Via Julian, I find the Esquire guide for tipping in bars, which says (among other things) that you should tip “at the very least one dollar on a beer or highball and two dollars on a cocktail.” Asks Julian, “I'd been under the impression that $1 [per cocktail] was more or less standard; now I'm wondering whether I've been gradually accumulating the seething hatred of all the booze-slingers at my local bars.”
I share Julian’s impression that $1 is still standard, although I often tip more generously for better service. However, $1/drink seems to have been the norm for a rather long time, without any inflation adjustment. If $1 was the right tip in the year 1998 (and I definitely recall giving $1 tips back then), it should be $1.22 by now, according to the Inflation Calculator. Of course, I’m assuming otherwise constant conditions of supply and demand in the market for bartenders, as well as constant (inflation-adjusted) compensation by the bar owner.
The problem, of course, is that $1.22 is a rather inconvenient amount to tip. The inconvenience is exacerbated by the attitude that leaving change is chintzy (the Esquire guide also advises, “Don't pay or tip with change”). So the $1 tip remains in place.
I propose a simple solution: tip $2 for the first drink and every fifth drink thereafter, and $1 each for the four drinks in between. This will average out to $1.20 per drink. If you think the $1 tip has been stalled since before 1998 (without sufficient adjustment in regular wages), throw in the $2 tip more often. In case you’re wondering, to justify $2 for every drink, we’d need to assume the standard tip has been stalled since about 1983.
Or, if you think the whole tipping convention is unnecessary (except maybe for exceptional service), you could continue to insist on dropping $1/drink, and wait for the supply of willing bartenders to shrink enough to force bar owners to pay them more. But while you’re doing that, I’ll be tipping more and getting served before you.