It is not uncommon for small and independently owned businesses across all industries to require a minimum spend on credit card transactions.
While it makes your life more convenient to pay with a credit or debit card, it does cost every business owner money to offer you that service. It is a financial decision that makes sense if for every $1.99 purchase you’re getting charged $.30, in addition to the costs of the equipment, etc., and only two out of every 10 customers are utilizing the service.
Most of the bars and restaurants I have worked at never required a minimum spend to use a credit or debit card. The volume of business has always outweighed the costs, tenfold. If you ask the bartenders, however, nearly all of us would say we highly encourage enforcing a minimum spend rule, especially late at night.
And it’s not just on how much you are spending, general rules around minimum tips on open tabs are also a hot topic around the bar at 2 AM.
On a busy weekend night, when there is a line at every register, each bartender finds their groove. They are acknowledging who is next, taking multiple orders, cruising through the stress like the seasoned bartender they are. One person handing over a faded debit card for a $3 beer seven times throws a wrench into this.
No, it’s not putting a screeching halt on all service, and if it is, that’s a business problem, not a customer problem.
If you know you are going to be at the bar for a while, and you are going to be ordering your own drinks, and paying with the same card, just open a tab. It’s much more efficient to just say, “I have a tab under Martin, thanks!” Even with a common last name, I have never had an issue with there being two people with the same first and last name at the bar I am at.
Running your card for a single bottle of Bud Light seven times in one night is the equivalent of writing a check for bananas at the grocery store.
It is common practice amongst bartenders that if you see someone you started a tab for standing by your register waiting to order, even in a long line, you will tend to serve them first because you know it is more likely be a quick and easy exchange.
There are the outliers, who start a tab for one drink, and at the end of the night all that is on their tab is that one drink. Kudos to them.
Then there are the people who abuse tabs, which makes most bartenders wish they could enforce a minimum tip on credit cards. Many restaurants enforce this rule for parties of a certain size, why not apply this to tabs over a certain amount?
Everyone knows a social hero of the group, the one who is so “generous” and puts every round of shots on their tab. They have no problem racking up a tab. At the end of the night, one of two things are going to boil a bartender’s blood like no other: the hero left without closing the tab, or the hero’s generosity ends at buying the drinks, and the tip line on the receipt is pathetic.
If you lack the common sense or the means to leave an honest tip on that high tab you racked up all night, don’t expect to be a fan favorite the next time you walk in. Didn’t think the tab would get that high and you are tapped for funds? Check on your tab when you order a round. A simple “can you tell me what my tab is at?” can prevent that last call shock and awe. Ask your friends for cash before you put that round on your card. Be responsible.
If your bartender served you $200 worth of chilled shots across multiple rounds, they shouldn’t be penalized for your negligence.
The other heroic move is leaving without closing the tab. An emergency comes up, your car is getting towed, whatever. Those things happen every once in a blue moon. We quickly learn who the customers are who abandon their tabs before the lights come on. They do the walk of shame back in a day or two later and deliver an Emmy-winning performance. “Oh, you closed it? I was going to leave you such a good tip! Darn, I only have this dollar bill on me.” Save it. We have seen it too often, and we become very familiar with who you are so we can refuse to open a tab for you next time.
These people trump the previously mentioned heroes by a landslide. They send a message to the bar staff that their service is worth nothing. No one outside of a volunteer organization is going to say “thank you” for letting them working for free. Some cities and states allow enforcing a minimum tip on open tabs. Even if it is not 20%, it is something the validates the service bartenders perform.
This is where the critics will say I should be grateful for any business my customers offer and that they will not frequent the establishments where I ply my craft. Business owners are thrilled to have every transaction. Bartenders work for tips. Open a tab. Close your tab. Don’t be one of the heroes outlined here.