“A bartender gave me some free stuff. Was I a douche for not tipping?”
Well, first off, you’re not a douche. Being a “Douche” is a binary thing, you either are, or you aren’t. The fact that you are feeling guilty and even wondering about not tipping, indicates to me that you are probably not a douche. If you were a douche, you would feel perfectly comfortable and deserving of every free thing that came your way.
However, you should have tipped. One thing someone said to me once, which has always stuck in my mind, “If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to drink.” I know you had some excuse about only having a credit card and not getting a bill. The thing to do, in that case, is to ask the bartender, “Could you charge me for something, so I can leave a tip?” Most likely the person will waive you away and tell you to, “get me next time,” but at least they know you weren’t stiffing them. In any case, even if you did forget, you’re not a douche, and there was drinking involved, so likely they’ll figure it will all come out in the wash eventually.
Some handy reading…
At all the places I’ve worked, a certain amount of free drinks or discounts are allowed (and accounted for) per shift, at the bartender’s, or manager’s, discretion. Further confounding the individual joys and benefits of “buybacks”, everywhere I’ve worked is a pooled house. That is, everyone working receives a certain amount of shares of the night’s tips, including waiters, bus boys, and naturally, bar backs.
As a customer, the rule you should go by, is: You must tip on the full value of services or products received, end of story.
The phenomenon of celebrity and star bartenders aside, in California, bartending is a minimum wage service job, Period. Very few benefits, no paid vacation days, and no sick days. You were wondering why so many of your favorite bartenders quit the job for “Brand Rep”, management, or consulting gigs as soon as they accumulated enough credibility? The only way for bartenders (and waiters) to make any sort of decent money is through tips.
In my opinion, you should apply the exact same criteria to tipping bartenders, as you do towards waiters. 15-30% of the total goods and services received, based on your feeling about the quality of service and the drinks received. Anything less, unless you are really trying to make a statement, is kind of cheap. Anything more, and we kind of feel like you’re trying to buy our attentions. Though, sometimes, when a huge credit card bill is looming, I don’t mind feeling bought…
And as regards credit or debit cards, yes, small businesses pay fairly hefty fees on each credit or debit transaction, so if you truly want to support the bar or small business, and give them 100% of the dollars you spend, pay in cash. Do you really want to give Wells Fargo, Bank of America, or Chase any more of your money than you already are? Are you concerned about your favorite bar going out of business or your favorite bank? I think the Fed has your bank’s back, it’s up to you to support the restaurant or bar. However, if the only way you’re going to go out, is if you use a card, then, please, by all means, pay and tip with the card.
I hope this helps!