Bad Bar People #2: The Lousy Tipper

Last week, we introduced you to our new series Bad Bar People by investigating the scourge known as The Jukebox Violator. This week, in honor of one of the busiest bar weekends in the country, we take a look at Bad Bar People #2: The Lousy Tipper.

One of the most notorious and hotly debated examples of The Lousy Tipper comes to us from eminent Philadelphia dive bar McGlinchey’s, that nexus of cigarette smoke, claustrophobic bathrooms, 75-cent hot dogs, and ridiculously cheap drinking.

Back in May 2014, some Ivy League bros from UPenn broke unofficial McGlinchey’s protocol by ordering four kamikaze shots in the middle of an insanely busy night. The total came to $25.60. One of the bros handed the bartender a new $100 bill, and when she got to the register, she realized that there were actually two new $100 bills stuck together.

When the bartender walked back to the UPenn bros, she handed them $174.40 — $74.40 in change plus the extra $100 bill they didn’t realize they gave her. And for her trouble, they tipped her a whole forty cents of which she received twenty, splitting the tip with the second bartender. Bad bar tipping etiquette at its worst.

“It happens all the time,” says Jo-Ann Rogan, the bartender in question. Rogan, a mother of two, has worked at McGlinchey’s off and on since 1991. These days, you can find her behind the bar on Thursday and Friday nights.

Rogan says that it’s not just Ivy League brats who have bad bar tipping etiquette. The behavior knows no class, racial, social or religious boundaries.

“Sometimes they are suit-and-tie people,” explains Rogan. “They might have three rounds of our fanciest beer and leave a dollar when they leave. Or sometimes you’ll get nine kids who have two pitchers and leave two dollars. That’s not OK.”

Thankfully, there are the over-tipping regulars who help make up for the deficit caused by the Lousy Tipper. “Without them, I wouldn’t survive,” she insists. “We get almost nothing for shift pay, and these tips mean a big difference to my family.”

But one bartender we spoke with at a suburban watering hole said that sometimes the regulars are the biggest offenders of bar tipping etiquette, some not leaving a tip at all. (He asked us to withhold both his name and that of the bar, where we witnessed the activity in question.) They’ll sit there for hours, spending a good deal of money on beer and booze, and then they just leave.

He told us about one, who adds insult to injury.

“Every single time that he leaves, he’ll leave a drink on the bar that he took maybe one or two sips out of,” complains the bartender. “He could have just left me that money as a tip. It still wouldn’t be enough, but it would be something.”

So what’s going on here? Have we suddenly had an influx of European tourists?

“Some people just don’t get it,” says Rogan. “I don’t think they’re trying to be mean. Some people don’t have a lot of money, but those people probably shouldn’t be out drinking.”

Don’t want to be known as The Lousy Tipper? Let this handy guide to bar tipping enlighten and enrich you.

So how much should I tip a bartender? At most bars, let A Buck Per Beer be your mantra when establishing a minimum tip. Now, if you’re at a bar where a beer is $2, you might think, Wait a second… If I tip a buck a beer, that’s a 50-percent tip! Yes, yes it is. And that’s OK.

• Don’t confuse this with A Buck Per Order. If you order a round consisting of five bottles of beer for you and your buds, your tip should be at least $5. You may think to yourself, But they’re not really doing five times the amount of work. And if you’re thinking that way, you should just go home. Let us reiterate: A Buck Per Beer.

• If your drink costs more than $5, you need to start thinking along the lines of the 20-percent rule that you are (hopefully) following in restaurants. Again, this is a minimum. So if you order a $14 Martinez at the Olde Bar in Old City, don’t think you’re doing the bartender any favors by leaving him a buck.

• If you are paying with cash, stick to integers. Using the example of the $14 Martinez, if you were to apply a strict 20 percent rule to the tipping equation, you’d come up with a tip of $2.80. If it’s not obvious to you that you should leave at least three bucks on the bar instead of asking for change, you’re doing it wrong. Keep your nickels to yourself. If you’re paying with a credit card, do what you will, but rounding up is always a good idea.

But what if I order a $10,000 bottle of wine? Am I really supposed to leave a $2,000 tip? First of all, we’re talking about bars here. Not fancy restaurants with $10,000 bottles of wine on the menu. Second, if you’re ordering $10,000 bottles of wine on a regular basis, give us a call. Third, we defer to New York Times columnist and former restaurant critic Frank Bruni.

• Things can get a little bit confusing when the bartender says, “This round is on me.” If they’re buying you a drink, chances are 10-to-1 that you are a friend or at least a regular, and you probably have an established tipping relationship. But if it’s a new setup, be sure to return the generosity with generosity. Some people would tell you that you should tip what the drink would cost plus what you would have tipped on it if charged, and if you want to do that, more good karma for you. Others would suggest that tipping the amount of the free item is essential, and we think that’s a fine idea. But if a bartender comps you a $12 cocktail, you’re probably not in danger of landing in the cheapskate file if you leave a five spot, assuming that your tipping standards are up to snuff for the other rounds.

• Don’t encourage theft. We know there are plenty of bars out there where you slide a twenty across the bar when you arrive, and you can drink for free all night. And we just can’t get behind that. Some bar owners give bartenders a certain number of comps that they can give out per night. At other bars, the bartender actually has to put money in the till if they want to comp you, so that they mean it literally when they say, “That drink’s on me.” But we’re pretty sure there are no bar owners out there telling the staff, “It’s perfectly OK with me if you pocket a $20 tip and give away the bar all night.” A tip should never be a payment or incentive for a free drink.

• Don’t use your status as a foreign national as an excuse to not tip or to severely undertip. We get that some places in the world do not have tipping cultures. But if you’re going to hang out in our bars, you’re going to have to abide by our tipping culture. So pay up, Frenchy.

• If you can’t pay, don’t come out to play. It’s that simple. Gratuities need to be part of your drinking budget. So if you’re going out on Friday night with $20 in your pocket and you’re at a place that serves $4 beers, enjoy four, leave a four dollar tip, and take your ass home.