The Great Tipping Debate

Tipping can be a difficult subject in the bar industry. As a bar owner, bartender and regular consumer, I see it from every perspective and it can be tricky to get right.

It’s a subjective area as to how much you should tip in different situations and different countries around the world, and everyone has a different view. 

Personally I always tip because I work in hospitality and I know that most people are on a basic salary. In the Netherlands we don’t have much of a tipping culture compared to the US, where it’s a necessity because of the wage structure, but here it’s a bonus. 

From the perspective of a bar owner, if I’m in one of my bars but o duty and I give a friend or business partner a free drink, then I love it if they say thank you by giving a generous tip. That way I don’t feel I’m cheating my staff out of tips by giving away free drinks. 

However. the real dilemma comes when the bar owner isn’t present and a bartender offers free drinks. In a way it’s the , because they’re giving away something which isn’t theirs and expecting more tips in return. That’s why we have guidelines in place for free drinks too. 

As an operator it’s important to have a clear tipping structure. We pay our staff a full-time wage and divide all the tips each night among the bar staff on shift. We don’t share it with the cleaners or cooks because, for me, they’re being paid to do their job, whereas I believe tips should go to the customer-facing bartenders who have to smile on demand and go the extra mile to make the guests feel welcome. The tips are also shared relative to the hours each member of bar staff has worked that evening to make it as fair as possible, while rotating them so they aren’t always working Mondays or busy Saturdays. 

Many bar owners don’t take tips and, while I understand this, I disagree. Yes I’m a bar owner, but I’m also a bartender and if I’ve worked a full shift behind the bar then I feel I’ve earned the right to that money. The other issue is, if I don’t take tips then the bar staff I’ve worked with that night will get a much bigger share of the pot, which isn’t fair on the others and then I end up with staff only wanting to work shifts when I’m behind the bar. 

From a regular consumer’s perspective, tipping is a simple equation – add the percentage if you’re satisfied with the service and add extra if you’ve had a great time. But as a member of the industry it’s different. When we visit other bars and get free drinks should you not tip because you’re both industry, or do you overtip because you got something for free? I think it ultimately depends on how well you know the bartender and whether they’re independent or not. But one thing I don’t like is a showoff – someone who likes to make a point of tipping over the top, because it creates a vicious cycle and puts pressure on others to do the same.