How To Tip A Bartender.

People who have this statue in their basement bar freak us all out.

People who have this statue in their basement bar freak us out. I know you're reading this, Charlie. It's weird.

Deep within the pockets of societal convention lurk the frugal outliers that spoil it for the rest of us.

The cheapskates.

When they tip, or rather, when they don’t, they screw it up for society.  The rest of us who actually appreciate good service and understand that waitstaff depend on gratuities to make ends meet.

This tip guide is for them.

But it’s also for a bartender in Seattle who has lost her mind.

This bartender wrote a piece in the Seattle Examiner on how to properly tip.  Let’s digest some of her golden nuggets of information.

It’s always best for a bartender to make about twenty percent of their sales from that day off tips.

Well yeah.  And it’s best for Sarah, the red-headed waitress at Red Lobster who cleans up after the disgusting mess you leave after eating mussels to make 20% too.  By the way, how gross is the aftermath of mussels anyway?  Right?  Especially after I’m done with them.

Sarah, I’m sorry.

Or how about that creepy guy that stares at us in the bathroom at lounges and discos?  He gets quarters.  I saw a twenty in there once, but I think he put that in there by himself.  One time, I even saw Monopoly money.  Monopoly money!  Who carries that?

Poor creepy guy.

But really? 20%?  For a bartender?  Outrageous.

More now, from the Examiner.

If you have received adequate service, it’s best to leave about eighteen percent of your total bill for a tip. If you have received excellent service, go for about twenty-five or thirty percent so the bartender knows how well they did.

Okay wait.  So I’m at a pub.  I pump my tremendous legs to get to the bar.  Then I wait my turn.  Finally, the bartender notices my mild obesity parked on a stool.  I order my Heineken which perhaps costs 8 dollars.  All she does is get it from the bar, pop the bottle and hand it to me.  Since I’m a raging alcoholic, I’m in six Heinekens by quarter of 10.  That means my bill is $48.  According to the Examiner, I’m giving her $61.

Really?  13 dollars?

Let’s look at what she says when you get shitty service.

If you have received poor or substandard service, still leave at least ten to fifteen percent.

10-15% if you had poor or substandard service.  So suppose the bartender calls you a big fat loser and makes you wait seventeen minutes when there isn’t anyone at the bar.  Then, right after you order, she goes out for a cigarette break, then finally gives you a Bud Light instead of a Heineken.  Then after she leaves, you overhear her make fun of your lazy eye.  Still fifteen percent.

Here’s her explanation.

There are many factors to why service wasn’t perfect and most of the time it’s not the bartender’s fault. Or, people have bad days. We’re all human, after all, so don’t jip on the tip.

How does she know it’s not the bartender’s fault?  People, both bartenders and customers, have bad days. I have 362 bad days a year.  She expands:

And word gets around fast amongst all bartenders and we all look out for one another, so you could get black listed from a plethora of bars from one bad tip.

Wow.  With that type of attitude, I’m sure she’s a delight!

Here’s the real tipping guide.

First, a simple maxim.  Barstaff should make less than waitstaff in tips.  If you are serving food, and cleaning up plates people ate on, you should make more in tips than people who open bottles and serve beverages.

Second, you should always leave a minimum of 1 dollar a drink.  If a drink is 5, you give 6.  If a drink is 10, maybe 1.50.  As you can see that’s roughly 15-20%.  But if your bill at the end of the night is 48 dollars, you don’t need to give 30%.  Why would you?  Do you do that at restaurants?  Tip the 15% if it’s adequate service, and 20% if it’s good service.

If it’s poor, tip 10%.

See?  Simple.

Oh, and don’t leave Monopoly money.

  • Guy

    Agreed, everyone has bad days. But I don’t believe people should get tipped just for showing up. And this from a person who once depended on tips to pay the bills.

    I believe this falls into the terrible mindset that people think they deserve something without working for it.

    Bad service = bad tip.

