How To Tip Your Bartender Correctly No Matter Where You Are In The World

When it comes to cocktails, Simon Ford is the guy to know. After earning a Wine and Spirits Education Certificate in the UK, he went on to work for Seagrams and now holds the heady title of Global Spirits & Cocktail Brand Expert for Pernod Ricard USA. For real, it's on his business card. In Simon's weekly column, Drink Ford Tough, he tells you everything you ever needed to know about the art of the cocktail. And how to drink better.

Tipping brings you good karma — it's just a fact of life. And bad tipping, or a lack of tipping, can lead to a short pour, unbalanced drinks and just poor service. Do you want that? We didn't think so. Tipping is a way of showing your appreciation for the bartender. That said, it's not always clear what you should tip given your location.

From crowded dive bars to table service to cocktail lounges — where bartenders spend three or four minutes to make your fine cocktail — tipping has gotten complicated. On top of that, the bartender might give you a drink on the house (what do you do then?) or you may be abroad and not know the local etiquette. There's no doubt that navigating tipping culture can be confusing for even the most experienced drinkers.

To ensure that your tipping practices are up to par, here are a few rules that I've found reliable in almost every situation:

Tipping like an insider

In the industry, it's quite common to tip big on the first round. And if you do you'll usually get a drink on the house. By throwing down a generous tip at the beginning of the night (we're saying $20-$100 for the round), you're definitely creating goodwill with your bartender and you can expect better service.

Cash vs. credit card

If you pay with your card, definitely go for the 20 percent tip, but keep in mind that bartenders always prefer cash. Alternatively, you can pay with a credit card and then leave the tip in cash, which is a nice gesture.

A drink on the house

If a bartender gives you your drinks on the house, he's given you a gift. You have to be very careful in this situation because you don't want to insult the person who just wanted to treat you to a great evening on the house by trying to pay them for the drinks. My suggestion is consider what you may have spent on those drinks and estimate what a 20 percent tip would be. Then just carefully say, "Thank you so much for the drinks on the house. I just want to tip your bartenders if that's OK with you."

A high volume bar vs. an upscale bar

Ultimately, a lot of people think tipping a dollar per drink is the way to go, which is cool in a high volume dive bar. But if you're going to a more upscale establishment, 20 percent should be the rule just as it is in a restaurant if you receive good service.

When someone else picks up the tab

When someone picks up the tab and tips badly, it can be really embarrassing. I have to be honest, I have no answer for that situation other than perhaps go back to the bar on another occasion and tip handsomely. Or, if you anticipate this problem, try offering to pay the tip yourself.

Tipping abroad

Navigating tipping customs can be difficult when you're traveling abroad. In England, for instance, you would never tip in a pub, but you would buy the bartender a drink. It's a way of showing respect for the bartender. If you go to a cocktail bar in London, however, you're expected to tip.

Two countries that always fascinate me are the U.S. and Japan. In the U.S. it's almost expected to tip even if you have bad service, which can be confusing. And it can potentially lead to a bad service culture if it's not managed correctly. Japan is the polar opposite. Because service is so ensconced in the Japanese culture, tipping would be an insult since serving is what you do — it's an art. So you would not tip in a Japanese bar.

My general rule of thumb when traveling internationally is to tip 10 percent. That might mean you're overtipping in a lot of places, but 10 to 12.5 percent seems to be a good consistent tip across the board. And if you're still not sure, don't hesitate to ask the bartender. The bartender's job is to be your man of local knowledge, so you can ask him to recommend other bars, restaurants and places to go. As for tipping, he'll tell you the best-case scenario for a bartender of course, but he won't mind you asking.

Final pointers

  • You should never put the tip in the bartender's hand. It's a forceful way to push money on to someone and the tip is usually for everyone in the house anyway.
  • If I'm speaking from the bartender's point of view, waving your money will not get my attention. In fact, waving cash around may lead to slower service for you. But having your money ready for prompt payment helps speed up my night.
  • If in doubt, TIP BIG.
  • If you are rich and/or famous, TIP BIGGER.