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This week on Ask The Critic: the best bites in Murray Hill and figuring out how much to tip a bartender.
Tipping In Bars
I remember when I used to tip a dollar on every drink... because every drink I had was a beer, or maybe a gin and tonic if I was feeling classy... But nothing fancy and nothing that cost more than $5 or $6. But now, when I'm going to nicer bars and just more expensive places, I'm never sure how much to tip. Help a guy out?
I'm of the opinion that a dollar-a-beer is still fine in many cases: You order a beer, you're poured a beer, you hand the bartender a $10, you get back $5 (in ones, if he's any good at his job), you leave one on the bar. Even if the beer is $2–3; are you really gonna be that guy who left two quarters on the bar? (Please don't be that guy.)
In any kind of nicer bar, when the bartender is doing something more complicated than pouring Jack in your Coke, I tip closer to what I would at a restaurant—18% for decent service, 20% for good service. (And if you're putting a lot on one tab, some cocktails and some beers, please tip on that whole total. Don't go counting up the beers and tipping a dollar each of those.)
Once you're getting into the cocktail world, you're not just paying for someone to hand you a drink. You're paying for their knowledge, for them to point you to Whiskey A instead of Whiskey B. For their skill in making your cocktail. (For their skill in getting you 4 different cocktails each with six ingredients at the same time.) And more.
20% is my rule, but there are exceptions.
Tip more if:
1. You're getting a deal. If you're getting $12 for $6 at a happy hour, tip as you would on the full bill.
2. The bartender did something particularly nice. Topped off your wine glass without asking; found you seats when there were no seats to be found; made an off-menu cocktail because you asked; got the kitchen to make you a burger even though they were about to close.
3. You're asking for something complicated. Ever watched someone make a Ramos Gin Fizz? Ever timed it? A bartender could've made four drinks in the time it took him to shake yours. Be nice.
4. They comped you a round. Might happen if you're ordering a few rounds, or if you strike up a friendship with the bartender, or if you're just really cool. Tip on what the full bill would have been, and then some.
Are there situations when you can tip less? For bad service, obviously. I also tend to think it's okay to tip less if you're ordering something way more expensive than the bar's average. If you're drinking a $100 Hirsch Reserve 16 Year, and your friend is ordering a $10 Baker's, I don't quite think you should be paying $20 tip while she's paying $2. (I might get jumped on in the comments for this.)
I'm not sure what I'd tip on the more expensive bourbon—maybe $10?—though I have to say, if you're drinking alcohol that expensive, why on earth would you be stingy with the tip?
Murray Hill Eats
I just moved to Murray Hill, which isn't exactly known as a mecca of food. Where should I eat/shop/order from?
The way some people talk about Murray Hill, you'd think the entire neighborhood were an overgrown frat house—and, sure, there are plenty of bars on Third Avenue that could give you that impression. But you've actually got many options within a short walk.
In fact, in terms of food shopping, you're better off than much of the city. There's super-supermarket Fairway, the envy of many a Manhattan neighborhood. And there's Kalustyan's, one of our favorite food shops anywhere, where you can find any spice under the sun, and prepared foods and ingredients from all over Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Between those two, you're in the best of hands.
The area's Indian food is well-known; try kati rolls at Desi Galli, or dosas at Saravanaa Bhavan; there's vegetarian Gujarati cooking at Vatan, the super-cheap all-you-can-eat Tiffin Wallah, South Indian Chennai Garden. And a whole lot more.
There's meat and more meat at Resto and The Cannibal. Bar food at Waterfront Ale House—SE staffer Ben Fishner wishes to note that "it's a great to grab just a drink (free popcorn with blackening seasoning!) and also a great place to eat (the specials board is almost always where its at, and the cajun chicken salad is a contender for Best In City grilled chicken salad)." And while we're talking about drinking, two of the city's excellent bars have opened branches in the area: Terroir Murray Hill and Middle Branch (from the Little Branch team).
Serious Eaters: any other Murray Hill recommendations?
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Have more advice for these folks? Jump in, in the comment thread!