Ask The Salty Waitress: Who Really Pays When A Bartender "Buys" A Drink?

Hi Salty, I got engaged last week, and my friends took me out for drinks at a nice cocktail bar to celebrate. The bartender overhead our congratulatory toast and then when I got my bill, I saw he'd comped my first drink. I tipped extra, but not enough to cover the cost of the whole drink. Now I'm wondering whether that means he loses out on the cost of my cocktail? Does it actually come out of his pay, or does the bar just eat this cost? I have no idea how that works.Thanks,Rachel

Hi Rachel,

Hugs, kisses, best wishes, felicidades, etc. on your engagement. My advice: Go to as many free wedding cake tastings as possible.

As for how comps work, it's the restaurant or bar that's eating the cost. You're not stealing money out of the bartender's paycheck, but it is nice to tip a little extra because hey, free drink. The bartender still had to make and serve it, after all.

Most restaurants set a percentage of their budget aside for comps every week or month so that staff can reward loyal customers or buy their moms a drink without it putting a business in the red. I even worked in one restaurant where the manager let everyone know that we were running well below our comp budget one month, so we should be giving away more drinks to regulars and industry friends. It warmed my shrunken little heart to give away all those free drinks and make someone's day. Now, I've worked in some places where individual servers and bartenders had authority to give out a certain dollar amount in comps every shift or every week, and others where comps needed manager approval. Usually there's a way to keep track of these freebies in the POS system (that's point-of-sale, and sometimes, piece of you-know-what, too). Sometimes it's even broken down by what type of comp: comps for investors in the restaurant, comps for regular customers, comps for industry friends. Then, at the end of the month, the owners and managers review all the comps, make sure they're in line with the budget and that no one's abusing the system.

So that's the long and the short of it, girly. If any of you out there are wondering how you can get your own free rounds—please don't fake an engagement, that's just sad—here's my top-secret advice:

... Be a nice person. And remember, nice people don't ask for free drinks.

Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: