People Tip Differently for Drinks vs. Food

People Tip Differently for Drinks vs. Food

Quick question:

Say you’re at a bar, and you order a drink. Not too cheap, and not too expensive…Say, five dollars. How much would you tip?

If you’re like most people to whom I ask this question, and I ask it every time I meet a prospective student, you usually tip about two dollars. If I ask another question, like “how did you come up with the two dollar amount?” They will often respond with, “Well, I always tip at least two dollars.” I then ask another question: “Would you ever tip less than a dollar?” And they say “No, I never would.” And it’s true. Ask any bartender, at a watering hole with dollar Miller Lite specials, and you’ll see they stick to those parameters.

It’s important to realize this tipping distinction, because it’s crucial to understanding how bartenders, particularly bartenders at high volume bars, make money. When people order food, they typically have a percentage of the bill that they leave as a tip. For most people, unless they get unusual service, meaning service so stellar or terrible that it shocks them out of their routine, they will continue to stick to their percentage no matter where they go. What’s interesting is that when people order drinks, they tip in dollars. They don’t, for a five dollar drink, make the calculation:

$5.00 x .15 (15%) = $0.75

Instead, they just tip $2, which in practice is, 40%.

This effect is magnified in an environment where a lot of cheaper drinks are ordered. Take a table of five guys who order 3 $1 draft specials vs. 3 orders of chicken fingers:

15 Drinks (5 guys x 3 dollar drafts) x 1 (dollar/drink tip) = $15

Percentage of bill: 100%

5 orders of chicken fingers (7$/Order) = $35 x .015 (15% tip) = $5.25

Percentage of bill: 15%

So, in any environment but especially in high volume environments, the amount of money bartenders make is substantially more than servers working in the same environments, because behave, and tip differently when they order drinks.

For more research on how bartenders make money, you can go to this article which examines the issue in more detail: