A Modest Proposal to Stop Tipping Bartenders


Bartending was, by far, the most enjoyable job I've ever had. Think about it: Get paid to listen to music, talk to attractive women, casually watch television, and comment on current events without people thinking you're crazy. 

But I don't understand America's tipping culture. Why don't we tip the people who do our dry cleaning? The bus and subway drivers who get us safely from point A to point B (or pilots for that matter)? The people who serve us at casual cafes or fast-food restaurants or the security guards who protect us at work and at school from the filthy unaccredited masses, or for that matter, bouncers?

Why do we tip taxi drivers 10% to 15%, waiters and waitresses 15% to 20%,  and hotel chambermaids $1 per night, while bartenders expect to rake in $1 per drink (or more if we're feeling generous)? 

Why aren't all professions created equally? And why is this hypothetical bartender the worst offender, in that he or she collects the same $2 for two drinks that required exactly 19 seconds of work as what I tip to the delivery person (dare I say man!) who has just braved rain, snow, sleet, and hail to bring me my bento box? (In the big city, we don't tip our mail delivery folk either, because, at least in my case, we don't even know who they are. That said, my dad has always made a habit to give the old Christmas bonuses to our letter carriers in suburbia.

During my years in England, I never once tipped a bartender. It would have been totally strange to do so. When I bartended in Dublin, Ireland, the vast majority of my tips came from American tourists and business travelers (thanks for keeping the Celtic Tiger roaring for a few more years!). Occasionally, some regular customers at Bruxelles on Harry Street would say to me, "Take one for yourself," with the expectation that I'd charge them for an additional drink and either pound something on the job or put the cash in my pocket (mercifully, "management" looked the other way in the former situations). But tipping, in any form, was a very rare occurrence reserved only for instances when my performance was exceptional in the face of adversity (read: delivering large orders in a timely fashion when the pub was a rowdy zoo!).

In no place other than America are people paid $1 as a standard "thanks" for delicately removing the top off of a glass bottle or pulling a pint. And when America's Bartenders do this 50 times in one hour, it ads up to quite a bit more than the $7.25 New York City minimum wage or $10.25 in places like San Francisco with "living wages."

That overly-bearded hipster who has ignored you in favor of people who display more cleavage or douchebags who are more aggressive than you or jerks who flash large bills, is clearing nearly $500 — 80% in cash — during a standard 8-hour shift on a busy night. And when he doesn't serve you for 15 minutes, despite your constant eye contact, followed by internal heeing and hawing about how you're not going to tip the bastard, you do it anyway, for fear of retribution that if you don't tip him this time, your 15 minute wait will be doubled to a half hour sentence next time.

As a non-cocktail drinker, I am particularly irked when I lay down $1 for the usually no more than 12 seconds to crack open a beer or pour a glass of wine. I'd happily keep a bottle opener on my keychain and then handle it myself, and charge neither friends nor fellow barmates for my services.

There are even folks who tip even better than the standard $1 per drink. Oftentimes, these people have worked at some point in their lives within the service industry, and say things like, "I know what it's like to live off of tips." And to that, I wonder, is it like being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, whereby you're paid disproportionately well relative to the work that you're doing?

Fact: It's not hard to earn out-sized tips when people are drunk. And the $1 tip becomes, $50 on $35 worth of drinks and so on. But this is ludicrous. Bartenders, other than their value as untrained psychologists for the "regulars," provide very little social value.

We can all bet that those bartenders from sea to shining sea, and most certainly in swing states, will be voting for Mr. Romney this fall, since they've got way more in common with him than the journalists, cops, retail employees, teachers, and non-profiteers who make way less dough.

Thus, I have created a modest proposal for fixing this problem. Maybe, the type of bar that I need to find, is the one that lets technology do the work, fully replacing the bartender. Let us, as they stay in start-upland, "disrupt" the bar. 

My technical solutions? Well, 16 Handles got it right by charging people by the weight for frozen yogurt. Why not do the same for alcohol? Either use vending machines that distribute specific alcohols based on weight (perhaps using a credit card verification check) or let people distribute their own alcohol from taps. Of course, while firing the bartenders, it would be wise to have a couple of non-tipped bouncers around to make sure that drunkards aren't getting served. And this also eliminates the waiting, the possibility of misheard orders, and the lack of a linear structure in determining who is served first.

After griping about this issue, a British friend recently told me, "I believe this is a substitute for a social welfare system here. However, like all welfare systems, it has been abused beyond its original, noble, intentions."

What if you took all of the money that you would tip to bartenders in a given week, and then donated it to a charity? Then, you'd feel way better about yourself ... and have a hefty tax deduction. In the mean time, you can use your "tax refund" to work on that bar disruption start-up.