Does Bartending Pay Well? A Detailed Look At Bartender Salaries And Tips

So you’re thinking about becoming a bartender but want to know – does bartending actually pay well? This is an important question to answer before pursuing a career mixing drinks behind the bar.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Bartending can be a lucrative career with the potential to earn a good living, especially in busy establishments with generous tipping patrons.

However, income varies greatly and depends on factors like location, venue type, and shifts worked.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at bartender pay, including average salaries and hourly wages, tip earning potential, factors that influence income, and strategies for maximizing your bartending income.

We’ll also explore the pros and cons of bartending as a career and compare it to other service industry jobs. Let’s dig in!

Average Bartender Salaries and Hourly Wages

Many people are drawn to the profession of bartending for its unique blend of creativity and social interaction. But one question that often comes to mind is, “Does bartending pay well?” Let’s take a closer look at the average salaries and hourly wages that bartenders can expect to earn.

National Averages

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average annual wage for bartenders in the United States is $25,580. However, it’s important to note that this figure can vary significantly depending on factors such as experience, location, and the type of establishment.

While this may not seem like a high figure compared to some other professions, it’s worth considering the potential for additional income through tips.

Pay by Venue Type

The type of venue where a bartender works can have a significant impact on their earnings. For example, bartenders working in upscale restaurants or high-end cocktail bars often have the potential to earn more in tips due to the higher prices and clientele.

On the other hand, bartenders in more casual establishments, such as neighborhood bars or chain restaurants, may earn lower wages but could still make up for it with a higher volume of customers and tips.

Pay by Location

Location is another important factor when it comes to bartender salaries. Bartenders working in major metropolitan areas or tourist destinations where there is a high demand for their services may earn higher wages and tips compared to those in smaller towns or less populated areas.

For example, bartenders in cities like New York, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas may have the opportunity to work in busy bars and clubs with a higher turnover of customers, resulting in more tips and potentially higher wages.

City Average Annual Wage
New York City $30,000
Los Angeles $28,000
Las Vegas $27,000

It’s also worth mentioning that bartenders in certain areas may benefit from higher minimum wage laws or industry-specific regulations that ensure fair compensation.

How Much Bartenders Make in Tips

Bartending can be a lucrative profession, thanks to the tips that bartenders receive from customers. The amount of money a bartender can make in tips varies depending on several factors. Let’s take a detailed look at how much bartenders make in tips and what influences their earnings.

Average Tip Earnings

The average amount of tips that bartenders earn can vary widely, but according to a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for bartenders, including tips, was $11.95 as of May 2020.

However, it’s important to note that this figure only represents the median and that some bartenders earn significantly more depending on various factors.

Factors That Increase Tips

Several factors can influence the amount of tips a bartender receives. One of the most important factors is the location of the establishment. Bartenders working in high-end bars or busy nightclubs in major cities tend to earn more in tips compared to those working in smaller towns or less busy establishments.

The level of experience and skill of the bartender can also impact their tip earnings. Bartenders who have honed their craft and can create unique and delicious cocktails are often rewarded with larger tips from satisfied customers.

Additionally, bartenders who provide excellent customer service and have a friendly and engaging personality are more likely to receive higher tips.

Another factor that can increase tip earnings is the time of day or night a bartender works. Bartenders working during peak hours when the bar is crowded and customers are more generous tend to earn more tips compared to those working during slower periods.

Reporting Tips for Tax Purposes

It’s important for bartenders to accurately report their tip earnings for tax purposes. In the United States, bartenders are required to report all tips received to their employer, who then includes them in the employee’s taxable income.

The IRS provides guidelines for reporting tips, and bartenders should keep accurate records of their tip earnings to ensure compliance with tax regulations.

Factors That Influence Bartender Income

When it comes to bartending income, there are several factors that can greatly influence how much a bartender earns. These factors include:

Experience Level

One of the key factors that determine how much a bartender earns is their level of experience. Generally, bartenders with more experience tend to earn higher salaries and receive larger tips. This is because experienced bartenders have honed their skills and are able to provide exceptional customer service, create customized cocktails, and handle high-pressure situations with ease.

