Are bartenders ripping me off?

I’ve had the impression for months now that I’m not getting the alcohol in my drinks that I used to. I don’t drink to get drunk, or even “high,” but I do like the taste of some liquors and I do expect to feel something. Wine has, what, about 11 - 12% alcohol, and I can feel it after just one glass, but when I go out and get a mixed drink lately, I can neither taste the alcohol or feel any effects. Hell, I can feel one beer (I’m a small woman, so it doesn’t take much.) I much prefer a mixed drink over beer (beer is too filling), but I have the feeling bartenders are not putting in the 1 oz. (or whatever) that I’m paying for. Mixed drinks cost about $4, $5, or more these days, and I resent paying that much for a drink when I don’t think I’m getting the alcohol (which is really what you’re paying for). Anyone else have similar experience - any bartenders, please comment.

Bartender here. Well it really depends on where you go, bars are like any other establishment, no two are equal. Some do really skimp on the booze. Anyplace that serves in plastic cups will usually go light on the booze unless you know someone or flirt with the bartender. If they serve in glasses it depends what you order. Some people get single rum and cokes, but they put it in a pint glass, then it will be weak, if you get a single it should be in a rocks glass, a double can be in a highball. Only college bars put things in pint glasses. The exception is the long island iced tea. If a LONG ISLAND is made from a redimix then it will be weak, but if its made from scratch (eg poured from 4 different liquour bottles) it will be good and stiff in a pint glass.

The facts expressed here belong to everybody, the opinions to me. The distinction is
yours to draw…

Omniscient; BAG

Omni, thanks - anyway around it? I’ve tried to watch them, but usually can’t see what they’re doing. I recently was in a bar with a friend and I noticed the bartender (female, if it matters) poured the vodka right from the bottle (a “free pour” my friend said); the drink was strong for a change. Anything I can say when I order that won’t piss 'em off?

Well it kinda depends on who you are, and where you are. If you are going to the same group of bars near your home then just try out a few and find the ones and specifically the bartenders who pour well. then be loyal to those bars. If you are out in a strange bar and don’t know their habits then stick with beer, cider, or wine. You may want to order one drink and test it and if it is good keep coming back, but if it sucks don’t get anymore. Typically the trendi touristy bars in cities pour really weak. The underground joints pour good and strong. As for asking to get a good pour, that depends on you. First, if you don’t tip well, then you might as well forget it, and that may be the reason your getting shit pours to begin with. If your tipping well, and he gives a bad pour he may just be busy, and did it by accident, and won’t mind topping it off. If you have a attitude and whine about the shitty pour then he won’t do much for you. If you ask nicely, assuming he’s not REALLY busy, he’ll top it off no problem. If you are a really outgoing and friendly person and get the bartender talking to you then it is really easy to get him to make you whatever you want.

Remember the bartender has the power, so don’t treat him like a asshole. People tend to act like the bartender is a waste of their time and just want him to serve them as fast as possible and don’t even look him in the face. that pisses people off, treat him like a person, not a servant. Keep this in mind and by the end of the night he’ll be giving you freebees. Its all about loyalty and curtousey, the nicer you are and he better you tip, it will be paid back to you in spades. Bartenders never forget a face. Remember there are some bartenders who think they are gods gift to you and will be a dick no matter what, if you find one of those, go someplace else and don’t give him any of your money. If you visit 10 bars and their all assholes, it may be you.

The facts expressed here belong to everybody, the opinions to me. The distinction is
yours to draw…

Omniscient; BAG

I’m never rude and always tip well.(I was a waitress in another life, so I know what the tips mean). However, I’m usually with my boyfriend and he takes care of the tip. He’s strictly a beer drinker. At one place I complained to him that my mudslide was weak, and when I finished it, he asked the bartender to give me another and to give it a little “boost.” I figured he’d get charged for a double that way, but don’t know if he did - he didn’t say when he paid the tab, so maybe not.

