In an essay published by Deadspin this week, writer Will Gordon dove into the culture of tipping, especially why you need to be tipping your bartender more. It's deeper than getting better service and knowing that you won't be that asshole that they're making fun of after hours:
When you go out drinking on Saturday night, the bartenders may seem to be getting rich a soggy dollar at a time—but what about the dozens of hours a week when you're not there and neither is anyone else? That's when they're chopping limes, cleaning bathrooms, and arguing with their bookies for $2.63 an hour. And most bartenders don't receive any health benefits or paid leave, and they have little job security. This lack of guaranteed income is why you need to tip bartenders even when you're not thrilled with their service. You still have to pay the dental hygienist even if he makes your gums bleed—hell, right now your boss is paying you, even though you're reading this post instead of doing your job at all. Most Americans get paid when they suck, and there's no ethical grounds to exclude bartenders from this beautiful racket.
And, you should tip more than a dollar a drink. That dollar-a-drink guideline has been in place for decades—but your bartender's rent hasn't remained fixed since 1991, so why should her wage? You could mess around with fractions and coins and percentages, or you could just leave two bucks a drink. Do that instead. (Unless you get some complicated 7-step, $13-dollar cocktail; then you gotta tip $3.)
Gordon acknowledges that you don't have to tip your bartender. "For the most part, they'll keep serving you, because for the most part, they're decent people who don't want to be lousy at their jobs," he writes. "They'll hate you, sure, but that won't make your beer any warmer."
It's what you should do, though: "Contrary to the prevailing myth, we don't really tip as an incentive for better service. We tip to be good people." It's deeper than keeping a clear conscience, it's for the people serving you. They remember that and show it.