Q. Why is this lesson important?

A. Having a general knowledge of what a bar’s General House Policies are is going to go a long way in the interview process. It’s all about common sense here, and a bar’s general house policies are fairly common across the board in the Food & Beverage Industry.

Having a general knowledge of how a bar works is going to help you during the interview. Especially for those of you who have no food and beverage experience.

Q. Will questions about house policy be asked by the interviewer?

A. Yes – absolutely. It won’t be a direct question, but interviewers are probably going to ask some common sense questions here. Everything is on the table.

This lesson is kind of a “catch all” consisting of some very general House Policies. Some house policies are definitely more important than others – and I stripped them out and gave them their own lessons – Coming up.

A lot of this is common sense, but I know that there are a lot of you taking this course that have never worked in any “customer service” position – let alone a restaurant or bar. I’ll do my best to get you up to speed here.

Starting and Running Tabs

It’s all about running a bar tab these days. Fewer people are carrying cash, and the convenience of just whipping out that card is the way to go. Careful with this.

Credit and debit cards, phone “wallets,” Cash Apps, “Tapping,” and more. Running a tab in bars can be a bit confusing – for the bartender. And it’s changing every day! The different types of payments that a bar accepts, and the methods of those payments is really out of the scope of this lesson. We’ll concentrate on general “House Policies” here. Don’t worry, I got you covered.

The main thing to remember here is that the bar will train you on their policy regarding running a tab. In fact, it will be one of the very first things they’ll train you on. Every bar is different!

As a new bartender, probably on your very first shift, one of the things you’ll encounter is a customer that wishes to run a tab. Be prepared. The bar will have some sort of policy on how to handle this situation.

It is YOUR responsibility to know what this policy is! Ask the bar manager. Ask your trainer. Get this right the first time. Generally, here’s how it works:

  1. Customer orders a drink and asks to start a tab. No problem.
  2. Politely ask them for their credit card.
  3. Run the card through the house POS system.
  4. Keep cards and tabs organized. Most bars will have a container or some other sort of system to keep cards organized behind the bar.
  5. Some systems now allow you to swipe the card and then immediately return it to the customer.

It’s a fairly simple system, but remember that all bars are different. Some may have and “old style” cash register system and you have to check the card expiration date – and possibly ask for an ID. Ouch.

You may run into some “issues” with your customers. Some will appear offended that you ask for their credit card up front. The vast majority won’t. That’s unfortunate, but you have no choice – the policy is whatever the bar owner determines it to be. Just be polite and state that it is house policy to do it this way.

My Experience: Always get that credit card up front! No matter what. Even regular customers. Remember that a customer may inadvertently leave the bar before paying the tab. Or intentionally. Management/controllers/accountants hate these as it makes it hard to reconcile the day’s receipts. And, you will run across scam artists who do this for a living!

Stay organized. Store the cards in a pre-designated area with easy access. You’re busy – nothing slows you down, or is more embarrassing, than a “lost” credit card. Your trainer will give you the details.

Fully understand how the bar’s POS system works. Is it policy to swipe the card first? Some bars do – some don’t. POS Systems are all over the place these days.

Don’t be blind to the amount of food and drinks being “charged.” Sometimes customers may start getting a bit intoxicated and not realize how much they’re spending. Cards may have a limit on them. Regular customers don’t mind a “reminder,” but new customers may start to get a bit out of hand.

Rookie Mistakes:

  1. Failing to fully understand the house policy regarding tabs
  2. “Forgetting” to add all purchases to the tab
  3. Failure to check expiration date on the card
  4. Throwing the card somewhere on the back bar and failing to run it through the POS system
  5. Confusing one customer’s tab for another
  6. Adding purchases to the tab without the customers permission (Ouch)
  7. Unpaid tabs at the end of the night/shift. You must close them out!
  8. Failing to get pre-authorization from management for large parties

Know the house policy regarding running a tab. Your job may depend on it.

Tipping Policies/Sharing/Policies

I covered “All About Tipping” in Section 10 – Bartender Customer Service. Here, we’ll discuss how the bar owner/management has policies regarding tips.

Don’t Worry About Tips!

I covered this in a previous lesson, but it bears repeating here:

The biggest lesson I ever 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.

Splitting Tips (Tip Pools)

I also covered this little section in a previous lesson.

Many bars and restaurants have tip pools. The house policy is all over the place regarding these 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. At Most all places I worked, you kept your own tips. It is then your responsibility to “tip out” to whomever may have helped you during the evening. Like a bar back. Maybe the guys who set up your bar if you’re working banquets. Just follow house policy and you’ll be fine.

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 bars 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.

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.

You Gave Me the Wrong Change!

“Hey Dude! I gave you a twenty and you gave me back change for a ten!” It’s going to happen. Every bartender will encounter this issue on a consistent basis. And, sometimes the customer is right!

Avoid this type of situation at all costs. Pay attention to what you’re doing! Obviously, either you or the customer is mistaken, and the issue must be rectified immediately.