So, if you’re just starting out in the industry, don’t be discouraged if your income is relatively low – with time and experience, your earning potential will likely increase.

Venue Size and Popularity

The size and popularity of the venue where a bartender works can also have a significant impact on their income. Bartenders working in larger establishments or popular bars and nightclubs often have the opportunity to serve a higher volume of customers, which can result in more tips.

Additionally, popular venues may attract a wealthier clientele who are more inclined to tip generously. On the other hand, bartenders working in smaller, less busy venues may have fewer opportunities to earn tips.

Shift Worked

The specific shift a bartender works can also affect their income. Bartenders who work during peak hours, such as Friday and Saturday nights, have the potential to earn more in tips due to the higher volume of customers.

Conversely, bartenders working during slower hours or weekdays may experience fewer tips. However, it’s important to note that some establishments offer higher hourly wages during non-peak hours to compensate for the potentially lower tips.

Menu Offerings and Price Points

The menu offerings and price points of the drinks served can also impact a bartender’s income. If a venue offers a wide range of high-end cocktails and premium spirits, customers may be more willing to tip generously.

Additionally, bartenders who are skilled at upselling and recommending pricier options can potentially increase their earnings. Conversely, venues with lower-priced drinks may result in smaller tips.

Bartending Skills

A bartender’s skill level can greatly influence their income. Bartenders who are highly skilled in mixology, flair bartending, and providing exceptional customer service are more likely to attract repeat customers and receive larger tips.

Additionally, bartenders who have a broad knowledge of different types of alcohol and can create unique and delicious cocktails may be able to command higher salaries. Investing in professional development and continuously improving skills can help bartenders increase their earning potential.

How to Maximize Your Income as a Bartender

Being a bartender can be a financially rewarding career if you know how to maximize your income. Here are some proven strategies to help you boost your earnings:

Work at Busy, Upscale Venues

If you want to increase your income as a bartender, it’s important to work at busy, upscale venues. These establishments typically attract higher-spending customers who are more likely to leave generous tips.

Bartending at a popular nightclub or a trendy restaurant can significantly increase your earnings.

Take On More Lucrative Shifts

Another way to maximize your income is by taking on more lucrative shifts. Certain shifts, such as weekend nights or special events, tend to be busier and attract more customers. By volunteering for these shifts, you can increase your chances of earning higher tips.

Develop Your Bartending Skills

Investing in your bartending skills can pay off in the long run. The more skilled you become, the more valuable you’ll be to employers and customers. Consider attending bartending classes or workshops to enhance your knowledge and learn new techniques.

This can help you create unique and impressive cocktails that will leave a lasting impression on your customers.

Provide Excellent Customer Service

Great customer service is key to earning generous tips as a bartender. Be friendly, attentive, and responsive to your customers’ needs. Remember their names, engage in conversation, and make them feel welcomed.

By providing an exceptional experience, you’re more likely to receive higher tips and build a loyal customer base.

Promote Yourself on Social Media

In today’s digital age, promoting yourself on social media can significantly impact your income as a bartender. Create professional profiles on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, and showcase your skills, signature drinks, and positive customer reviews.

Engage with your followers and use hashtags relevant to the bartending industry. This can help you attract more customers and increase your earning potential.

Remember, while these strategies can help you maximize your income as a bartender, it’s important to also enjoy what you do. Passion and enthusiasm for the craft will not only enhance your skills but also create a more enjoyable experience for both you and your customers.

