In this week's edition of Ask the Critic, Sam Sifton tells a soon to be 21 year old Brooklynite who is looking for some advice on celebrating his birthday what he considers some "specific and non-negotiable" rules to drinking in New York City bars. These rules include:
1. Know what you want to drink when the bartender asks you.Rule No. 1 could be OK if it was limited to jukebox or neighborhood pubs that aren't in the business of specialty cocktails, but even then, if you are undecided between a beer or whiskey or whatever your pleasure when the bartender asks, then it's your right to tell them you need a minute. The bartender's time isn't that valuable that they cannot be made to wait a moment or at an upscale place even ask for the bartender's choice. Rule No. 2 is on the vague side, because what really constitutes a mixed drink? Is he talking about a daiquiri or mudslide, or is he talking about a Manhattan or Old Fashioned? While one should be embarrassed to be with someone who orders the former, it doesn't seem far fetched to think that any bartender worth a tip knows how to make the latter.
2. Do not order mixed drinks in a bar with a jukebox.
3. Tip well on every round of drinks you purchase. Seriously. Every round.
The debate over how to tip a bartender for a drink has raged for quite some time. A poll on the matter in 2009 showed that the public overwhelmingly believed that $1 a drink was plenty. Sifton's predecessor Frank Bruni then picked up the debate in Diner's Journal, and while not giving any formal recommendation but seemed to come down somewhere between $1 a drink and 20% of the total bill. Pete Wells then said that he likes to tip big up front and then hope that it pays off in good service for the rest of the night. Different tipping techniques, but both acceptable.
Sifton's rule is that you have to tip well on every round purchased, but it's this writer's opinion that tips in restaurants, bars, barber shops or wherever, are not required, they are earned. While we appreciate that the bartender occupation is one that depends on tips to pay the bills, it seems ridiculous that after you pay $10 to $16 for two beers, your bill should increase by 30 - 50% because the person who gave them to you ran up a large credit card bill last month. But that's not to say that a well crafted cocktail or multiple hours of service by one bartender aren't worthy of something beyond the standard $1, but however much you get to leave in gratuity is your call. Anyway, it's our experience that how you act is usually almost as important to a bartender as how much you spend, and that your beer will get there just as fast and just as cold if it's ordered with patience and a smile and not met with a big tip. Also: there are no rules to drinking in New York except to be 21 and not act like an asshole.