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  • IsaiahSonjeow

    I am a bartender in the Detroit area and I have to say your personal tipping guide is perfectly sufficient when you are drinking bottles of Heineken all night. A dollar a drink only applies for simple mixers and bottled beers and draughts. Any drink that is layered, complex and exotic in its ingredients or requires special instructions and knowledge (ie. Guinness Draught or something muddled like a mojito or 1850s Tom Collins) should garner more attention than $1. A six layered shot could take up to two minutes to pour, and I could have cracked 20 beers in that time. I agree with Guy about the bad service = bad tip. That person from the examiner is insane to assume and tip from bad service. If a salesman is having a “bad day” and has a poor attitude, you aren’t required to buy a washer and dryer from him (take that ABC Warehouse). Even though servers personally tip well regardless of service because they have been in the business and understand what it’s like day in and day out, a server or bartender should never assume a minimum tip just for doing there job. $3.50 an hour is enough for just being there, your tip is from the service and knowledge you provide. Which brings me to my last point. The argument that a server should be tipped more because he or she handles food and plates and a bartender doesn’t is misguided. Having done both, it is much more difficult to bartend. Most of the time you do have to handle plates and food as a bartender, but even if you don’t, keep in mind, it is not hard to carry a plate to or from a table. Knowledge is what separates a bartender from a server. As a bartender I have to know all the food in the building, just like a server, but I also have to know everything about drinks. And not just the specialty drinks that the bar offers. Servers take an order for a Grey Goose gimlet, neat, with a twist and they don’t have to know what that means. Who cares if they had to carry a plate to a bustub, the busboy carries that to dish and sometimes has to wash it too, but you don’t talk about tipping them do you? My point is, many servers would like to bartend but just don’t have the chops, whether it’s the personality or the ability to memorize more than 100 specialty drinks (that includes ingredients, amounts, glassware, garnish, mixing method, etc.). And my last rant: Please don’t tell me your a bartender or that you were a bartender if you helped your sister at her bar, or bartended at a party at home, or were a bartender at a bar that poured rum and cokes and cracked beers all day, it”s embarrassing. If one more new server tells me she’s a bartender and then can’t remember the ingredients to a tequila sunrise because it’s been “so long since I’ve made one of those” I’m going to lose my mind. If you can’t take the time to learn the difference between Scotch Whisky and other Whiskeys, then you don’t deserve the title. Hope this helped. And please remember, always tip your bartender-we control your alcohol consumption…

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  • Kevin

    If she expects a 15% tip for poor service, she better be really hot…. and topless.

  • Jim

    IsaiahSonjeow,you’re kidding, right? Your make two points very clear. 1. You’re a bartender. 2. You think bartenders should make fat cash. Gee, thanks for your unbiased assessment of the situation.

    Also, you don’t control much of anything. If you think you’re not being paid well then find another job. You control my alcohol consumption in the same way that I control whether you pay your rent or not.

    Good luck with that attitude.

  • Hugh Wish

    I can’t wait until we have robots to schlep drinks so that bartenders like this can go back to whatever else you can do with an elementary school education. If it’s such a strain for you to pour a drink then I’ll pour my own and you can piss off. %15 is excellent service %20 is for going above the call. If it’s bad service I will tip a penny just so you don’t think I forgot. If the server is an ass then good luck even getting the money for drinks.

  • Tyrus

    what most people seem to have forgotten (as the son of 2 bartenders)
    is that when it comes to simple drinks (beer, plain shots, wine) a meal or similar

    15%-20% is supposed to be for excellent service
    10-14% for average service
    5-10 for poor service
    and one penny in an upside down class of water (difficult to accomplish, great for making a point) for full neglect to terrible service

    so bartenders asking for 30%, kill yourself your minimum wage is supposed to be 15% less than normal minimum for a reason

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  • Duggyfresh

    Here in Canada I know bartenders who live on their tips. The contrast is Australia where tipping is uncommon as minimum wage is over $14. Regardless of your location, a lousy bartender is lucky to get anything. I want to know how to get a penny in an upside down class of water, that’s a great idea.

  • Don

    In New Zealand and the UK it’s not normal to tip bartenders at all. The idea that I’d be expected to pay extra just because someone lifted the drink out of a fridge or poured it into a glass is actually strange here. Maybe staff should be paid a better wage for their time.

