Bartending is a fun, challenging, and financially rewarding job. It can be hard work, but hanging out and socializing with a lot of interesting people for eight hours is a nice way to make money.
Tips. Gotta love ’em! In this section I’m going to discuss everything about tips:
- Don’t Worry About Tips!
- How Customers Tip
- Splitting Tips (Tip Pools)
- Tipping Out
- House Policies Regarding Tipping
- How Much Do Bartenders Really Make in Tips?
Bartenders Shouldn’t Worry About Tips!
Tips are a big part of a bartender’s salary. Usually more than 50% – in a good place. My biggest tip night? A little over $1100. New Year’s Eve working at a portable, banquet-type bar. At a 4-Star hotel. Nice!
The biggest lesson I have learned about tips was very early in my bartending career. A wise old bartender told me to never worry about tips. Here’s what he told me: (I’m paraphrasing here), “Mark, never worry about tips. Pick the tip up, throw it in your tip jar, and forget about it. Never count it. There’s plenty of time at the end of your shift to count your tips.”
Of course, it’s easy to distinguish between a $5 bill and a $1 bill. Just throw it in your tip jar! Never complain about a small tip – or no tip at all. To anyone.
Concentrate on great customer service and you’ll never worry about tips again. Why? Because you’re always doing your part. You’re providing the best possible customer experience to each and every one of your customers. If you’re doing that, consistently, then whatever that customer tips you is out of your control. Easy.
How Bar Customers Tip
There’s good tippers and bad tippers. Get used to it. However, just because a customer left you a small tip one time – doesn’t mean that the next time he won’t leave you a larger one. You just never know.
I don’t know how many times a customer has come back the next day and said something like, “Gee, Mark. I’m so embarrassed. I was a little tipsey last night, and I think I forgot to tip you. Here you go.”
Some customers tip $1 a drink. Others will tip 10% of their tab. Others 15% or 20%. Sometimes they’ll leave you an outrageous tip. Sometimes they’ll stiff you. Some will tip you $1 for every beer and $2 for every mixed drink. Tipping is all over the place.
Tourists (especially from other countries), will many times leave no tip. It’s a culture thing. That’s the way it goes. However, I have had many times where a couple comes in every day, for a week, and never tips. Then, on their final day they say something like, “Hey Mark, this is our last day visiting here. We’ve had a great time and really thank you for the great service you’ve given us all week.” And then slip me a couple of Benjie’s. Nice.
Splitting Tips In A Bar (Tip Pools)
Talk about controversy! Many bars and restaurants have tip pools. The house policy is all over the place regarding these tip pools, so I’ll be general here.
For bartenders, most bars will simply let their bartenders collect their own tips. This includes cash as well as whatever is added to credit cards. Simple.
Some bars have their bartenders throw their tips in one jar. Then they split the tips by hours worked. Again, a fairly simple process.
Many banquet type bars have the same situations as regular bars, above, but sometimes they have “built in” tips. In other words, if the party spends $2000 on drinks, the house will add anywhere from 15% to 20% to the bar tab. Nice, and all the bartenders will split that along with their own cash tips.
Tip pools can get fairly complicated. Most all of the places I worked at – you kept your own tips.
I have never been a fan of mandatory tip pools. I really don’t have a problem with it when I worked in a banquet department, but in a regular bar it sucks. Why? Let’s just say that some bartenders don’t pull their own weight and leave it at that. Believe me, you’ll form your own opinion on this issue in a very short time.
Bartenders Should Be Tipping Out
Don’t forget your bar back! It doesn’t hurt to tip out a few bucks to anyone who may have helped you during your bartending shift. It’s all common sense here, and the house may have policies in place that make perfect sense.
It is your responsibility to “tip out” to whomever may have helped you during the evening. And not just the bar back. Maybe the people who set up your bar if you’re working banquets. Who’s getting you ice? Just follow house policy and you’ll be fine.