Pros and Cons of Bartending as a Career


Bartending can be an exciting and fulfilling career choice for many individuals. Here are some of the pros of pursuing a career as a bartender:

  • Flexible Schedule: One of the biggest advantages of bartending is the flexibility it offers. Bartenders often have the freedom to choose their working hours, allowing them to pursue other interests or responsibilities.
  • Opportunity for Creativity: Bartending is an art form, and it provides a platform for individuals to showcase their creativity. From crafting unique cocktails to experimenting with flavors, bartenders have the opportunity to express their artistic side.
  • Potential for High Earnings: While bartender salaries may vary depending on factors such as location and establishment, it is possible to earn a significant income through tips. Bartenders who provide excellent service and create a welcoming atmosphere for customers often receive generous tips.
  • Social Interaction: If you enjoy meeting new people and thrive in social settings, bartending can be an excellent career choice. Bartenders have the opportunity to interact with a diverse range of customers, building connections and forming relationships.
  • Opportunity for Advancement: Bartending can serve as a stepping stone to other positions within the hospitality industry. Many successful bartenders have gone on to become bar managers, beverage consultants, or even open their own establishments.


While bartending can be a rewarding career, it also comes with its fair share of challenges. Here are some cons to consider:

  • Irregular and Late Hours: Bartenders often work during evenings, weekends, and holidays when others are enjoying their leisure time. This can disrupt personal schedules and make it difficult to maintain a work-life balance.
  • Physical Demands: Bartending is a physically demanding job that requires long hours of standing, carrying heavy trays, and constantly moving. It can take a toll on the body, leading to fatigue and potential health issues.
  • Dealing with Difficult Customers: While most customers are pleasant, bartenders occasionally encounter difficult or unruly individuals. Handling confrontations and managing conflicts can be a challenging aspect of the job.
  • Pressure and Stress: Bartenders need to work efficiently and handle multiple tasks simultaneously, especially during busy shifts. The fast-paced environment can be stressful and overwhelming at times.
  • Alcohol-Related Risks: Being constantly surrounded by alcohol can present temptations and potential risks, especially for individuals who struggle with substance abuse. It requires self-discipline and responsible decision-making to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol.

It is important to weigh both the pros and cons before deciding to pursue a career in bartending. Consider your personal preferences, lifestyle, and long-term goals to determine if bartending aligns with your aspirations.

Comparing Bartending to Other Service Industry Jobs

When it comes to service industry jobs, bartending is often seen as one of the most lucrative positions. However, it is important to compare bartending salaries and tips to other similar professions to get a clearer picture of the earning potential.

Let’s take a closer look at how bartending compares to waiting tables, being a barista, and working as a casino dealer.

Waiting Tables

Waiting tables is a common entry-level job in the service industry. While it can be a rewarding job, the average earnings of a waiter or waitress tend to be lower than that of a bartender. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for waiters and waitresses in the United States is around $11.00.

This figure can vary depending on factors such as the type of establishment, location, and level of experience. Additionally, tips play a significant role in a waiter’s income, which can vary greatly from shift to shift.


Being a barista in a coffee shop is another service industry job that is often compared to bartending. While the skills required may be different, both positions involve serving customers and working in a fast-paced environment.

In terms of salary, the average hourly wage for a barista is also around $11.00, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, it’s important to note that tips are not as common in the coffee shop industry compared to bartending.

Therefore, bartenders generally have a higher earning potential due to the potential for larger tips.

Casino Dealer

Working as a casino dealer is a unique service industry job that can offer higher earning potential compared to bartending. Casino dealers are responsible for operating various table games, such as poker, blackjack, and roulette.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for gaming dealers is around $21,000, with the top 10% earning over $41,000. However, it’s important to note that the income of casino dealers can fluctuate based on factors such as the type of casino, location, and tips received from players.

Additionally, becoming a casino dealer often requires specialized training and obtaining a license.


Bartending can be a fun and flexible career that offers the potential to earn good money in tips. However, income varies greatly depending on factors like work location, venue type, shifts worked, and experience level.

While bartending has its advantages, it also comes with challenges like late hours, being on your feet, and dealing with difficult customers.

If you have the skills and personality for bartending, it can be a rewarding career, especially if you strategically choose where you work and when. But make sure to go in with realistic expectations around both earnings and work environment.

With hard work and skill, many bartenders are able to earn a comfortable living doing what they love.

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