  • Mark

    I am a good tipper because i don’t want my server to think im a cheapskate. The fact that service industry people think they deserve to be tipped a certain percentage of a bill is just a joke. You guys put up with a lot of crap from everybody and i applaud you for your efforts but if you want more money from a job go get an education instead of depending people with a good job to give you free cash. the argument that servers need and depend on tips to make a living seems to be the most common one. Servers depend on this money just like homeless people depend on the money they get from the kindness of strangers. It irritates me that the chick bringing me food makes more money than me, not because she gets paid more, but because North American society says i have to give her free money. money that i earned and i worked for i now have to give her just for showing up or else i am a cheap asshole. I know its my fault for being self concious about the whole thing and i readily admit that. I dont have to tip if i don’t want. But if i don’t i get to be “that guy who doesnt tip” every time i go to my regular bar or restaurant. I think that the price of food in the place should be raised and the servers should get a better wage, something more in line with how hard they have to work. Everybody is already paying for more than just the food when they go there, so it doent really matter. the amount of money im spending isnt the issue for me, it’s where the money goes that is. Serving is definitly not a job that deserves a minimum wage rate of pay, but neither is it a job where you should be able to make hundreds a night.

  • SheSpoke

    As a person with two graduate degrees and who has bartended for 10, allow me to edify some of you. First, bartending is way more difficult than waiting tables. You’re must think eight steps ahead as a bartender: garnishes, drink guns, to-go orders, tapping kegs, cleaning, all the while waiting on customers. Mojitos take time and finesse and knowledge while a cracked beer takes 5 seconds. Tip accordingly.

    The hardest part about bartending is dealing with drunks–that’s why the money is, and should be, so good. You’ve got to remain entertaining, firm, and efficient and never ever be condescending or the tip on that eighty dollar tab from Johnny Asshole at the end of the bar is gone, and the IRS thinks you made $12.

    Having a job that entails being around drinking or drunk people sucks. If you’ve never bartended, you have no idea. And if you’re a cheapskate or like to tip an even 15%, you’ll be remembered the next time you go to that bar. And you’ll get even worse service. But you’ll deserve it.

  • rondostar

    Pretty poor timing for Sarah’s rules of the game here. I don’t think I’m gonna tip anymore, in this economy. But I have to say, the Monopoly money idea is pretty great.

    Really love the blog here. Good stuff!


  • Twitter Fail

    Sorry, SheSpoke, if leaving a 15% tip means I’ll get even worse service the next time, I won’t be back. Treat enough people that way, and there won’t be anyone left to abuse. I worked for tips for a long time; each tip is both a compliment, and a yardstick to measure what kind of job you’re doing. If I’m expected to get a certain amount just to show up, where’s the incentive to do a great job? If someone leaves a crap tip (and 15% is not a crap tip) take it as a message that you need to do a better job. And, when someone leaves you a great tip, try to repeat the things you did that made them so happy.

    The bartender vs server argument will go on forever. I’ve done both, and they both have their challenges. Bartenders work in a small area that is set up for maximum efficiency. The wait staff is moving constantly from tables to kitchen and back. Dealing with drunks from behind a bar is a lot safer than when you’re carrying an armload of plates and he grabs your ass. Get over yourself. Bartending is not rocket science.

    BTW: Where do you work? I want to make sure to avoid it.

  • http://none BOOBYs

    … i have worked many “tip” jobs you spend all your tips on hookers and blow anyways… people work “tip” jobs when they are lazy and do not want to do anything but party. tip money goes to partying and the pay cheques go toward rent/partying if they suck at serving most likley cause is because they are hung over or unshowered and unrested because they spent the night in a random guys bedroom. tips are a bonus for doing a good job it is not and should never be manditory to give a tip to some ditzy blonde who can only carry 1 beer at a time because shes “cute”

  • RB

    @ mark: if you think the server bringing you food makes more than you with no education, why the hell aren’t you busting ass waiting tables? The dig about needing to get an education is just wrong; I have my BS in engineering, yet I’m a bartender (at a restaurant, not a bar, there’s a big difference). Why? Because I make better money doing this than actually moving into my “real” career field.

  • Alex Giles

    What the hell?

    15% is for GOOD service!

    Hell, a friend of mine approximates what his bill will be and puts 20% (!) cash down on the table.

    He then tells the server that that’s what they get if they do something simple, such as “As long as I don’t have to wait over 5 minutes for my drink, that’s yours.”

