We have quite a few questions on tipping in the USA, but looking through I can't seem to spot one that covers this.

When in the USA, if you are somewhere where drinks are free but served to you, is it expected to tip the person pouring / bringing the drink, and if so, how much?

Additionally, does it vary by location / setting? For example, might an airport / hotel lounge differ from an all-inclusive hotel / resort?

(I'm currently in an airline lounge at a US airport, and was given some vouchers for free drinks when I entered, which are given to the barstaff in exchange for drinks. Some people seem to give a tip, some not. A few weeks ago I was in a hotel lounge which had free drinks for an hour in the evening, with a member of staff removing beers from the fridge and opening them for you, but I was the only one there then so didn't have anyone to copy....)

3 Answers 3


In general, if you're in a place that also sells drinks and you're using vouchers, etc then tip as you would if you'd paid. So a dollar or two per drink depending on price and place. Same goes for discounts and other freebies like a 2 for 1 deal -- although you could choose to tip more up front. Obviously if the staff just decide to give you a freebie then tip on that too and generously (since you just got a free drink).

Otherwise, if the staff rely on tips, they lose out because someone has scored some vouchers or something.

For all-inclusive, I'd follow the same rules as you would at a similar non-inclusive resort in the same country. Unless it explicitly says somewhere that tips are not expected / are included.

In the free hour at the hotel lounge it's more tricky. Again if it's a normal bar and a bartender then tip as normal (or tip all at once up front or at the end). If it's just a hotel employee occasionally fetching you a drink I wouldn't think tipping is expected. But it's probably appreciated so maybe leave them something at the end of the hour.

  • 1
    They don't "lose out" because someone has a free drink voucher - it's likely someone only came to the establishment because of the voucher so it's more likely that they will win business from additional drinks or food. I wouldn't tip for a free voucher because it's free.
    – caesay
    May 15, 2018 at 11:24
  • 3
    You are always to tip for "free" items as if you've paid for them - couponed meals, drink vouchers, doesn't matter. You can come up with 'reasons not to' but that won't affect everyone involved thinking you're cheap.
    – mxyzplk
    May 20, 2018 at 2:26
  • You can argue either way. Some people decide where to go then look for coupons. If the place is full, then the servers are probably losing out. But as with anything, if you're a rich businessperson you should try and tip more than if you're poor and have scraped together the tokens for a night out.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 1, 2022 at 16:28
  • @mxyzplk not free, then?
    – njzk2
    Dec 2, 2022 at 19:23

"It depends."

Typically, the rule is that whoever gets the bill does the tipping. For example, at a catered event, you wouldn't try to tip the people bringing you your food or drinks because you're not paying the bill. I think any time you aren't paying a bill, you're safe to err on the side of "no tipping".

I have been to company catered events at hotels, though, where some hotel employee was manning a drinks booth, with the company covering the cost of the drinks, but the employee had a tip jar out. Not everyone simply carries loose dollars around with them, so I don't think tips are really expected in this situation but tossing a dollar in the jar if you have one is "a nice gesture", I suppose to acknowledge that they are serving you, being attentive, and that this is somewhat outside of their normal hotel duties, and that most likely the bill for the event is not going to have a "tips" line on it.

This is an example where to some extent the onus is on the employee to have a tip jar if they expect tips because otherwise no one is even getting their wallets out. You'll see this sort of thing sometimes with live music too. Should you tip the band? The band itself will usually indicate this by having a tip jar out, or not. If the venue is paying (especially through a cover charge or ticket sales) then there's usually no tip jar because the band is fully paid. If someone expects tips in a questionable situation, see if they have a tip jar, likely placed where you can't miss it, with money in there already to give people the hint.

  • "at a catered event, you wouldn't try to tip the people bringing you your food or drinks because you're not paying the bill. " I had a different experience. I was invited to a wedding reception, so the event was fully paid by bride and groom, but the guy at the drink booth had a tip jar. According to my American friends, we were expected to tip. The understanding was that 5$ upfront was enough (unlimited drinks). Dec 2, 2022 at 14:07
  • @El_Muntagnin Yeah that's why I included that last paragraph. Any time there's an "exception to the rule-of-thumb", it's on the employee to highlight that by having a tip jar. Although it's worth noting that tip jars are often just overly optimistic people and the tip may not exactly be "expected". I see tip jars in some fast food takeout places and I have yet to see anyone actually put a tip in them.
    – JamieB
    Dec 2, 2022 at 14:30

Tipping in North America has become such a hot button issue. It is customary to tip and is usually a percentage of the cost of your food/drinks (or what the cost would have been). But there have been so much writing happening on this topic like:

  1. Why is the tip calculated on post tax amount and it should be pre tax which is just the cost of food/drinks (delivery services usually do the former but you can change the amount)
  2. The minimum tipping post Covid has gone from 10% to 18% (here at least in Toronto). People argue that the cost of food/drinks has itself gone up so even if the tip percentage was to stay as it was pre Covid, they are still earning more out of it. There is no need to increase the tip percentage too in addition to already now expensive food/drinks.

Although this discussion wasn’t a direct answer, majority of people would tip depending on quality of food/drinks and the kind of service received.

  • 1
    This is general commentary, not an answer to the question that was asked ...
    – Ben Bolker
    Dec 1, 2022 at 21:30
  • I know I mentioned that already. Dec 2, 2022 at 1:44

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