When I signed my restaurant bill last night, I left a 15 percent tip. I might have added 18 or even 20 (as is customary these days), but had some issues with the waiter. Had I been sitting at the bar, however, no matter what I ordered–or how slow (and forgetful) service might have been–I would have dropped a dollar. Because a dollar is standard at the bar. Order a beer, tip a single. Request a highfalutin martini that requires careful combining, double shaking, and costs more than an appetizer, and still leave a George Washington. Unlike tipping at the table, awarding your server at the bar doesn’t seem to be a reflection of actual services rendered, but rather a matter of habit.
Part of that, according to Chow, is because a dollar is convenient. It’s easy to pull a bill out of our wallet, rather than figure 18 percent on a $7.98 beer. But it’s also because, for the most part, a bartender’s work is short and to the point. Ask for a gin and tonic–or even a more complicated cocktail (say, a Guava Fizz)–and your drink is likely to be on your table in less than a minute or two. One dollar for two minutes of work adds up to $30 per hour. Not a bad wage. Only in a few cases have I ever heard someone suggest a tip of more than a dollar on drinks. In such cases, the higher compensation reflects a true appreciation of the bartender’s service. Perhaps he blended a unique cocktail, just for you. That might merit $2. Or say he was especially patient with a long list of group orders; it’s fair to deal him more dough. But in other cases, a dollar always flies. Can you think of a situation in which it doesn’t?