  • AG

    Oh, just to add to what I said…

    …if they’re unhappy with the pay they get…


  • smab

    Drink at home. You’ll save money at home. The drinks are cheaper at home. You belong there. At home. Alone.

  • Andrew Shuttlewood

    Wow… from a British point of view:

    Bad service = No tip
    Normal Service = 10%
    Amazingly STUNNING service = 15-20%

    NOTE, amazingly stunning service is pretty much if they have gone out of their way to help, and it would only be if something had gone wrong and they had fixed it in my mind. Simply delivering food on time does not really count.

    If there is a service charge – then that IS the tip.

    And that is in restaurants. In pubs, I certainly wouldn’t tip for buying a pint. If it’s a complex order, I might round it up and give them the difference.

    To be honest, I don’t see why you would tip for something like somebody fetching a bottle out of a fridge and opening it. You could do it yourself – the fact that the bar puts a barrier in the way is their problem, not mine.

    Note, that in the UK, minimum wage does apply to all staff (tips CAN be counted as part of the wage, but this is being outlawed and also they would still have to make sure that the server received minimum wage).

    I don’t think that this is regarded as particularly tight. Some people do tip bar staff, but it is the exception rather than the rule.

  • Jo Jacobs

    LOL, thats the problem with todays society. Those in the “service” industry have come to “expect” good tips regardless of their service. Pathetic. I still tip what they are worth. To a really good server I might tip as hight as 50% on the other side, I have left with leaving as little as one penny on the table (last night at a restaurant I was so appalled at the servers crappy service I left NOTHING. You get what you EARN and thats the way it should be!


  • jax

    Eh , tip *only* if you are satisfied with the service. Tip as much as you *feel* is worth. The bill already covers the cost of the drinks , effort required to make the drink *and* a profit margin. If not then the list prices should be reworked to reflect this.

    The bartender needs to negotiate with the management, just like everyone else, if he/she feels the job should be making them more money.

  • Seb

    TIP comes from the phrase ‘To Improve Promptness’ (or something along those lines), hence if I receive poor service, I will not tip as it will reinforce poor standards — if I receive good service, I will tip 10-20% as it’ll reinforce the good service as well show appreciation.
    I’m disgusted by so many ‘Entitlement’ opinions shown here — how many other industries get the same perks?

  • Warren

    Here’s how it goes for me:
    standard tip, taxes ~15% (that’s if they didn’t screw anything up and generally did a good job)
    if they’ve been having a tough day +5%/ look stressed out (if they earn it mind you)
    good tips, aka amazing and professional service, 30%

    if they’re trying and just having problems, it tends to be ~15%

    bad service – 0.02, i’ve done it twice.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t tip, I garja. It comes from the phrase ‘get a real job, asshole’, and here’s how it works:
    I get decent service: 18-20%
    I get shitty service or attitude: 0%
    It’s not the server’s fault? Too bad, that should motivate them to get a job that society values enough that they get paid a real salary. Either way, shitty service isn’t my fault, so I’m not going to tip well for it.
    And bartenders??? How many drinks do they make per hour? Even at 50 cents per drink they’d be making nice money, for a job that requires the same level of education and effort as fast food.

  • Anonymous

    Why is tipping a percentage? That just doesn’t make any sense. Consider a server working at a restaurant. Let’s say you order a steak for $25. Your friend orders a burger for $15. To make things simple, let’s also say that you do not order any drink whatsoever (not realistic but bear with me). Why should the server make more tip bringing you a steak vs bringing your friend a burger? Does bringing out a steak require that much more skill/class/attitude/service? How is that logical at all?

    Side note – does the kitchen staff get any tips for preparing a great dish or does the server get that benefit?

