Ask the Salty Waitress: How much do I tip on a non-alcoholic drink at a bar?

A 20% tip on a dollar cup of soda is definitely cheap, but will a bigger tip make me look weird?

a bartender pours a drink; the Salty Waitress logo
Photo: Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group (Getty Images), Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio (Getty Images)

Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com.

Hello Salty,

I’m in recovery for substances. I’m secure enough in my recovery that I never mind going out with people for drinks and to socialize, especially with patio season approaching. However, I always feel embarrassed that my bill is just a coffee or soda and it limits the tipping percentage, but at the same time it looks weird when I leave a big tip on just a basic beverage. I don’t enjoy ordering mocktails, it feels condescending. What’s the best etiquette here? Just leave a tip percentage for what two cocktails would cost?

Signed,

Sober and also salty

First of all, doll, I’m thrilled to hear that your recovery is going well, and I’m glad you’re feeling good about going out again. You should be proud of yourself, and I mean that from the bottom of my briny heart.

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And now on to your question: While yes, you are correct that it’s a dick move to leave a 20-cent tip on a dollar cup of Sprite, I’ve never met a server who turned down a large tip or laughed at someone for leaving a dollar or two or five for that same cup. Money is money, honey, money is life, and we’re happy to take it.

Also, sometimes your “basic beverage” isn’t so basic. It doesn’t take that much effort to pop open a bottle or pull a pint from the tap, but it does take some time and a little more work to fulfill an unusual request like, say, brewing a fresh pot of coffee if there isn’t already one on the burner or if the old one has gotten a little, shall we say, caramelized. It also takes some effort to dig out the old cream and sugar.

And there are other factors to consider: how busy is it? Did you get your drink at the bar, or did your server have to shove their way through a wall of drunk bros to bring you that cup of coffee? How many refills did you get? What I’m saying, sugar pie, is that even a cheap non-alcoholic drink is still work for somebody.

I don’t know how much two cocktails cost where you live, but it sounds to me like your instincts are sound: leave a couple of bucks, leave more if there was extra effort involved, and enjoy your time with your friends.

DISCUSSION

By
Mehphisto

I usually give a $1 when all they had to do was open a bottle of beer, I don’t have an issue doing the same for pouring a soda.