By timestaff
July 8, 2009

Question: A friend who goes out a lot tells me he tips 25-30 percent in bars, so bartenders are always giving him free drinks. Jake says everyone knows to do this. Even if they do, isn’t this cheating the bar owner?

Answer: A penguin goes into a bar and says to the bartender “Have you seen my father?” The bartender says “I don’t know. What’s he look like?”

Don’t bartenders put up with enough as perennial straight men without catching flak for pouring the occasional free drink? Seriously, a happy customer is a return customer. And while Jake may not know it, the hospitality industry has a long tradition of offering perks to regulars and big spenders — a cocktail here, a room upgrade there — to keep them coming back.

So if Jake’s getting those complimentary drinks because his fanny’s frequently on a bar stool, there’s no problem. And there’s no problem either with bartenders accepting Jake’s fat tips, whatever his motives may be.

But is there a dark side to this practice? Absolutely. It’s if, in exchange for Jake’s largess, bartenders are serving him more free drinks than the bar owners — the folks who are actually paying for the alcohol — would approve of. In that case, you’re right: the bartenders are stealing and so is your pal. And what Jake’s leaving isn’t a tip, it’s a bribe.

Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.

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