Things you can do:

  • Immediately go to the cash register and see if there is a twenty dollar bill in the slot for tens. If not, then your customer is probably incorrect.
  • If there is a twenty in the 10 spot – immediately apologize for the mistake and give back the proper change.
  • You may have to get management involved. He’ll “x” the machine and count out your till. If it’s $10 over – you made a mistake.
  • Sometimes management will simply have you return $10 to the customer – regardless if he was right.
  • Always remain polite and professional
  • Remember that some customers will test you – expect it!

This is always an unfortunate situation. You’ll find that the more experience you have – the less it will happen. Customers can sense when there is a new bartender behind the bar. Or a meek one. Many will try and take advantage, so stay on your toes!

Coarse Language

Be very careful here. Yes, you’re working in a bar. In some bars – anything goes as far as language is concerned. In others – not so much. And, people seem to be easily offended these days. Follow house policy.

Watch your language! There’s no need to be cussing back there. Always remain professional and polite. Yes, I know your friends will often come in and you’re probably going to discuss things with them in a different way. That’s OK. Just keep it down!

This doesn’t mean that you correct your customer’s language or admonish them on the topics they’re discussing. That’s really not your business. Yes, there will be arguments sometimes, but as long as they’re civil – leave it alone.

But what about when a customer offends other customers with loud, abusive, or inappropriate language? You must step in. Sometimes a simple, “Hey Buddy, can you tone it down a bit?” is all it takes. Experienced bartenders are very good at handling these types of situations.

Topics of Conversation

Religion and politics. How many times have we all heard to stay away from these types of discussions? I know I have countless times. Let your customers discuss whatever they want – just don’t get involved. In fact, many bars will have policies forbidding you to discuss “sensitive” topics.

I know – free speech and all that. Remember that you are a Professional Bartender. Common sense goes a long way here. Look, I’m not the “speech” police here, so just use your good ‘ol common sense.

Drug/Alcohol Abuse

Unfortunately, the Food & Beverage Industry is riddled with employees (and customers), who abuse drugs and alcohol. I discuss alcohol abuse (and cutting people off), in more detail in an upcoming lesson in this section.

For now, just know that most bars will have policies in place regarding these matters. No drug dealing. Customers cannot bring in their own alcohol. No drug use. No excessive drinking, cutting people off policies, etc. You really need to know what house policies management has put into place to deal with these situations.

But, you say, how do I know if someone is using drugs? Is it even my business? No, it’s really not. Marijuana laws have changed as well as other drug laws. You simply cannot kick someone out of your bar simply because you think they’re “stoned.”

And, who are you – a doctor? A cop? Are you sure someone is under the influence? Some people just act a bit “differently” than what you might expect. They may be under the care of a doctor and taking legitimate prescriptions. Be very careful with any insinuations!

Drug dealing is another matter, and I shouldn’t even have to go into it here. If you see it happening – inform management immediately. Zero tolerance.

Experienced bartenders can many times recognize if someone is under the influence. How? They’ve been around the block. They’re trained to recognize whether or not someone is overly intoxicated, from alcohol, and this experience kind of transfers over to other drugs.

You need to take this stuff seriously. No, you’re not an expert – but if you’re reasonably sure that something is just “not right,” then inform management immediately. Get that second opinion.

Personally, I always enjoyed messing with the “stoners.” They’re lots of fun – and great tippers.

True Story
I was working behind the bar one night at a crazy busy nightclub and one of the local vice cops, Mike, popped in to check things out. A common occurrence in very busy places. I knew Mike from previous encounters (a pretty nice guy, actually), and he stood at the bar and scanned through the crowd.
One of my regular customers, Greg, was sitting at a table with some friends. Unbeknownst to Mike, Greg had been in a car accident a year or two earlier and still had some trouble walking. Greg also had some minor brain damage (Greg’s description – not mine!), and sometimes he acted a “bit differently.”
Mike turns to me and says, “Hey Mark – someone is over-serving that guy over there. Why hasn’t he been cut off?” I explained to Mike, in a lowered voice, what the deal was. Mike just looked at me and then walked over to Greg and spoke with him for a few minutes. He then came back to me and said, “Yeah, you’re right, Mark. Sorry about that.” Mike hung out a while longer and then left.

The point I’m trying to make here is that things are not always as they seem. You’ll get the hang of it through experience.


For new bartenders, being available for any shift is a definite plus. And, it may even have been a factor in you being hired. Be flexible, ask for more shifts. Offer to fill in. Answer the call to come in on short notice. I go into more detail on this in a later sections about Preparing For the Job and the Job Interview.

If you’re currently a food server, or in another position at a bar/restaurant – ask for bartending shifts. Ask to be trained. Volunteer to be a barback. Or help step up/tear down the bar. Stock beer coolers.

Most bartenders will have a set schedule. It may involve both day and night shifts. Maybe even “swing” shifts. Go with the flow, and make sure you’re on time for your shift!

Your availability for bartending shifts may play a big part in getting hired. If you have so many things going on in your life that your availability is severely restricted – good luck in landing that first bartending job.

