Here's a simple list of how to tip your bartender. A discussion of why will follow after the list.
Tip $1 on the following items (if you are paying cash) for each item:
1. Bottle beer that is less than $8.
2. Draft beer that is less than $8.
3. Well drinks (gin, vodka, tequila, whiskey) basically anything that is ordered like this "gin and (insert word here)" Vodka sprite/ vodka redbull/ gin and tonic/ whiskey coke...
4. House wine (less than $8)
5. Shot that the bartender knows how to make (if you have to explain it... it's more than $1).
Tip more than $1 per item if:
1. The bottle of beer costs more than $8 or is served with a glass other than a the bar's pint glass.
2. Draft beer that is more than $8.
3. A vodka/tequila/whiskey... where you specify the type of drink other than what is the well. If you ask for ciroc, tip more than $1. If you ask for Blanton's instead of the well whiskey... tip more than $1.
4. Any wine that is not the house red or house white.
5. Some shot that the bartender looks at you puzzled. If they have to go to their smartphone to look up what you said, tip them more.
Now, if you started a tab and are paying with plastic, the rules are different.
20% is a good standard tip. It equates to a $1 tip per $5 spent. That is perfectly acceptable. It's basically the same as above. It's easy to figure out 20%, double the cost and move the decimal point over one spot.
There you go, quick and painless, $1 a drink or more if paying cash, and 20% if using plastic.
So, why do you do that? Why isn't it just $1 for each time the bartender serves you? Why $1 for each bud light? Why not $1 for 4 bud lights?
Bartenders work on volume, unless at a specialty bar making craft cocktails (in which case you should be in the 20% range). At peak efficiency, I can get about 50 orders in an hour. Which if it was $1 per order, I'd be making $50 an hour. But that doesn't happen. Not everyone tips. Not everyone does $1 a beer. Tips usually average about 10-15%. The only way for a bartender to make more money (and face it, the prime reason people are working is to make money; otherwise, the bartender would probably love to be on the other side of the bar having fun too)is to either increase the number of sales, or increase the price per ticket. There comes a point when a person just can't do more in an hour. So, each transaction from "hi, welcome to..." or "what's next" to "here's your change" will take over a minute.
So how long does it take to make a drink anyway? You'd think the bartender could just make more drinks to make more money. When pouring a beer, most places like to have the beer flow at an ounce per second. So that only takes 16 seconds to fill a beer. That's not long, you should be able to do 3 a minute. That doesn't happen. A glass of beer very rarely comes out right on the first full pour. It's going to take longer, it can be too foamy, not foamy enough, pour slow, pour too quick, or worse yet the keg can blow while filling a glass, someone can be in your way and you have to wait for them to finish. All these things can make a beer pour go slow, and more.
When you go to a bar, and it seems like the bartender is taking forever to get to you, it's usually not the bartenders fault. They want to serve you as much (if not more) than you want to be served. But, many things get in the way of quick turnover. It's pretty much going to be the other customers fault. If you are waiting, be ready for when the bartender finally does get to you. Here are some things that are slowing down the bartender.
The biggest thing is a customer who keeps adding to the order. When you order, tell them everything that you will need. Once the bartender brings you that first drink, you shouldn't order another for someone else. The bartender is trying to be as efficient as possible, they don't want to make 2 trips, they definitely don't want to make 5 trips. For example, customer orders a pbr for themselves, and their girlfriend isn't ready to order yet, bartender gets the pbr and says "$2.25 please" then the customer says "she'll have a vodka redbull". The bartender then has to make another trip back to their station, and make another drink. It's more efficient and faster to get a vodka redbull and a pbr at the same time. Think of it like printing a document. Your printer is on the other side of the room. You have 5 pages to print. You hit print, and 5 pages come out, you walk over and get it. Or, you hit print page 1, go get it, print page 2, go get it, print page 3, go get it... That's 5 transactions, instead of 1.
A customer who isn't ready to order will slow down the bartender. Don't ask "what's good here?" Don't give your life story (if it's busy). Don't tell them "you've never been here before". If you aren't ready, look at the menu. Don't worry that you missed your turn. They will be back, and you should be ready then. You don't get to hold the bartender once you finally get them. That was the last customer, and you are better than that person.
Don't close a tab with a credit card each time you order a drink. If you want to pay each time, use cash. If you use a credit card, don't come back up and close a tab the next time. If you might have more than one drink, open a tab. It takes time to close a tab on a card. Time that bartenders would rather spend on turning over more customers.
If the place is really busy, perhaps don't get the fanciest "5 ingredient, muddled, shaken, served in a martini glass with a sugar coated rim" drink on the menu. When it's a slow time, sure get that thing. If it's wall to wall, and it took your an hour to order, be nice. If you are at a brewery and it's really busy, don't get a flight. Save that for when it's slow and you have a place to sit and enjoy it, and maybe the guy working can spend some time talking to you about it. Don't do it if it's wall to wall. Order easy things, you like those too.
So, to speed up things at the bar:
1. order everything at once
2. be ready to order
3. pay cash or open a tab
4. don't get a complicated drink
So, what have we learned. Hopefully how to tip a bartender, and how to speed up the process.
See you somewhere, I'm probably going to be working or drinking a whiskey on the rocks.