  • Mark

    @ RB
    i just think the pay with all the tipping is disproportionate to the qualifications needed for the job. Im happy in my job and i get paid well and hell if servers get paid more than me thats all the more power to them. but they should’nt be getting paid more than me because they work at a job that anybody can do.i can see this comment being picked on for the anybody part but you know what i mean. Can you honestly tell me that with your degree you think its alright that you get paid more as a bartender than you would as an engineer. if you can say that with a straight face i applaud you. Why are we giving money to these people for doin their job? You get to serve me in the capacity that you work in and i in turn serve somebody else at my job. The only differnece is that i eat or drink what you give me and the person i work for gets to live in what i make for them. In my head i would think helping provide a place for somebody to live is a bit tip worthy but that might be me i might be crazy. what makes food service so damn special? When do we start tippin gas jockeys 15-30%? the kids at Mcdonalds? The lady who helps me pick out a pair of shoes? I see tip jars all over the place these days, from gas stations to bakeries(not a sit down bakery mind you but a go in pickout bread and leave type place). its getting ridiculous. but what sets these places apart? and are all you servers out there tipping these people or do you not think the’r job deserves it where as your job does? I apologize if i ranted or anything, trying to have a normal rational conversation. i would very much like a reply if you find time

  • d

    I am so glad I no longer live in the US. I hate tipping as a matter of course. Tipping should be exactly 0% unless you get excellent service. If service workers expect tips, and its becomes a regular matter with “guides” such as this one dictating that you should pay 10% for poor service, the whole point of the exercise is lost, and tipping is not longer “to insure prompt service” but “to insure the staff dont spit in your food”.

    Making bar staff rely on tips isn’t fair to them. Pay them a decent salary, treat them like professionals, remove the humiliation of having them begging for handouts. Build the cost of paying them a decent salary into the prices.

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  • Dan – Your Sash

    And what about places that automatically include gratuity in the bill already? Your thoughts on that?

  • Polexia

    I think there are a few keys points that are not being addressed here.

    First: In most states waitstaff (i.e. servers and bartenders) do not make enough money hourly to even pay they’re taxes. I end up owing over $1000 every year in taxes because I only make two bucks an hour. My tips are all I live on.

    Second: We are taxed on our sales, and the amount of tips we claim are factored into that. We are being targeted by the government right now because we are the only people who are on the honor system for reporting how much money we make each day.

    Third: A minimum gratuity of 15% is customary and appropriate. That’s right folks, MINIMUM!

    Fourth: Most bars serve food as well as drinks. Bartenders are cleaning up after your mess just as frequently as servers are. They also have to deal with people knocking over drinks, breaking glasses and causing more of a ruckus.

    Fifth: If you can’t afford the tip, don’t go out. Please stay home.

  • gnick

    Couldn’t agree more with Polexia. What most people don’t realize or care to acknowledge is that most servers/bartenders make $2.13/hr, which is the absolute minimum that is required by law, at least in my state. In other parts of the world, the employers include the labor costs into your bill, paying for the person serving your food (really a much better system, imo). However here in the states, the customer is allowed to be the judge. That doesn’t mean we’re looking for handouts, as one of you put it. If you are just ordering $8 heinekens (glad I don’t live there), I see no problem in throwing a buck a beer or so, but if you walk in to my bar, weave your way through the crowd, and proceed to ask 17 questions about every drink you’ve seen on Sex in the City, and finally settle on a margarita (light salt, crushed ice, extra tequila, but not too strong, 3 limes <–actual order from tonight), I’m gonna expect a little more than the coins in your change purse. As a bartender, Im also required to listen to your problems, stop your drunk friend from ending up in jail, and in my spare time deliver a drink to the hot girl at the end of the bar who wants nothing to do with you, since she’s waiting on her boyfriend (also bartending) to get off work. You can call me uneducated all you want, but I don’t owe 50k in student loans, don’t work in a cubicle with Dilbert cartoons on the “walls”, don’t wake up a 5:00 am to sit in an hour of traffic, don’t have to kiss ass for that promotion you’re not getting, and I ENJOY what I do for a living. I do however believe if the service is shit, tip should reflect that (somebody PLEASE post a how-to on the upside down water glass), and the percentage should also fluctuate with the orders’ complexity. When it’s all said and done I will make my money regardless, because I know what I’m doing. Do think there should be tip jars everywhere? No, if all you did was punch a couple buttons on a register, don’t put the jar out. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to go out. Period. Don’t blame us, we didn’t make the rules…

