Kavorka, a friend of the site and part-time bartender, posed the titular (hehe) rhetorical question, writing the following:
Unless you are cheap, naïve, or just plain stubborn, you understand that there is a fairly universal (at least in the United States) understanding that when you order a drink from a bartender, there’s a built-in $1 tip. Obviously, it doesn’t make much sense. If I order a $5 Amstel, I’m leaving $6. If I’m ordering an $8 Long Island Iced Tea, I’m safe leaving $9. So, a drink that involves 8 ingredients and takes at least 40 seconds to prepare, serve and charge warrants the same tip as “preparing” a bottle of Amstel Light?
Swallow this…If a bartender, in a perfect world, had constant business of bottled-beer clients for an hour, he or she can expect $180/hour. (Assuming 20 seconds between customers, including opening the bottle, taking payment, etc). Clearly this never happens, but the bottom line is, if you give a bartender $1 for a beer, you are paying a labor rate of $3/minute. Even the most complex drinks (i.e. Long Island Iced Tea @ 40 Seconds) puts you at a $90/hour labor rate (again, assuming $1 tip).
Every time a bartender opens a beer for me, and yields $1 tip from me, I can’t help but think of my barber. Clearly, haircuts (men’s and women’s) drastically range in both price and time of completion, so do your own math. At what rate are you paying your barber/stylist? My haircuts take 25 minutes, have a list price of $20, and I leave a $5 tip (which, due to my nosiness, I know is actually generous). This equates to a labor rate of $12/hour. Is a beer that you’re going to likely finish in 10-15 minutes more important than a haircut that you will live with until your next haircut? Nope. Should you still tip your bartender $1/Drink?
I have my answer and explanation. However, I’d like to hear your opinions first. Clearly…there’s no right answer here. Just something to think about.
The Efficient Drinker’s Response: I think there are a few factors in play.
- Bartenders work shorter shifts and are not paid an hourly salary whereas the barber is probably paid an hourly salary somewhat dependent on the cost of the haircut. So in figuring his hourly wage, some part of the haircut cost can be attributed to him and he works many more hours, so can presumably make a living on salary plus tips. Still, a bartender who works 2 shifts a week at a popular bar can easily out-earn a barber working 40+ hours.
- The rest of the factors are social. In a busy bar, I’m paying for scarcity. I want to get served next time. If I don’t tip or tip $1 for a round of 4 beers, I can count on waiting a long time.
- If I’m in a busy bar, it’s somewhat likely that courting the opposite sex is in play. If not me, my friends are trying to. Looking cheaper than average is bad for business.
- Let’s take the case of a non-busy bar. Patrons there are paying a tip for the bartender to be interactive. Let’s face it: a standoffish unfriendly bartender on a slow night is going to lose whatever customers he or she has. Those patrons are not there for the crowd. It’s cheaper to drink store-bought beer or liquor. That person is paying for companionship in a sense.
With all that said, I think the culture of the United States has evolved to demand this disproportionate tipping as social norm and breaking from it will defeat whatever purpose for having been in the bar. Even the above justification can’t explain how the labor rates swung this far — barbers, on average, require more training than bartenders. I’ve never gotten a haircut in a foreign country (language barrier somewhat withstanding, getting a haircut is way scarier than getting a drink in all but the shadiest places) but can say that tipping bartenders is next to nonexistent in almost all of the 20 some-odd foreign countries I’ve been to. They are paid an hourly and seem to find that commensurate with the job. Maybe, the US is just an odd place.