The Etiquette For Tipping On Cocktails Vs. Wine And Beer

Tipping at the bar is simple, right? For many people, the golden rule is one dollar per drink, no calculators required. But if you've been tipping one dollar across the board, unfortunately, you've been doing it wrong.

It seems that bartenders generally agree that a one-dollar tip is still fine for beer and glasses of wine. However, cocktails tend to be pricier and require much more of a bartender's time to prepare. Therefore, one dollar is typically too low a tip for a cocktail. Sure, if the cocktails are pre-mixed, dirt cheap, and poured out of a pitcher, a single dollar might suffice, but that's probably an unusual scenario.

How much should you tip on a cocktail, then? Bartenders' opinions seem to diverge on this. The bare minimum is probably two dollars — but if you're at a place serving fancy cocktails at higher prices, you may need to bump that tip up further (and the same rule applies if you're making an especially demanding order). A safe bet is to aim for a tip that's around 20% of the drink's price: two dollars for a $10 cocktail, or three dollars for one that costs $15. For the in-between prices, it's your call. It's probably better to round down or up to the nearest dollar, as some servers think it's rude to tip with coins — but whether you want to appear generous or stingy is really up to you.

It's all about the level of effort

A one-dollar tip for beer and wine is arguably still considered acceptable because of the amount of effort involved in serving these drinks. Pouring a beer from the tap may be a 30-second task (and if the beer is in a can or bottle, it's even easier). The same goes for wine: Bartenders only need to grab the glass and the wine bottle, pour it, and boom, it's done.

For cocktails and certain mixed drinks, bartenders need to grab, measure, and pour a variety of ingredients, then mix the drink. That's time they can't spend serving other customers and therefore earning more tips, which is why the tip is higher.

There is some debate when it comes to more expensive beers and wines. Bartenders may spend more time walking you through the nuances of craft beers or fancy wines. In this situation, a tip beyond one dollar is probably justified, but there's no clear rule; it's a case-by-case basis.

What about mixed drinks?

Of course, tipping etiquette is never perfectly straightforward, and it's the same in bars. Between the categories of "cocktails" and "beer/wine," there's a gray area. Mixed drinks, like gin and tonic or rum and coke, are technically cocktails but definitely don't require the same time and effort as most cocktails do. Considering that they usually involve pouring a liquor and a mixer into a glass (and maybe adding a wedge of lemon on top), should you tip more than one dollar for them?

It's probably best to aim for something resembling a 20% tip here, too. A vodka soda should be cheaper than an elaborate cocktail, so your tip will be lower as well.

And what about shots? You're probably safe tipping one dollar here, since it's such a quick task for the bartender. However, if you're doing shooters with top-shelf liquor, you may need to leave a larger gratuity.