  • Mark

    Re: polexia and gnick
    if you are having problems paying your taxes ask your employer to take off extra from your paychecks to help offset this. my gf does this and it works out fine. no giant payment at the end of the year.perfect. i understand you get paid a shitty wage. that sucks. i understand that the government makes you pay for tips you are supposed to get(but that whole honour system thing doesn’t mean you have to declare all of it does it? do you always declare all of it?). that sucks. i understand that you have to deal with drunks and spilt drinks(omg!). that sucks. what i dont understand is why this has to be my problem. why does your choice in a job that is obviously so aggravating have to be my problem. most people who don’t like dealing with people stay away from jobs where you have to deal with actual customers face to face. its a shitty situation and i realize you stay because of the tips and you make good money because of the tips. lets say a server has served 3 tables in an hour each bill average $60. so that leaves about $30 in tips and (here in BC anyhow) $8 dollars in wages. 38 dollars an hour is prettty damn good considering and its pretty damn outrageous as well. and thats just three think your job is honestly worth that kind of money? Regardless of how many questions are asked about the fancy martini some chick wants, it is your job to make the damn thing and you get paid for it. you get paid shitty but again not the customers problem. charging extra for questions is crap. imagine a customer service desk charging per question. and the comment about the cashier not deserving a tip because all he had to do was punch a few buttons on a register? crap too. if you get me a beer you say you want a dollar for uncappin the thing and takeing my money? you just did the same amount of work as those people you think shouldnt be tipped. go to a grocery store. those cashiers ring up tons of stuff, and bag it to, in an organized manner so stuff isnt crushed or contaminated. but you wouldnt tip her right? seems to me she would be just as deserving. its not your job to listen to problems you just happen to be standing there while somebody is talking or slurring probably. its great that you make good money without a huge student loan. you are doin better than lots of people im sure. you really shouldnt be but hey thats the world we live in. if you are a bartender and are complaining about making people drinks…well i dont even know what to say to that. bottom line is you get paid what your employer feels you are worth. same as everybody else in the world. you guys complain about your jobs same as everybody else in the world. If you thought it was a good job we wouldn’t have to tip you. Its not the expense of the thing, thats not the point. i can afford to eat out, i like eating out. i just don’t like giving you guys money more money for just doin your job. and if you cant afford to tip don’t tip. period. the server just made more than you do an hour off the other two tables if thats the case

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  • Twtybean

    Yes, 20%! REALLY!!! All bullshit aside, bartenders make $2.13 AN HOUR!!! We rely on tips. If you are working in a nightclub, you still have to clean plates, tables, pull gum out of ashtrays, clean those ashtrays, mop up puke, restock beer and supplies, etc. In a bar (not restaurant) setting, the bartenders do MORE work than the servers, plus having to know the recipes of all drinks (servers do not) and many have to make the drinks for the servers. Not to mention, having to put up with lame pick-up lines, dirty jokes, and demeaning comments from drunk customers. $1 a drink, especially if it is a complicated drink like a long island or a messy drink like a lemon drop, is NOT APPROPRIATE!! Tip based on the price of the drink, not on how many you have. If it takes more time to make it, the bartender is spending more time on you and having to make other customers wait. PAY them for their time and attention.

  • Shannonlayes

    So what to tip when the drink only costs $1.00?

    • REV

      Even if you're drinking cheap, a quarter is an insult to a bartender. Give 'em a dollar or so. If all they did was open a bottle for you, they shouldn't complain over $0.75.

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  • CDF

    why is it an entitlement program? Thy're losers who are too lazy to work a real job. Twist a beer cap and I owe u $1? Why is the price so inflated by the greedy owner? Get real! They get a paycheck like I do and nobody tips me. TELL THE OWNER TO PAY U WHAT U R WORTH AND DON”T DIG INTO MY POCKET

    • REV

      ^This person has never worked a service industry job. CDF, I have a message for you from all the service industry people in the world: Eat at home, drink at home.

  • Odell Dehart

    First, a simple maxim.  Barstaff should
    make less than waitstaff in tips.  If you are serving food, and cleaning
    up plates people ate on, you should make more in tips than people who
    open bottles and serve beverages.

  • ittybiddyauctions

    When they tip, or rather, when they don’t, they screw it up for society. 

  • REV

    ^This person has never worked a service industry job. CDF, I have a message for you from all the service industry people in the world: Eat at home, drink at home.

  • REV

    Even if you're drinking cheap, a quarter is an insult to a bartender. Give 'em a dollar or so. If all they did was open a bottle for you, they shouldn't complain over $0.75.