Do You Tip Club Lounge Bartenders For Free Drinks? – This Guy Didn’t

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One thing I always find interesting is the dilemma people go through at airport club lounge bars when they get a free drink. Do you tip for the free drink or act like you already paid for the service?


On a recent trip to a Delta SkyClub, I was in line behind a guy who had the SkyClub bartender work for a few routine drinks. He asked for the most custom Bloody Mary I’ve ever seen. First it was the right amount of hot sauce, then it was not enough Worcester sauce, the. He complained about the garnishes. Most interesting of all, he walked away from the bar with two custom complimentary Bloody Mary drinks and left only by saying “thanks!”

Why I Always Tip The Bartender

Even though I’ve already paid for the access to the SkyClub or other lounges I visit through other means, I always tip $1-2 per drink depending on the location and drink.

One time I was in MJ’s favorite SkyClub lounge and after ordering a few luxury bar menu glasses of wine, the bartender Hannah, turned me on to the free domestic Cab. Then she really earned her tip by introducing me to the Hannah special. The Hannah special is probably one of the best ways to make a drink out of Delta’s complimentary Vodka.

How To Make The The Hanna Special

She made a suggestion which illustrates that it pays to get to know your Sky Club bartender. For example, they know how to work with what they got on the complimentary bar menu. Take for example, the old Gordons Vodka well drink and compare it to their Ciroc Vodka. The Ciroc drink is $8 while the Hanna Special (with Gordon’s) is free + plus tip.

– Fill glass with ice
– Add Gordons Vodka
– Add Cranberry Juice
– Add Sprite (For sweet) or Club Soda (For not sweet)
– Top with lime and enjoy


The bartender who was just stuffed by the guy in front of me didn’t know what I meant by the Hannah special, but after asking she was more than happy to help make an extra special drink. So in my opinion it was well worth a few bucks for her service with a smile and a good drink.


Bottom Line

It can pay dividends to tip your airport club lounge bartender. Plus, with a nice drink can make your flight that much more enjoyable.


Case in point, the Hannah special was introduced to me from one of the friendliest Delta SkyClub bartenders, Hannah in DC. Note: the second most friendly SkyClub bartender is in the Atlanta B10 SkyClub – she’s not working with much either as that is what I consider the worst SkyClub in the system. And she’s followed by a close third bartender in Atlanta’s One Flew South restaurant.

What’s your approach to tipping in club lounges?

1) I already paid for the service and the drink. Bah Humbug

2) I always tip. The bartenders work hard and I like service with a smile.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed.

About The Weekly Flyer

The Weekly Flyer writes about travel from a business traveler perspective. He travels the world every week accumulating points and miles along the way.

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  1. Well if the dude was American then that is just plain tacky. I don’t care if it is free. More the reason to tip. If he was European then I understand because we tip on everything here. Honestly too much. Still never liked the idea of tipping a taxi but yes I do it. I don’t tip at STarbucks. After paying 5 bucks for a coffee they are doing their job. At some point coffee got mixed into tipping. My friends tip everywhere. I don’t tip at STarbucks. Free drink at Admirals Club (my lounge) heck yes I am going to tip.

  2. Always tip the bartender.

    And I do agree with the comment about Starbucks – that’s why I avoid the place.

  3. In the US – absolutely. Would never dream of tipping Murata-san in the NRT JAL First lounge or the lovely ladies in FRA FCT.

  4. Some day, the unfair, accidentally racist and sexist system known as tipping will be abolished legally. Until then, tip your bartender.

  5. in bars and restaurants which charge for food and beverages,,you tip waitstaff and bartenders because they typically receive a sub-$3 base wage and are expected to make a living wage based on tips. At a club lounge or party where drinks are provided complimentary, the bartenders and servers are not dependent on tips and are paid a fair wage. No need to tip. Certainly do so if you are so inclined, but the purpose of tipping in this country is as compensation for a low base wage.

  6. I am so glad I live in Europe where salary is paid without a need for tip as additional payment.
    Tip is just a way for employers to avoid paying their employees and take all the profit themselves. Weird system in my eyes, but heeeey! Its the U S of A!!

