Skip to content

Is $1 Per Drink Enough? 6 Rules for Tipping at Bars, Etiquette Experts Say

There's no one-size-fits-all dollar amount these days.

Some etiquette rules will always stay the same: Say "please" and "thank you," pass shared plates to the right, and never arrive at a party empty-handed. However, there are also rules that are constantly in flux—and the best practices for tipping is one such category. For example, how much should you tip at bars?

Factors like changes in pay structure, inflation, and the prices of goods all come into play. So, what are the new gratuity rules when you order a drink from a bartender? We set out to learn. Ahead, etiquette experts explain exactly how much—and how—to tip at your local watering hole. Hint: That old $1-per-drink advice probably doesn't hold.

READ THIS NEXT: 6 Places You Should Never Tip, According to Etiquette Experts.

6 Rules for Tipping at Bars

1. Tip by percentage.

Individual Checks at A Restaurant
AOME1812 / Shutterstock

The price of drinks has gone up considerably over the past decade, and that old $1-per-drink advice isn't up to par anymore.

"A dollar may be standard for a cup of coffee or a soda, but a bartender does more, especially if you order a cocktail versus a glass of wine where they have to work to prepare your item," says Lisa Mirza Grotts, a San Francisco-based etiquette expert.

Think about it: while cocktails use to be around $10 to $12, these days, it isn't uncommon to see them for $16 to $20.

Grotts suggests tipping 20 percent on a cocktail or the entire bill; you can tip 25 percent for truly outstanding service. If you're lucky enough to get a drink on the house, you should tip the same amount on the price you would have paid for the beverage.

2. Tip in cash.

A close up of a person taking three dollar bills out of their wallet
Shutterstock / Me dia

When in doubt, tip in cash—even if you pay for the drink on a card.

"Most bartenders still prefer cash tips unless they have a QR directly to their own account," says Jodi Smith, an etiquette consultant and owner of Mannersmith.

Credit card tips are more likely to be dinged by things like credit card processing fees or to take a longer amount of time to reach your server in their paycheck. Cash can be brought home the day it's collected (although some restaurants do pool their tips, which means it can still take a while to reach your server) and is always appreciated.

READ THIS NEXT: 8 Cocktails Bartenders Say They Would Never Order.

3. Never use your tip to barter.

Man handing money to the bartender

You don't want to be the person at the bar who's waving their cash around or talking about the big tip you plan to give if only you get a specific favor.

"It's demeaning to the bartender and reflects on your own lack of decorum," says August Abbott, PhD, an etiquette expert on JustAnswer. "Many times I've seen and heard someone lay a $20 bill in front of them and tell the bartender that it can be theirs if they do this or that—treating everyone with dignity must never be with a price."

If you want to tip big, do it quietly and without strings attached.

4. Slide a cash tip toward the bartender.

Two Dollar Tip Left For Bartender in Rustic Bar. Very shallow depth of field.
Brent Reeves / Shutterstock

The proper way to give your bartender your tip is to slide it across the bar to them when they put your drink in front of you.

"The reason here is that cash accumulating in front of you can be misread by a busy bartender: Is it for them, or is it for more drinks?" says Abbott. "Sliding it across to them upon receiving your drink makes no mistake about it."

Again, it's also much more polite than waving cash in your server's face, which should always be avoided.

For more etiquette advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

5. Never touch your server.

zoomed in shot of a bartender serving a drink with cash in the other hand
luckyraccoon / Shutterstock

Another thing to always skip when giving your bartender a tip? "Do not tuck the tip directly into the server's pockets or clothing unless specifically instructed to do so," says Smith.

It's an invasion of personal space and extremely inappropriate—even if the two of you are buddy-buddy and you don't think they'll mind.

6. Tip more in these situations.

Close up of a female bartender pouring pink cocktails into martini glasses.
Nykonchuk Oleksii / Shutterstock

There are a few times that warrant bigger-than-usual tips.

"If it's a flair bartender—with a show of flipping bottles and exaggerated moves to make even a simple cocktail—it's polite to pay for the show," says Abbott. Or, if the bar is busy, consider upping your tip.

The final time you'll want to up your offering is when you and the bartender have a good thing going. "If you are a regular and the bartender remembers your drink, you will want to tip more," says Smith. It'll ensure you continue to get the VIP treatment.

Juliana LaBianca
Juliana is an experienced features editor and writer. Read more
Filed Under