Bartending: Bar Etiquette

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I was a bartender in town for two years, at a local pub.

Nothing glamorous, just a hole-in-the-wall neighborhood pub that is more about a good conversation and meeting your regular, rather than a meat market bar where you get blasted with your "homeboys" from North Bergen on Red Bull and Vodka.

One thing I knew even before becoming a bartender was the importance of tipping. Early in life my parents made all the kids have a job every summer. I used to be a busboy during my years in Ocean City, NJ when I was 13. When I turned 16 I each returning year I would be a waiter down the shore until I was 21. My "paycheck" was purely on the generousity of others. As a busboy, if my waiters did well - they were (usually) generous with me. As a waiter, I did everything I could to hustle a buck.

I figured that for some fun and some extra money in my pocket that I would try to bartend a few nights a week. It was a lot of fun, and if you ever get the chance to bartend you should certainly go for it. One of the hardest jobs in Hoboken (as a guy) to get is a bartender - you either have to work your way up or know someone who owns a bar to become a bartender. For women, its fairly easy to get a bartending job - as long as you are cute & have a nice body. Its sad, but true - this is a sexist industry.

Lets go over the my rules of tipping and bar etiquette, because it will make your bar experience much more fruitful (read: better tabs, more free drinks) in Hoboken. This is simply my advice, take it or leave it - i'm sure everyone has their own methods and thoughts on how they want to tip, but using this as a primer may help you the next time you are wondering why you weren't getting served as quickly from a friendly bartender...

  • Rule 1: Every drink gets a tip. Order 1 beer? Give at least $1. You can never go wrong with a $1 per drink and a cap at $5 for multiple drinks (per order). It doesn't matter if the beer is $2 or $8. Just tip $1 per drink. Order 4 beers at $2 each? Tip $4, big spender, on your $8 tab.

    I know you may be saying "That doesn't make any sense all they are doing is opening or pouring a beer!" - actually you aren't correct. Bartenders have to clean up after patrons. They have to do their sidework (geting the bar ready) when they come in and before they leave. Many have to restock the bar after the bar closes. On a busy weekend, I wouldn't get home until 4am many mornings. $1 per drink. Live by that rule and you will always be golden in the eyes of any bartender.

  • Rule 2: Tip less on a simple drink, more on a difficult drink.Order something like a Mixed Martini (complicated) or Freshly Blended Frozen Margarita (time consuming). The $1 rule is fine, but it never hurts to think that the more you make a bartender work, the better it is to throw in a $1 or $2 more.

  • Rule 3: Keep tabs if you trust the bartender : Some people like to give their credit card to a bartender and keep their tabs open until the end of the night. This is a ok, as long as you can trust your bartender. The problem is that if the bartender doesn't know you or doesn't care - you don't know until the end of the night if they are going to take care of you (with buybacks - more on those later). Until you establish yourself in a bar as a regular, I wouldn't keep a tab. Pay cash, and make sure you stick to a good tipping rule of thumb. After a few weekends at the same bar, any good bartender should be able to recognize you & what you drink.

  • Rule 4: How to get a bartender's attention when you want a drink: I don't claim to be god's gift to bartending, I was an average bartender when it came to my speed of service - but I did know when your drink was empty & you wanted another one. A few simple tips:

    1. Stand at the bar, with your money out and calmly waiting & making eye contact. Any good bartender WILL notice you and serve you. Don't hold your money out and chat with your friends at the same time. Pay attention.
    2. If you are seated at the bar, put your glass towards the bartender's side, away from yourself, and any good bartender will notice your empty drink and offer to make you another.
    3. If you do think you are getting passed over, simply get a bartender's attention by saying: "Excuse me, when you have a chance..." - bartenders despise hearing "Hey Pal!", "Buddy!", "Honey!" or any lame term like that from a drunken customer.
    4. Don't snap your fingers, tapping your beer on the bar, or whistle at someone - that will only cost you more time in the "No Drinking Penalty Box".
    5. If you know the bartender don't keep shouting their name while making a drink. People shouted my name over and over while i'm busy running around making drinks for another customer - don't be that guy.

    I have ignored customers on purpose who tried that crap on me. Like I said before - a good bartender should see you calmly waiting - if they don't well, make sure you don't leave them a good tip. If you get an attentive bartender, who is quick, kind and polite - show your appreciation with a good tip. Most good bartenders would take care of patrons like that (with buybacks).
  • Rule 5: Never ask for a buyback: Technically buybacks are illegal and no bar in town should be giving out "free" drinks. But it still happens. There can be a hundred reasons why the bartender didn't give you a buyback, but never complain if it happens once. If you are a consistently good tipper, and it happens on multiple occasions - I would just go somewhere else or scale back on the tipping (I would still tip, but keep it modest). Like I said before, a good bartender should take care of a good patron. A good bartender isn't going to take care of a CHEAP patron.
  • Rule 6: Never complain about a tab (unless its wrong): If you drank $100 worth of liquor, pay up. A problem I ran into when I bartended is that some patrons were "better taken care of" by other bartenders. So if one bartender would regularly give patrons lower closing tabs than myself - the patron would grumble "Oh Freddie doesn't charge me this much when I drink..." - you know what, don't do that. Were you getting free shots? Was the tab less or equal to what you drank? Don't complain.

  • Rule 7: Bartenders are your friends, not your servants: Don't be a prick. Its that simple. Treat someone who is serving you like you would treat a friend, and you will get thousands of dividends at a bar. Remember to say, "Please" and "Thank you". Your tips are appreciated as much as your kind words - but kind words aren't paying the bills, so pay up the tip if you forget the courtesy.

  • Rule 8: Tip heavy on your first drink. Simple reason for this is that you will get the bartender's attention with a nice tip. Normally most will respond with even quicker than normal service if they know someone isn't cheap. It doesn't mean you have to tip heavy for each successive drink. But throwing down a $5 after ordering a Captain and Coke you should get quality service. If you don't, then just remember that bartender next time you stop by. I always remember who my good tippers are, even on returning visits.

    Those are the main rules I can think of off the top of my head.

    Some less scrupulous bartenders will be happy to take all their customers cash - so be careful. I have found myself a few times "correcting" the patron (especially if they are drunk) and making sure they aren't like tipping $40 on a $20 tab. If you got a $20 tab, but drank $45 worth of liquor (If I got served with my friends three times at $15 each time) - i'd tip $15-20 (each serving gets the $5 cap rule, but the extra $5 kicker is because of the generous tab). That's just me.

    Even people who aren't regulars, but tip well, will find that the generousity of that bar will even out the amount of money you spend in the long run. If you frequent a bar that doesn't take care of you like I described - you might want to re-think where you are spending your hard earned cash.


    I like this post too. That $2 tip in Rule 2 really sucks.

    I have a couple questions: 1) Do you get people that are crude enough to ask you for a new drink when THEY spill their drink? 2) Would you give them a new drink if they asked? 3) If you did give them a new drink, would you expect a tip?

    Because all of the above happened to me today .. except he didn't tip me. ...

    I really like this post. I am a bartender as well and it's absolutely amazing how people can behave against the bartenders. i have created a website about bartending at

    it's a great site if you wanna start your career as a bartender and i will give you the tips to begin with. Great postttt....keep the hard work


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    This page contains a single entry by Furey published on November 10, 2004 12:27 PM.

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