Bar talk: Tipping

By Lisa Variano

Remember when an icy cold mug of mainstream American lager cost you a buck and a half and was all you needed to satisfy your thirst? The idea of paying four or five dollars a pint for a beer was unthinkable. Yet here you are today in one of the thousands of specialty beer bars and brewpubs in the United States, eager to pay any price for a pint and you can't get close enough to the bar to order one.

Craft beer is here to stay. The discriminating consumer is paying more for his or her pleasure, but how do the barkeeps view this? Does the average tip reflect increased prices? What's the right amount to pay for attentive service? Many people recall leaving a single on the bar for that mug of American mainstream, that translates to about thirty percent, a much higher gratuity than they'd pay for a meal or service such as a cab ride. Apply this rate to a pint of what you now drink and you'd be leaving tips of more than a dollar thirty.

In Philadelphia, a survey of three of the most popular bars reveals some interesting tipping averages. At Copa Too! where micros and Belgian imports flow from fourteen taps, tips usually reflect fifteen or twenty percent of the bar bill. Based on a four dollar pint, that's nearly twice as much as Joe Morris of The Khyber Pass Pub pulls in for his services but considerably less than the dollar per three dollar glass the big spenders over at Dock Street customarily leave for bartender Andrew Baxter.

Joe's observation is that The Khyber Pass Pub is frequented by European tourists who rarely leave more than fifty cents a beer. Local beer savvy customers are a little better. At Dock Street, Andrew believes the secret to higher tips is to be the consummate bartender, know the regular's names, tell a few jokes, and provide fast and efficient service.

Tipping rates are about the same in Chicago where the average tip at Goose Island Brewing Company ranges from a dollar a pint to one-fifty every other round. At the Clark Street Ale House, which offers a wide selection from it's two dozen taps, patrons often pay with a fiver and leave the change.

At some of New York City's most frequented watering holes like the Ginger Man, bartender Tara Zanghi says tips for a five dollar pint are usually about a dollar but can average much less if one customer is fetching a round for a group. Sam Barbeiri, owner of Manhattan Waterfront Ale House feels that a dollar a beer or round is average or fifteen percent of the total when customers also order food. At DBA on First Avenue the amount of the tip seems to vary greatly depending on the number of pints consumed. Customers tend to leave a higher percentage of the total when they've enjoyed three or four pints from the fine menu of craft brewed and specialty beer menu.

From the other side of the bar, customers claim that they tip depending on a variety of factors. In addition to fast, friendly and efficient service many beer enthusiasts say that a knowledgeable bartender should be familiar with various brands and style profiles, the correct serving temperature and appropriate glass ware. Then there's the appearance factor and we're not talking about beer here. Both men and women state they tend to leave larger tips for attractive bartenders, particularly if the attentive server engages in a little casual flirting.

Though willing to pay more for what's in our glasses these days many of us are actually paying less for service, yet expecting our bartenders to be a cross between Michael Jackson (not Lisa Marie's ex, the other one) and Claudia Schiffer. The next time you order a pint of your favorite beer take a moment to assess the overall quality of the service and tip accordingly. A properly dispensed pint served to you at the right temperature and in the right glass should merit at least as large a tip as that mug of cheap suds we used to tip for generously.