The Fine Art of Tipping

Edited and illustrated by Jill DeGroff

the art of tipping by jill degroffAsk a dozen bartenders what their most memorable tip was and they will most likely give you a number. But what exactly constitutes a tip? The custom of tipping emerged in America as a way to recognize that providing a service was not obligatory, but rather a courtesy among those occupying equal status in a classless society. We offer up a tip to those who serve us as a way of saying “You and I are equals.” Tipping is a way to express appreciation – and it doesn’t always come in the form of dollar bills. Here are a few stories, contributed by some of our favorite industry veterans, which illustrate this point.



agostino perrone “When I was in school, three people inspired me to become a bartender. The first was a Buddhist who believed in using positive energy to create change; the second, a Taoist who taught me that when a situation cannot be changed, one can still transform how they experience it. The third was a photographer who taught me that there is no situation that cannot be improved by a great tasting cocktail! Thanks to their wise advice, I have fulfilled my dreams!”

–Agostino Perrone
Connaught Bar, London, UK



don mell“Dale and I were coming out of MaryLou’s about four in the morning and to our amazement, the city was buried in six inches of snow. Somehow we managed to flag down a cab, but when we jumped in, we realized the nervous driver, an Indian gentleman, had never seen snow in his life. I told him to pull off to the side of the road. I got out of the back of the cab, opened the driver’s door and pushed him across the seat, then got behind the wheel myself. ‘The first thing you never do,’ I told him, ‘is step on the gas like this!’ The cab lunged forward at 80 miles per hour. Dale is sliding and slamming all over the back seat, frantically pounding on the partition, while I zoom down Broadway doing figure eights. I drove us all the way home to Brooklyn, paid the driver, and then politely tipped myself. We went upstairs and Dale mixed a couple of drinks while I tapped out ‘White Christmas’ on the bottles.”

–Don Mell



FRED PRICE “In 2000, while I was working at Le Madre, one of our guests brought me a Romeo & Juliet Churchill, an exquisite specimen. I excitedly called Dale and asked him to meet me at P.J. Clarke’s. ‘We’ll have a burger, some scotch and cigars,’ I promised. So we met at Clarke’s and I pulled out the cigar and showed it to Dale, and he said, ‘Beautiful. What did you bring for me?’

‘Well, I didn’t bring anything for you. I did not know I was supposed to,’ I replied.

Dale’s response was typically forthright. ‘You piece of shit! You call me up and invite me out for a cigar and don’t bring me one?’

I realized my faux pas and told him I would correct the situation. ‘Wait here,’ I told him. ‘Have another drink on me, and I will find you the best cigar possible in a five-mile radius and will be right back.’ Unfortunately, it was two in the morning and, although I searched every newsstand within reasonable distance, I found nothing. I returned to Clarke’s and told Dale, ‘I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I didn’t just get you one cigar – I got you a whole box. The bad news is – they’re Tiparillos!’

If I recall correctly, I ended up giving Dale the Churchill and smoking the Tiparillos myself … although I would not swear to it. The moral of the story is, when inviting a fellow cigar smoker out for a drink, always bring an extra cigar!”

–Fred Price
Noble House Wines



TONY CONIGLIARO “There was an American customer who would come in now and then, whenever he was in town. He liked to test us on obscure drinks and we had a damn fine time obliging. So one time he asked for a Dickens martini. Now I kind of figured that he wanted an olive and a twist in his drink, so I placed the chilled cocktail glass in front of him, put in a couple of dashes of vermouth, then proceeded to add a lemon twist. Then I slyly walked away, leaving him to stew just long enough to realize I was not going to add anything else. He waved at me and said, ‘This is not the drink I ordered. Why didn’t you add the gin and the olive?’

‘Oh, terribly sorry, sir,’ I replied. ‘Thought you ordered the Scrooge martini!’ When he finally stopped laughing, he slapped a big tip on the bar and told me I’d made his night. Then I made him his Oliver Twist.”

