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Why $1 Isn�t Enough

Bartenders have been getting tipped a buck a drink since the sixties. They want more.

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Hoy Wong, 89, a bartender at the Algonquin Hotel whose last extended break from slinging cocktails came during World War II, said he thought tipping a dollar became customary in the sixties. “Now,” he says, “same thing.” The dollar-a-drink rule, it seems, has shown dogged persistence. Zagat’s reports that for its 2002-03 New York City Nightlife guide the average price of a drink—cocktail, wine, or beer—was $6.92. For the 2005-06 edition it was $8.83. Since that’s a 27.6 percent spike, you might think those tipping $1 three years ago would leave $1.28 today. Not likely, bartenders and tipping experts say. Most people abhor tipping in coins, says Michael Lynn, a professor at Cornell University who studies tipping. “It’s an inconvenience to handle small money. We don’t pass that on.” This means, however, that instead of incremental raises in tips, there’s a 100 percent jump to $2 if you’re feeling generous at the bar. For many, that’s a hike that remains too stiff to swallow. “It’s not like you can tell somebody you gotta tip more because the price of drinks has gone up,” says Conor O’Sullivan, owner of the Four-Faced Liar in the West Village. Especially not when leaving $1 doesn’t generally draw scoffs. Stacie Krajchir, who co-wrote The Itty Bitty Guide to Tipping, thinks only legislation or some other great force can dislodge this old habit. “Maybe Oprah needs to talk about it.”


Emily Furr, 25, Columbia grad student
Spotted at: Russian Samovar, drinking vodka.
Regular tip: Maybe a dollar.
Why? It’s not like they have to work that hard.
How’d you learn to tip at bars?
My dad. He taught me to tip at restaurants, and the concept is pretty similar.
How many drinks at bars do you have in an average week?
At best one. Architecture school is killing me.


Stewart Whalley, 28, bartender/bar, manager at Wogies
Spotted at: 7B, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon in cans.
Regular tip: $2.
Why? I know what assholes come in tipping 50 cents or $1.
Would you tip in change?
Oh, get fucked. You shouldn’t do it. Please don’t do it. Bartenders remember you. If you come into my bar and do that, I’ll remember you.
How many drinks at bars do you have in an average week?
Sixty to 70.


Shanan Kurtz, 27, boutique salesgirl and assistant to an art dealer
Spotted at: Café Orlin, drinking lemonade with mint.
Regular Tip: $1.
Why?
Somehow that seems to be standard among everyone I know. It’s what we do.
Would you tip in change?
I don’t really do it.
How many drinks at bars do you have in an average week?
Not many.


Dan Lettier, 23, bouncer/drummer
Spotted at: The Four-Faced Liar.
Regular tip?
If I’m broke, $1. Maybe more if I wasn’t.
Why?
It’s what I can afford. And they’re only pouring you a drink.
How’d you learn to tip at bars?
A friend a couple years older than me. He yelled at me, said I should show more respect to bartenders.
How many drinks at bars do you have in an average week? Let’s say twenty.


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