A day in the life of a bartender: reaching the tipping point

Elizabeth Golden

The grueling life of a college student is nothing short of stressful. Taking 18 credit hours with almost 40 hours of homework is no simple task. Having time for a job may be nearly impossible for most college students, so server jobs may be the best option. They allow for a flexible schedule with pretty decent money. The only problem is the average server makes $2.13 an hour, which adds up to pretty much nothing. Most shifts are five to eight hours, so the server usually makes around $15 a shift, not including tax.

This forces servers to rely mainly on tips for income, but attaining tips is harder than it seems since the average American doesn’t seem to understand the difficulty of service jobs and the importance of extra cash to help the abysmal hourly wage.

I work as a bartender in a movie theatre. Like many others, I am forced to live solely on tips, which makes paying for college very difficult. Depending on the level of generosity and business, I could walk away with as little as $4 or as much as $200 per shift. Lately, my income has landed on the lower end of the spectrum.

According to Bankrate’s latest Financial Security Index, this could be partly due to the economy. 16 percent report they now tip less because of a lack of money. Others believe they haven’t changed their tipping habits, but servers still get jipped out of the deal.

“What’s interesting is that roughly 80 percent of the country thinks about tipping in percentage terms, and then about 20 percent thinks about it in dollar terms,” says Michael Lynn, professor of consumer behavior and marketing at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.

If average restaurant spending decreases, tipping also suffers. Instead of spending $200 on a meal, some families may limit spending to $50. Even though the economy may be spiraling downward, salaries either remain the same or increase. Those in the service industry are the only ones who suffer whenever consumers cannot afford to tip.

Another common reason for not tipping involves a customer being just plain inconsiderate. Many believe serving and bartending aren’t that difficult, so therefore these employees don’t need to be rewarded for their work.

As a bartender, I see this mindset quite frequently. I see guests walking up with wads of cash, spending maybe $30 and tipping a dollar, if that.

For those who only purchase beer, the need for tipping isn’t that necessary. After all, how difficult could it be to pour a beer? Well, pouring a beer does require skill, but is definitely not as complicated as making an Apple Martini.

For example, one very slow night, I had a woman order an Apple Martini. She seemed nice as I started a conversation about movies, which is my favorite subject. She went along with the conversation as I combined four different ingredients, perfectly proportioned to create a beautiful concoction. This drink goes for around $9 and is not simple to make. Anyone who has ever had a martini knows that if the ingredients aren’t perfectly right, it can taste like a bitter piece of crap. I take pride in my Apple Martinis since they are a beautiful shade of green, if poured correctly, and have a cherry in the center, which adds a nice red tint.

I handed her the drink, and she seemed to enjoy it, but when I attempted to hand her the check, my printer experienced technical difficulties, which took several seconds to resolve. This obviously wealthy woman took this as an excuse to not tip and walked off in a huff. I can’t control the printer and should not be blamed for the slight inconvenience. Yes, I personally told the printer not to work for this specific guest since, of course, I have control over those situations. I am the printer god, after all.

Along the same lines, the majority of guests who don’t tip have never had any type of service job and are unaware of the need for tips, and underestimate the difficulty of the job.

As a bartender, I have memorized well over 100 drink recipes, deal with drunk and irritating people on a daily basis and experience the inconvenience of being asked out by some customers. If one more 40-year-old asks me to come to Westport with him, I may snap.

Many underestimate the stress involved in this job, which is only made worse by coming home with $4 from a shift. I guess I could buy myself a couple items on the McDonald’s dollar menu with that? However, when it comes to saving up enough so I can go to school next semester and not starve to death, $4 doesn’t quite cut it.

In my opinion, every person should have at least one service job during his or her life. By serving others in a food setting, life experience and an appreciation for others is gained. No other job will allow this same experience. Some days, work will be the worst experience of a lifetime, but other days will be rewarding and extremely worthwhile. If everyone experiences a job like this, he or she will understand the hardship of living shift to shift and feel rewarded for a job well done.

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