Bar House Policies Regarding Tipping
I’ll go into detail about house policies in the House Policies Section later on. For now, just be aware that all bars will have some sort of tipping policy in place. If your fellow employees get the feeling you’re not being “forthcoming” in adding your tips to the pool – you’re toast.
How Much Do Bartenders Really Make in Tips?
Bartenders make very good money. The salary and tips will always vary depending upon the type of place you work at, the particular shift you work, and the number of hours you spend behind the bar.
Of course, working in the establishment’s main bar, with the best shifts, can double or triple your salary over the bartender working in a service bar type atmosphere.
So, how much money can a bartender make? On average, a bartender will make about $50 – $300 per shift just in tips.
Working in a corporate theme restaurant and bar type of establishment will usually be on the low end because of the ‘house’ tipping procedures and lack of consistent traffic. Bartenders working in nightclubs have been known to make upwards of $500.00 per shift.
One of the greatest advantages of working as a bartender is flexibility. If you are able to land a job in a fairly high-volume bar, you can work your way up the ladder and get the best shifts. And make a substantial amount of money in the form of tips.
A typical bartender shift is usually less than eight hours. I know of a great many bartenders (usually very experienced bartenders), that work multiple jobs. A couple of shifts per week at each bar, coupled with the best hours, can prove to be quite lucrative.
For some up-to-date statistics on the bartending industry, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This site will provide you with a very general idea of how much bartenders make, the working conditions, and the general outlook for the future of bartending.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of bars that you could work at, and what each has to offer in the way of salary, wages, and tips.
Bartender Salary, Wages, and Tips
Yep, just like the wording on your W-2 form. Bartenders get paid in different ways. Some get paid per shift. Others are on a salary – but that’s usually a working bar manager or head bartender. Most get paid by the hour. And, of course, they all bring in that tip money.
Generally speaking, tips will account for over 50% of the overall salary. It pays to find a bar that’s busy where the tips are known to be generous in order to maximize your salary.
It’s important to note that the United States is going through some major changes pertaining to wages. Many states have implemented strict minimum wage laws – increasing the hourly wage substantially. Others are still able to pay less than minimum wage simply because their employees are tipped.
More than ever, it makes good sense to inquire as to the hourly wage policy at every establishment you are applying at. If you can make $15.00 per hour, plus tips, it’s certainly something to consider when applying for a job.
Most Lucrative Types of Bars to Work At
The most lucrative types of bars, in no particular order, fall into a few categories. Generally speaking, the higher the volume, or, the more traffic a bar receives – the higher the tips. Here are some more popular types of high-volume bars:
- Sports Bars
- Local High-Volume Restaurant & Bars
- Dive Bars
- “Mom and Pop” Type Bars
It’s important to remember that all bars are different. Management styles, the amount of volume (how busy are they?), and ‘in-house’ tipping procedures can all have an effect on the amount in tips a bartender can make.
Money You Can Make Bartending in Nightclubs
Nightclubs are generally considered to be the most lucrative of all bartending jobs. This may be the case in most instances, but I have seen bartenders working in ‘dive’ bars that make just as much. And “theme” bars. And Sports bars. Again, it will always depend upon the volume.
When people think of nightclubs, they have this idea in their head that they only open their doors after 8:00 pm and serve until 2:00 am. Not true. Many are open all day, develop a great lunch and happy hour crowd, and then transition into the evening madness. My kind of place!
These are extremely successful bars. Maximizing profit throughout the day helps create a terrific profit for the bar. And, it’s great for bartenders as they can work any number of shifts, different times of the day, and make great tips no matter what their shift is.
Believe it or not, not all nightclubs are high-volume. Actually, every type of bar has the potential to be high-volume – but it depends on a number of things. Location, of course, and let’s not forget the product. Great food and drinks always bring a crowd.
How much can you make working as a bartender in a nightclub? Tons. Many bartenders earn $200 – $500 per shift. Sometimes more. In extremely high-volume bars, they probably have barback’s, so there will be a certain amount of money tipped out.
