December 5, 2007

You may not need to tip at an open bar. I know at our wedding we had an open bar and the bartenders tip was included in the bill we got at the end of the night.

In most catered scenarios, the bartenders and waiters all have a tip built-in to the charge for the event. Thus, you should only feel you need to tip in the event of truly exceptional service.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:48 AM on December 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

$1 a drink minimum. More if the guest to bartender ratio is high and you have to wait or get their attention to order. More if you like your drinks on the strong side. It never hurts to tip better than you normally would when your on someone else's tab!
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 10:48 AM on December 5, 2007

In most catered scenarios, the bartenders and waiters all have a tip built-in to the charge for the event. Thus, you should only feel you need to tip in the event of truly exceptional service.

I've run a few events that had beverage catering and this was the case. In this case, I think it's very bad form for the bartenders to even have a tip glass available, as they're essentially hitting up both the host and the guests for tips.
posted by Nelsormensch at 10:58 AM on December 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

What jeffamaphone said. My understanding is that gratuity is generally worked into the catering bill already. But I usually tip $1 anyhow.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:59 AM on December 5, 2007

And on preview, Nelsormensch is right too. Putting a tip jar out is considered really tacky. Kinda like a wedding dj putting out a tip jar.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:01 AM on December 5, 2007

If you're unsure, descretely ask the host or facility manager.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:05 AM on December 5, 2007

Wow, atrocious spelling on my part.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:05 AM on December 5, 2007

You don't *need* to tip, however, I always put up about $5 or $10 the FIRST TIME you get drinks at the bar. Subtly, make sure the bartender sees you leave it and you are guaranteed to have good service the rest of the night. Also talk to the bartender the first time to ensure he/she sees your face and will recognize you later.

Works like a charm.
posted by nineRED at 11:08 AM on December 5, 2007

Okay, so my tip-o-meter has been set to the too generous setting. Not a bad thing, of course, but good to know!

I'm aware that many open-bar tenders have a gratuity built into the price, but I'm constitutionally unable to resist tipping a bartender. Now that I think about it, the pre-paid gratuity explains the ubiquitous $1 tip. If it's a buck a drink in addition to a lump-sum gratuity, then every buck is gravy.

If I'm tipping, say, five bucks for every other two-drink round (that is, five bucks for every four drinks, and assuming one bartender is keeping the entire bar), will that suffice, or would most bartenders feel like I'm stiffing them on alternate rounds? It seems like a sensible way to avoid piles of grubby $1 bills.
posted by Elsa at 11:15 AM on December 5, 2007

$1/round seems pretty standard. My tip amount usually goes up from there if the service is fast, courteous, and correct. nineRED is totally right, although I have a feeling that any tip at an open bar will accomplish the same effect, since many open-bar customers won't be leaving any tips.
posted by maniactown at 11:16 AM on December 5, 2007

At a catered event, I would treat it as though the host paid for my drinks, and I wouldn't tip at all, unless there is exceptional service outside the ordinary. (I wouldn't expect to see a tip jar here).

At a lower end event such as an art show, where I'm pretty sure the only reason the bar is open is that they don't have a liquor license, I would tip one or two dollars to show my appreciation. (I always see tip jars here, and they're usually pretty full).

In between the two... I guess I would do whatever other people are doing.
posted by kidbritish at 11:18 AM on December 5, 2007

I do the same thing as nineRED, though my initial amount is generally lower ($2-4), and the bartenders do usually come back more quickly.
posted by asuprenant at 11:24 AM on December 5, 2007

I tip a dollar a drink, regardless of the situation.

I've even tried to tip my friends when they were bartending parties.
posted by Netzapper at 11:28 AM on December 5, 2007

If you are drinking mixed drinks you are probably better served giving the guy a fifsky right off the bat that way he makes them well in subsequent visits. If you are drinking beer or wine I think a dollar ever other visit is fine.
posted by any major dude at 11:28 AM on December 5, 2007

I do the same thing as nineRED and asuprenant only I go a little nuts and toss in a $20 on my first trip to the bar. They remember me all night and knowing the way I get I'd probably forget to tip the rest of the time anyway.

The only disadvantage to this is that if there is more than one bartender and only one saw the big tip at the beginning, you'll have to wait a little longer for a drink from the others and face the possibility of a dirty look when you stumble away without adding money to the fishbowl. It's a tossup. :)
posted by slyboots421 at 11:30 AM on December 5, 2007

What the hell is a fifsky?
posted by Gungho at 12:25 PM on December 5, 2007

Gungho: I think a "fifsky" must be a fin.
posted by Elsa at 12:35 PM on December 5, 2007

You know: fif.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:07 PM on December 5, 2007

I'm planning a wedding with an open bar, and the gratuity is definitely included. If people are giving a buck a drink, those bartenders are making a killing.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 1:29 PM on December 5, 2007

At my wedding we had an open bar and tips for bartenders and wait staff were included in our bill, and was a non-trivial expense; 15% on the food, and 10% on alcohol. While there, I certainly wasn't tipping for any of our drinks, but that's a function of being the groom. If I were a guest at the wedding, I'd either tip $1 per drink, or else drop a ten with the first drink and not tip the rest of the night.

When you consider that a bartender can easily make a drink in a minute. If they're busy, that's 60+ drinks an hour, suddenly that $1 per drink doesn't seem too shabby. Heck, even when only 50% tip, $30 extra per hour isn't anything to sneeze at.
posted by nobeagle at 1:53 PM on December 5, 2007

As a bartender, I advise tipping $1 per drink you think you'll drink during the night and do it up front. I remember the people who toss a $20 bill in my hands on the first drink and will make a point of serving them as quickly as I can.
posted by scabrous at 2:33 PM on December 5, 2007

The gratuity is most likely included but I tip generously anyhow, a 10 or so up front, it will make your service faster, friendlier, and more heavily poured. If you don't care about that, don't tip much to anything.

I bartend parties a lot and I always have a tip jar out even if there is an added gratuity, mostly because people always tip and if I don't have a place to stash all the ones, it gets awkward. If people want to tip me, I want to provide them with an easy means to do so.

For all those people who think their bartenders are making a killing please know that MOST people do no tip a dollar a drink at events where it is open bar, just people who drink a lot and want special service, so yes we usually do very well, its nothing outlandish.

(Side bar: I did have one outlandish night where a party was being paid for by one person, but that person did not tell anyone else, and they all thought it was Dutch, and said person ignored my three disclaimers that there was gratuity added, so there was the double tip plus all the 20's on the table that everyone piled up to pay the tab, highly unusual.)
posted by stormygrey at 3:38 PM on December 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a former cater-waiter, we rarely looked for tips from the guests, in fact refused them politely the first or second time. After that the tip jar would go out. With the high end parties there was usually a good tip coming from the hosts. The parties where the guests insisted were the ones where the hosts needed the help and the tips were much appreciated.
posted by pointilist at 6:29 PM on December 6, 2007

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