Find a cozy little neighborhood bar and become a regular. I mean someplace were people go to DRINK, not dance or get lucky. Clues are signs saying they open at 6AM or people sitting at the bar that look as if they’ve been there about a week. It helps if you go where the bartender drinks and you show up late enough that they’re fairly tipsy themselves. On occasion I’ve gotten Greyhounds with the merest hint of juice in them. I actually had to ask for water to thin it myself! At one place a friend ordered a scotch; the bartender poured her a shot and said “That doesn’t look right.” so she opened a fresh bottle and poured another and put them next to each other. The first bottle had been obviously watered by someone (alcoholic cleaning staff or dishonest owner?) So perhaps you may be getting what the bartenders think is a full pour, but from a watered down bottle. If you’re going to someplace that’s especially jumpin’ I don’t suspect this is the problem…they’d probably go through several fresh bottles of liquor a night.

You could always bring your own liquor to the bar. The bartender will think it’s a great idea! :slight_smile:
Anyone see that “Caught On Tape!!” special where a bartender was caught on hidden camera urinating into someone’s drink? Makes you want to stay on a bartender’s good side.

If you’re that serious about drinking, then take my philosophy: drink straight. Anything right out of the bottle is the shit.

I’ve been an alcoholic for 10 years, and I have no knowledge of mixed drinks.

Like George Thoroughgood sings: One bourbon, one scotch, one beer…

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Having bartended a little and drunk more than a little in my day, I’ve found that joking with the bartender helps. “Give me a Maker’s, and put some Coke in it.” (This is necessary because any good Kentuckian knows that Makers and Coke is best with the proportions reversed.) Or just say, “Rum and Coke, heavy on the rum” and most bartenders will get the message and set you up.

Oh, and Long Island Iced Teas from a pre-mix are criminal. My signature variation is the Maxwell Street Pink Lemonade (created in my undergrad hovel on Maxwell Street)–four ounces of clear booze, heavy on the gin, good dose of sour mix, and shot of grenadine shaken with ice and a lemon wedge, topped off with club soda. Served in a pint glass with a straw. Light and refreshing–best consumed on one’s back porch at 5:30 PM on a humid Kentucky summer afternoon. (If you want to be drunk by 6:00, that is–and of course, you do.)

Dr. J

Went to a bar in Big Sur, California and the drink tasted midly ‘minty.’ It should not have of course. Turned out the waitress got the bottles mixed up and put the cheap cheap minty liquor in the bourbon bottle with the expensive label.

What could be happening Sycorax, is that the bartender may be putting water into the bottles of liquor before they open the bar. They can also put cheap liquor in a bottle with a fancy label. With vodka, putting water in the bottle to thin it out is easy to do.

With wine you really can’t do that water bit but you can put cheap wine in a bottle [so insist they open a new bottle for you].

Not all bars do this, but some do.

Hope it isn’t a problem these days, but 30 years ago Mom used to switch martinis with Dad because they think a woman won’t know [a good martini] A surprising number of times there was a discernable difference.

Thanks all for the suggestions. BTW, beeruser (interesting name for an alcoholic),
I’m not “serious” about drinking - I have no more than 2 mixed drinks occasionally (I’m usually the designated driver), but as I said, I DO expect to get what I pay for!
Doc3 - good idea! Next time I’ll say “vodka and tonic, and heavy on the vodka.” And Felinecare - yes, I’ve wondered if they’re making them weak because they think a woman won’t notice (or complain). Thanks again.

In my professional opinion, make sure you ask for premium liquor. Even though you don’t drink to catch a buzz. Cheap liquor doesn’t pack the same punch. I may cost you a dollar more, but since you only have a couple, that shouldn’t break the bank. You feel better the next day, too. Also, knowing the bartender was excellent advice from my fellow --? Be nice-even if you don’t know them if you sit and watch and chat you will get a better drink.

If you buy it in the grocery store, Stoli is about $1.50 a shot.
If you get it in a bar, its $4.00 AND you have to tip the bartender well for the 10 seconds it takes to dump it in a glass, AND you have to kiss his butt so he will give you the proper amount, AND you have to worry about him sneaking some cheap Russian radiator juice in the bottle before you got there?
I’m guessing some of this behaviour is hold over from prohibition, and I know I’m a cheap asshole, but doesnt anyone else find this unreasonable? I mean, paying that kind of markup, aren’t customers entitled to decent service?

