Bartender Wants to Confront Stiffing Customer

by on August 19, 2021 · 5 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Edwin Decker

Dear Ed, I am a bartender and have a regular customer who doesn’t tip. It’s not that he doesn’t have enough money. He drinks a lot, buys top shelf drinks for himself and others and often runs up a hefty tab. He’s a really nice guy and I don’t want to offend him, but still, enough is enough. Should I take him aside and politely say something?

Sincerely, Slightly Riled by a Regular

Dear Riled,

Nope. No. Absolutely do not confront him – politely or otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, as one who has been flinging firewater for most of my adult life, I understand feeling miffed by inferior tippage. But trust me, like everything else, obsessing over it only hurts you.

In my decades in the biz, I trained a lot of bartenders. And I told every one of them not to stress tips. “Do not toil over who gave what,” I would say. Sure, go ahead and give extra special service to those golden eggy gooses, but ultimately, provide great service and a welcoming atmosphere to all and the golden eggs will come your way. Because for every customer who stiffs, there are at least five who over-tip – some ridiculously. When it all washes out, you’re still going to make well over 20 percent, so it’s really just a nothing muffin in the long run.

Secondly, you are a professional. It is not appropriate to discuss the content and quality of a customer’s gratuity. I’m reminded of a fellow tapster, “Elaine”, who was laser-focused on the ducats. She took offense whenever she felt slighted, repeatedly shamed those who did not meet her expectations, and one time even chased a table of six to the parking lot shouting, “Thanks for nothing” as she launched some coins and a crumpled fiver back at them.

This was an otherwise excellent server who had an otherwise terrific personality, but the thing I remember about her most – the thing that defines her in my mind – was that cringe-tacular display in the parking lot. The point being, do you really want to be that kind of bartender? The one who complains to customers about their benefaction? The one who makes a scene? The one whose eye is on the dime and not the steins?

Because in the end, it’s not about the stiffer. It’s about how you choose to respond to a stiffer. Sure, you could say something. You may even change his behavior. Or you could lose his business. I’ll bet diamonds to Doritos your boss wouldn’t appreciate your confronting him.

So how about this? How about treating the guy like a champ? Serve him as if he were tipping Van Gogh’s and think to yourself – as you count your 25 to 40 percent at the end of the shift – that you are a pro, and you rose above it.


Dear Ed, I know you don’t have, or even like, kids and that you’re not qualified to give advice about anything, much less parenting. But I wanted to hear your take on this question so I can do the opposite. Here it is. My 12-year-old son is addicted to video games. He doesn’t go out, he doesn’t play sports or get involved in music or art or anything. The only friends he has are in-game. I know this is not healthy, what should I do?

Tammy on Narraganset

Hi Tammy,

You know, it’s not a bad idea to do the opposite of what I advise. However, you shouldn’t have revealed your intentions because my inner troll cannot help but consider answering differently than what I really think. This means you now must decide whether to do the opposite of my advice or adhere to it because my advice might be the opposite of my advice. In other words, is the iocane powder in the glass in front of you, or the one in front of me?

Either way, the fact that you don’t know how to handle this situation is a tragic sign of the times. You’re the ferfliffing parent fer crissake. Don’t be one of these over-coddling, extra-protective, Every-Child-Gets-A-Medal mommies and daddies who are too terrified to allow anything that beleaguers their offspring’s id to come within discomfort distance.

Lest you forget, the console on which your son plays does not belong to him. Even if it were a gift, you still paid for the TV. You pay for the internet. You paid for the roof that keeps the circuitry dry. You paid for his designer gaming chair and most likely all his loot boxes. Not that you need to justify setting boundaries. The only justification you need is that you are the parent, and you must give him the best possible chance to thrive in the adult world.

To this end, let him know that in your house, playing video games is a privilege. Then define the ways by which he can earn that privilege. The possibilities are infinite, but if I were daft enough to have sired one of those little, pre-human hellhounds, I would start by limiting the amount of time per day it can play. I would also require it spend a certain amount of time outside – you know in the fliffflaffing sunlight! I would also ask, nay demand, it take up an extracurricular activity – sports, music, competitive chinchilla husbandry – anything to get him to interact with people, in person. Lastly, I would research all the games the child plays. Even better, play the games with him. Not only to scrutinize the content, but because video games are flinkflunking fun! I know because I play them constantly. Of course, I have no friends either and never go out in the sunlight. But I pay for my internet so suck it haters!

Edwin Decker (of Ocean Beach) is not a licensed therapist or psychologist. In fact, his only qualification is the 25-plus years as a bartender listening to the liver-aching of desperados and dipsomaniacs. Heed his advice at your peril.

Send questions to

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

unwashedWalmartThONG August 19, 2021 at 12:07 pm

Dearest Gentleman Riled,
Dude. Have a beverage on the House. I tended the slugs ’round the bar for a week one day for
several years back in the day, & I usually didn’t give a shit about who tipped what because I
was enjoying myself with off-color jokes, the music & drinking top shelf beverages for me & my fellow tenders. What’s-his-name above is right, if you are doing the job with a smile, a crisply-ironed shirt, pleated tuxedo slacks & black sports shoes, then you should be getting rewarded handsomely. Fret not about some alcoholic that someday just might dine ‘ n dash his tab.

Miss Tammy,
Refer to the knot-tying chapter of Dangerous Book for Boys, pick a knot, tie the child’s feet together, then tie the opposite end of the rope to the bumper of your car. Drag child from house into sunlight using LOW gear. Wait several minutes before supplying sunscreen. While the child warms up from the sunlight, turn off all electricity of the house at the breaker box. Drive to OB & duck that child into the salty waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Start conversion therapy as child dries in the sun.


Geoff Page August 19, 2021 at 2:45 pm

I only served the public for five years working in gas stations and that was enough to assure me I never wanted another job serving the public. I have to disagree with the advice to the riled guy. I would remember that guy who does not tip and make sure his next visit was filled with late drinks and the wrong drinks. He does not deserve good service. If he protests, just say, well that is the best I can do on the wage they pay me, folks who tip get much better service.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman August 19, 2021 at 3:22 pm

For Ed Decker’s own sake, marms wish he didn’t drink too much or play video games to excess. But with those caveats out of the way, why do we have to wait til Decker’s low on “ducats” to hear from him in the Rag? He is so funny and ethical and writes so well and makes the reader laugh out loud. He also disappears pandemic-variant vapors, ignorant and mean anti-vaccine/anti-mask craziness, not to mention the vicious CA gubernatorial recall, Afghanistan exit and global warming. Really, thanks, Ed.


Jake Ryan Raigoza August 19, 2021 at 6:01 pm

i was rolling at quallified to give advice also nice bartending vibe


sealintheSelkirks August 20, 2021 at 9:16 pm

Ed, I haven’t drank alcohol for decades but have played music in bars forever and you still make me chuckle, dude.

I do, however, still occasionally fight the good fight with the old DUNE video game and play Harkkonnen against AI’s running Ordos and Antriedes on the practice games. And try not to get sucked by a sandworm. Found it on ebay updated for modern OS and works on Win 10. You’re right, they are still fun, eh? Too bad I can’t get the Tiberian Sun games to work…I’d really be glued to the chair.

To the mom, good luck trying anything. Cellphones were based on the same addictive properties that make up video games and you see those going away anytime soon, either. Read some university study about young brains that says kids shouldn’t have a cellphone of their own until AT LEAST 16 yrs of age. Imagine that probably applies to video games, too…



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