Remember that the bar manager is very much “tuned in” to when it gets busy, the slow times, and upcoming events that may affect the volume of business. They schedule accordingly, and you need to be a bit flexible. All good bartenders are.

Don’t Count Tips!

I know I discussed tips and tipping procedures previously, but I want to make sure you understand the importance of not counting tips in front of anyone. It just looks bad.

And, the house will probably have some sort of policy in place on how and when to count tips. Many are very strict. Some are adamant in not exchanging all of your coin for paper money. Management and/or the “Controller” hate counting all of that coin in the morning!

But probably the biggest reason is that it leaves the door open for “possible theft.” I say “possible” because, believe it or not, there are some dishonest bartenders out there that use the process of counting tips to extract additional money from the register that they’ve put in there to rip off the bar – and customers. Bar managers know this, so it’s always good practice to stay out of that till for any unnecessary transactions. Lessons 18 – 20 of this section on House Polices are real eye openers when it comes to theft.

Hitting on Customers

Yep. I know some of you out there want to be a bartender just for this reason. Nothing wrong with that, but you better be aware of what the bar owner says about this.

I was in my twenties at one time. I get it. My early bartending career was spent working in kick-ass nightclubs that catered to the younger crowd. Great fun, and “hook-ups” were very common. Extremely common. But you can get into trouble.

Be professional. I’ve seen many a bartender get fired for being too “friendly” with the customers. Not taking no for an answer. Constantly hitting on any and all customers as well as employees. Don’t be that person.

Yes, you’re going to get hit on. All the time. Sometimes it’s welcome – sometimes not. Just stay professional.

Have fun. Enjoy your time being around other people. I’m not going to tell you how to act – just use a little common sense. You’re going to get some very obvious green lights – go for it if you so choose. I did.

Employee Benefits/Breaks

You’re most likely going to get breaks according to federal law. Don’t sweat it, and go with the flow. You’ll be given all of the details upon being hired.

Yes, the restaurant and bar business is a bit different from other industries. Sometimes those ten or fifteen minute breaks are hard to come by. And meal breaks can be a bit of a hassle. Many times you’ll only get a few minutes to wolf down some food.

There’s a lot of controversy about this subject. Bars are not intentionally violating the law when it comes to breaks – we’re just in a different kind of industry.

Full time/part time – that will determine what types of benefits you receive. Some bars are union houses with great benefits. Others have exactly zero benefits. Once you get a little experience, you can make the decision on which route to go.

Of course, there’s usually always free or discounted food. And drinks. You’ll probably get a “shift drink” when you’ve completed your shift. Nice.


Listen, I’m not the smoking police here. I used to smoke. But I’ll tell you right now – bar managers (and most owners), are not fans of smokers. There’s nothing more irritating than a bartender asking his boss for a smoke break. And, please – don’t be puffing away in the beer keg cooler.

I talk about this in Section 16 – Bartender Interview Tips, but be aware that whether or not you smoke may be a factor in your getting hired. Believe it. And, customers simply do not like the smell of smoke.


I don’t remember any bartender that I have worked with that called himself a “mixologist.” Please, don’t do it – especially during your job interviews. It sounds arrogant. And a bit pretentious. If you were to sit down for an interview and say something like, “I went to bartender school, and now consider myself a qualified mixologist” – the interview is probably going to be short. Don’t. Do. It.

I get it. There are bartenders who have worked in a “Craft” bar – or some other type of bar that specializes in exotic alcohols and experimenting with a multitude of flavors and what have you. If they want to tell their customers they are a “mixologist,” then more power to them. That’s not me. That’s not you, my friend. Yet.

Arrogance: Exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner.

Being a bartender is all about being humble. You’re not special! You work for the house, making drinks and serving food – and helping to create a great customer experience. That’s it!

Narcissism: Excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance. Self-centeredness. A grandiose sense of self-importance.

No one likes a “know it all.” Trying to impress customers with your drink knowledge is going to tick people off – and have a huge effect on your tips. Saying, “I’ve been a mixologist for three years now” won’t win you any points. I’ve heard bartenders say things like this and just laugh – they lose a lot of respect.

What does this have to do with “House Policies?” It has everything to do with it. The bar manager wants his employees to work well together. Teamwork. Customers want to feel special and enjoy themselves. An arrogant, narcissistic bartender throws a wrench into his well-oiled machine.


During your interview, you were probably asked a question or two about teamwork – or working with others. It’s that important. Being a great team player is one of the “soft skills” that we discussed in Section 4 – Bartender Soft Skills.

In that section, I discuss teamwork and working as a team. For now, just know that being a team player will be interwoven throughout all house policies.

The bar will have policies in place that outline teamwork. Some written – but most unwritten and not so obvious. It’s about common sense here. Be nice and help your fellow co-workers out!


Save this stuff for a flair bar. As a new bartender, if you start flipping bottles and lighting drinks on fire your bar manager is probably going to sit you down for a little chat.

There is really no need to elaborate on this subject. Stick to the basics during your first few months on the job. You should be concentrating on eliminating waste – not contributing to it.

If you’re following along in the Basic Bartending Course:

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