Don’t know much about business do you? That extra $3 you pay per shot, does not go to the bartender, it goes to the establishment for good reason. The bartender is lucky to get 50% of minumum wage and he makes virtually all of his money on tips, so if you try and argue against tipping because of the “mark up” factor, then your screwing the wrong guy. Bartenders don’t doctor drinks, it hurts their tips to do so, they want you happy with the booze. Its the cheap ass owners who do it when no ones looking. If the bartenders know it, you can be sure word will spread and no one will drink there, bartenders have no stake in the business and have no desire to screw their friends and loyal customers with shit liquor.

As for the mark up. It all goes to the giant sin taxes that the cities apply to the bars because of their unpleasant influence in neighborhoods, and to the huge insurance rates the bars must pay to run a bar. The bar makes very little money on each shot, especially premiums. The low overhead stuff is where the money comes from, stuff like tap beer, and the well liquors. It cost about 3 cents to pour a pint of domestic beer, but they charge upwards of $3 bones for it. They make maybe a buck off of that, as opposed to the quarter they make off a shot of Stoli.

The facts expressed here belong to everybody, the opinions to me. The distinction is
yours to draw…

Omniscient; BAG

The message I’m getting from reading this thread is that if the customers don’t tip WELL or aren’t freindly, they get shit service.
What other businesses are like this?
For the bar tender to make an extra $10/hr I would have to tip him about a nickle to pour my drink. (Course it would be a lot more if I orderd mixed drink that require actual effort.)

So, what is considered a good tip? What’s adequate?

I drink in bars very rarely (maybe once a year), and I usually go to a table (so there’s a waitperson), since I’m usually with my wife. I typically try for between 15 and 20 percent, so roughly half a buck on a $3 beer, 75 cents on a $4 mixed drink. Is that reasonable, or should it be more like a buck a drink independent of the price?

Rick (Mudslide? Greyhound? I know from Gin and Tonics and Screwdrivers. Kids these days, such funny potions!)

I think a good tip depends on the place, how busy it is, and what kind of service you want, and what freebies the bartender gives you.

For example, if you are in a crowded nightclub, and expect to be there a while, and you want the bartender to give you drinks as you approach the bar, then make sure that your first tip is a good one. More than ten dollars on the first drink wouldn’t be out of line (by the way, I’m from Manhattan, so adjust prices accordingly)

Also, if the bartender is giving me free drinks, I’ll typically tip somewhere in the neighborhood of what the free drinks cost. This saves me from giving a tip at all (assuming that I would’ve bought those drinks)

As others have noted, though, I think you have to go out of your way to piss off the bartender. Of course, some people seem to go out of their way to piss off everybody.


There’s several bars in DC (Dan’s Cafe in Adams Morgan and Trio’s/Fox & Hounds in Dupont are the 2 that come to mind) that simply give you a glass full of whatever liquor you ordered and a small bottle of whatever mixer you ordered. Ordering a gin & tonic will yeild a glass of ice & gin (a pretty full one too) with a small 8-10 bottle of tonic water (good cus I hate gin & tonic with sweet & sour mix). You can then make the drink in the proportions that you prefer.

Anyone that’s seen me at 2 AM after visiting these fine establishments can vouch that they’re NOT watering down the booze.

Whats a good tip? that all depends on the type of place. Some bars I’ve been at were thrilled to get a quarter, but those aren’t likely to be anyones main watering hole.

Whats a good tip. A good rule is a dollar on any single drink ordered. Now this can get a bit steep if all your drinking is bottles for 2.25. Usually rounding up to the next even dollar as long as it no less than .50. is a safe bet. This is generous tipping under average circumstances, some pretentious bars do expect a dollar at absolute minimum. Most people looking for a average tip order in rounds of at least two drinks at a time. In this case a dollor is good for the whole round. One exception, if the waitress/bartender helps carry a lot of drinks like 6, you need to tip more. Another exception, if any of the drinks is a difficult drink, like a frozen or ice cream drink, a rare drink that he may need to find help on making, then tip more too. Really percentages are silly to do in a bar because you end up tipping 35 cents on a beer. Just round up to the even buck, and if you go through a handful of rounds and think you’ve already tipped a lot then skip a round every so often. This is fine if you’ve been to the same bartender every trip, he’ll remember and understand.

If your getting freebies, tipping the cost of the drink is reasonable.

The facts expressed here belong to everybody, the opinions to me. The distinction is
yours to draw…

Omniscient; BAG