–Tony Conigliaro
69 Colebrooke Row, UK



dale degroff “Shortly after Paul Castellano was gunned down in front of Sparks Steak House, the Dapper Don, John Gotti, his first lieutenant, Sammy (the Bull) Gravano, and two soldiers bellied up to the Promenade Bar and ordered a bottle of Crystal Rose Champagne. I placed the order, only to have the sommelier, Fred Price, inform me that the Crystal Champagne was ‘86’ (out of stock). It fell to me to inform the godfather elect that we were out. Gotti grunted and ordered four straight up Bombay Sapphire martinis, which I prepared in front of them with my usual flourish. Without touching the drinks, Gotti threw a hundred dollar bill on the bar and they left. I immediately called Bismarck, the maitre d’ who worked at the entrance of the Rainbow ballroom, in order to find out whether that was their destination. He said, yes, they were coming down the hallway.

‘I’ve got four untouched martinis on the bar,’ I said. ‘Send a waiter over.’

‘Dump them,’ replied Bismarck. ‘They’re having fresh ones!’”

–Dale DeGroff



DOUG QUINN“One cold, damp winter night, one of my semi-regulars, who looked remarkably like Grandpa Munster, managed to survive the evening until about 4:15. I walked him out, put him in a cab and bid him a safe trip home. I gave him my business card and told him if he ever needed anything, to give me a call. I returned to the bar, and among the napkins, matchbooks, and other discarded junk you find on the floor in a busy saloon, I noticed a bank envelope. I picked it up, looked inside and found 100 crisp hundred dollar bills inside – ten grand in cash. Add that to what I made behind the bar, and it would have been a darn good night in any saloon. I started to think about who dropped the ten Gs and immediately thought of Grandpa Munster. Ten minutes later my phone rings. ‘Hey Grandpa, did you lose something, pal?’

‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘I had an envelope with 100 hundred dollar notes.’

‘Got your envelope right here! Get some sleep and come get it tomorrow; it’s safe.’

When he came in the next day, I lectured him about carrying that much money around, and how if anyone else had found that envelope, it would have been long gone. He took the cash, gave me a hearty handshake, and bolted. Some might say the guy should have left a sizable tip, or ANY tip. Let’s face it – I could have given myself a ten grand tip by saying there was no envelope. Who wouldn’t consider that for a second? The lesson, the golden rule, is you treat people the way you’d like to be treated. That’s what I bring to work with me every day, and that’s what helps create magic.”

–Doug Quinn
Soon to open his own New York joint in midtown east





“I believe I was the recipient of the biggest and heaviest tip ever received by any bartender in the world. One of my customers tipped me with a 75-pound tuna fish and cleared the whole bar with the stench!”

–Jose Ancona
Santa Anita Racetrack



DALE DEGROFF“The largest tip ever – possibly a Guinness World Record – would be the one presented to Bud Herrmann at the Hotel Bel Air in the late 1970s. Bud was the piano player in the lounge, on the job nearly 20 years, when I came to work behind the bar there. Bud’s career began around 1946 working in the lounge of The Flamingo in Las Vegas, while Benny Goodman played the main room. Bud used to watch from the wings and was occasionally invited by Goodman to sit in with the band. (One night Goodman said, ‘Hey Bud, you like that seat? Because if you do, it’s yours.’ The notoriously difficult Goodman had just fired his piano player.)

Many years later, at the Hotel Bel Air, Bud presided over the lounge and expedited many friendships and business deals. One particular relationship was between an Oklahoma oilman named Bud Theis and another oil investor. Bud had introduced them to each other one evening over his Steinway baby grand. He grabbed their hands and said, ‘You two need to meet each other – you have a lot in common!’ This led to an extraordinary business relationship. Fast forward two years – it is the end of the evening and Bud is having his late night steak. I am going through my closing procedure when I see Bud reach into his tuxedo pocket and pull out a white envelope. ‘Theis gave me a Christmas gift tonight,’ he says. ‘Odd – he’s not the sentimental type. He told me he never got around to thanking me for introducing him to his partner and they’ve done really well!’

Bud slid the folded document out of its envelope and found himself staring at the lease to a 24-unit Hollywood Hills apartment building.”

–Dale DeGroff