  7. Canadian now living and the US and never tip on something you already paid for. I always find it ridiculous how much people tip in the US — this includes stuff like ‘additional gratuity’ after a restaurant has already included a (ridiculous!) 18% gratuity.

  8. I always tip in the lounge. The fact that the drinks are free have nothing to do with it. I always find that my followup rounds come much faster if you take care of your server the first time.

  9. I was a bartender for 20+ years. IME, if folks don’t have to reach into their wallet – they don’t tip. This includes open bars or if you buy them a drink. I’d put this in the 90% range

  10. All of my european friends are amazed when they come to Los Angeles. I think it might have something more to do with the places we go, but they feel like our system is the right one. They’re always so shocked with the level of service that we get. And btw, even many europeans tip at home. I was having dinner with a Dutch client/friend in Amsterdam, and I insisted on paying for dinner (€150 for the two of us). I asked him honestly how much money he would leave (since the waiter didn’t know which of us to give the bill he plopped it down right in the middle), and he said €165, so that’s what I did. When he tried to give the money back thinking the American made a mistake, we declined. He was surprised (not shocked), and very appreciative. Restaurants—always 20% unless there was something really wrong with the SERVICE (food is generally out of the server’s control). Bars—always $2 per drink unless the bartender was great…then maybe 3 or 4.

  11. As a non-drinker, I never seem to run into this problem 😛

    For the record though, I do not tip bartenders for free soft drinks, though I think I would if I were getting free alcohol as you mention in the post

  12. Yes of course tip the bartenders. I also leave a tip for the busboy/cleanup crew, if I’ve been in a lounge for a while and accumulated some plates and trash at my table. (Same applies for complimentary hotel breakfasts and hotel lounges)

  13. Interesting dilemma. I always tip if the bartender is reasonably nice. There are some exceptions in the system, where that is not the case.

    Not to talk ill of the dead, but the old guy (now deceased) in the LGA Crown Room was a real SOB…always gruff, never nice, made you feel like it was a favor. I tipped once and he just shoved it in his pocket and didn’t say thank you. Never again. The new crew at LGA is much nicer. JFK T4 staff are nice…T2 SkyClub, less so.

    An important question that I don’t know the answer to…are they paid a subminimum wage like most tipped staff outside of airports? Or are SC bartenders paid the same rate as other food service staff…in which case, tips are double dipping.

  14. This is one of my travel pet peeves. It really irritates me when people don’t tip the bartender. These people do not get paid very much money and they provide a great service that makes your travel more enjoyable. They should be generously tipped.

  15. OK… forget about lounge etiquette for a minute.

    When I was younger (middle aged now), it was customary to tip the bartender when you sat at the bar, got some service, and maybe engaged in a little conversation.

    Nowadays, if I go into a bar/pub and the bartender just pours a draft beer into a glass or removes a bottle cap from a bottle and hands it to me, there seems to be the expectation of a tip. For what? Just doing your job with the most basic/minimal service??

    Frankly, I don’t get it.

  16. No. As mentioned above the bartenders at airport lounges are not dependent on tips for wages. They are paid minimum wage or higher. I only tip if they do an exceptional job, not to pick up a bottle of whiskey, pour it into a glass, and then add some diet coke into it. I’m American and I hate our tipping culture, it’s annoying.

    It’s also an automatic no if I don’t have any singles in my wallet – I refuse to tip a $5 or higher for a drink I’ve already paid for via annual dues

  17. Delta lounges are quite annoying that I cannot poor my own soda. Guests should not have to tip for something they should be able to do themselves. My speculation based on the terrible snacks in Delta lounges is that forcing people to use bar tenders to access free drinks is their way of being more cheap to reduce volume/cost of drinks consumed.

  18. No consistent behavior on my side.
    Usually I don’t want to tip for soft drinks. What I like about some lounges other than SkyClubs is that you can fill your glass with diet coke or whatever on your own, using a machine. You don’t have to wait for the bartender.
    If I request a glass of wine, then I tip from time to time.
    Well, at least I am not as difficult as the guy in your example.
    There is one bartender in ATL that I really like to give a tip because she does a terrific job in my eyes. If I recall it correctly she works in concourse E.
    Unlike some other guys she works her … off and still is as friendly as can be. Amazing!

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