The advantages? Shorter and flexible shifts, higher tips, and time can really fly. It can be exhausting at times, but for those in good physical shape – it’s the way to go.
Sports Bars Are Tip Money Makers
Bartending at a Sports Bar is another great way to make really good money. Especially if the bar has invested in a great TV and satellite system to get all the sports. Gone are the days of showing just weekend sports and Monday Night Football.
These days, sports bars are now carrying just about every sport imaginable on their in-house video system. Being able to purchase ‘ala carte’ sports programming has changed everything. Many sports bars specialize in certain sports and gain loyal, dedicated customers who return again and again.
Bartenders working in sports bars can make, generally speaking, about $100 – 300 per shift. Or more. House tipping procedures will be a bit different, as they’re probably selling a lot of food and tipping out to other members of the staff.
However, there are additional advantages to working in a sports bar. Free or discounted meals, flexible shifts, and great sports programming to watch while you’re working. Not a bad job at all, I must say.
Local High-Volume Theme Restaurant & Bars
Corporate Theme Restaurant types of bars can be a great place to work. However, a possible downside is that if they really specialize in the food aspect of the business, and bartending may not be the best position to work in.
Many times, customers will sit at the bar waiting for the table – and then transfer their bar tab over to the food server.
Not the greatest of situations, but at least in these types of bars the food servers will tip their bartenders. Regular customers can supply these types of bars with huge volume, so the chances are good that you’ll make decent money.
These types of bars also have some drawbacks. Corporate rules and procedures that can get on your nerves. Tip pools and non-flexible shifts can put a dent in your serenity.
How much do bartenders make at these types of places? Anywhere from $50 – $300 per shift. Keep in mind that the shifts will probably be around 8 hours. And, of course, working the day or night shift will make a big difference.
This is a great ‘medium’ type of place to work on your way up the bartending ladder. If you can get some good experience at this type of bar – you’ll be primed to move into a much more high-volume type of atmosphere.
Dive Bars Can Be Great For Bartender Tips
The most underrated of all bars. Casual, usually high-volume, and great tippers. Bartenders are pouring drinks at a frenetic pace, the atmosphere is a bit crazy, and there never seems to be any real ‘rules.’ My kind of place.
The term ‘dive bar’ is a bit misleading. We’re not talking about a dirty, unsanitary place here with nothing but undesirables sitting at the bar. Great dive bars are usually local bars that don’t put a whole lot of money into frivolous things. The staff is tight, and everyone has their own way of doing things.
These types of bars are usually smaller than nightclubs or corporate theme restaurant and bar types – but don’t let that fool you! They can get extremely busy. Crazy busy. The staff is small, the owners are usually involved in the business, and their bottom line always shows a very nice profit.
Bartenders working in these types of bars can easily make upwards of $200.00 per shift. Usually much more. Again, it’s probably not the place to begin your bartending career, as bar managers in Dive Bars are a bit hesitant to hire people with little or no experience.
Money Inexperienced Bartenders Can Make
Inexperienced bartenders have a major disadvantage when trying to get that first bartending job. You pretty much have to take what you can get, gain some experience, and then start applying at busier establishments. Trust me – it takes less time than you think.
The above-listed types of bars may not be your best starting point. I have seen brand new bartenders get hired at a high-volume type of bar and then ‘flunk out’ after the first week. They simply couldn’t handle the volume, and it’s why the very busy places are reluctant to hire inexperienced bartenders.
There may be exceptions, but it has been my experience that you need to start at a less busy place. It’s rare to see an inexperienced bartender working in one of the above places.
Final Thoughts on Bartender Tips and Wages
There are many factors involved in just how much a bartender can make. Experience gets you that prized job, but it doesn’t always mean that you’re going to make more in tips. And, are they paying minimum wage – or less?
Take all factors into consideration. Visit the bars that you plan on applying at, and get a general feel of the way everything ‘flows.’