How Much to Tip a Bartender (By Drink or Tab) 

Published August 22, 2022
Young bartender standing at bar counter holding glass and taking money for tip

In a world of tipping culture, you may find your head spinning as you hover with cash in hand or pen poised over the tip line: how much to tip your bartender? Wherever you're bar hopping, people will have opinions about just how much of your money to hand over. From a dollar a drink to a 20% total tip, wonder no more about when, where, and how much to tip your bartender.

How Much Do You Tip a Bartender?

There are different suggestions for various bars, events, and situations, but if you walk away with nothing else, aim for 20% of the total amount after taxes, 25% or more for excellent service. Calculating 20% couldn't possibly be easier, either. Take your bill total, such as $24.00, and move the decimal one spot to the left for 10%, $2.40. Double that total to arrive at $4.80, which is 20% of $24.00. Obviously, you can add any additional tip if your bartender was a rockstar or if you're feeling like a superstar yourself and want to put some good karma into the universe. No one has ever been upset to get extra cash. You can also make it easier on yourself by rounding up to $3 when doubling from 10 to 20%, so the mental math isn't as tricky. Thankfully, though, we all have a calculator in our pocket now.

If you want to tip exactly 18%, multiply your check total ($68.00) by 0.18 (68 x 0.18 → $12.24) to get your total. To tip 15%, take your 10% (68.00 → $6.80), then divide that total in half to get 5% (6.80 ÷ 2 → 3.40). Then add your 5% (3.40) to your 10% (6.80) to get 15% ($10.20). The math works the same for 25%, adding 5% to your 25% total. You can always work in whole numbers by rounding up or down to the closest dollar.

In short, tip 20% or its equivalent during your night out at the bar. You can add more money, tipping 25% or higher for an outstanding evening. A good rule of thumb is $1 or so a beer or $2-4 a cocktail, depending on whether you ordered a simple gin and tonic or you've ordered a more time-consuming cocktail such as a mojito or frozen piña colada. A good bartender will remember your face - for better or worse.

How much you tip a bartender now or from year to year doesn't change when you use the 20% rule, but as inflation affects the dollar, it's inevitable that a tip would become $2-3 for a beer or $3-5 for a mixer drink. A 20% tip or more is defined and easy to follow if you're not sure.

When Do I Tip the Bartender?

Your best bet, unless it's a cash-only bar, is to keep your tab open. Nothing makes a drink take longer to order, and enjoy than endlessly opening and closing your tab all night long. If you do feel more comfortable paying as you go, it's worth tipping the bartender well on that first drink or round, adding an extra dollar or two, rather than telling them you'll tip them at the end. Continue to tip on each drink or round if you're paying as you go; otherwise, tip when you close out your tab.

Woman signing receipt after paying bar tab

Should I Tip Cash?

Cash is king in most walks of life, and the restaurant industry is no different. Bartenders are legally required to declare all tips at the end of the night, or at least a significant portion of their sales based on any laws, so a cash tip doesn't go tax-free as many think. The upside to tipping in cash means that the bartender will likely leave with all their cash tips that night, but some will also be able to leave after the house, or the restaurant, tips them out their credit card tips.

Do I Tip if There's an Automatic Gratuity?

If a bartender or restaurant applies automatic gratuity, it's often due to a larger group of people sitting together or drinking together. This prevents the bartender from getting stiffed or missing out on a tip at the night's end. Often times, a group doesn't think to include a tip when paying a friend for their drink or will think someone else will take care of the tip, or the last person standing may be in charge of all the drinks tabs that were left behind and might be upset at their bill and not tip much or at all. Whatever the reason, an auto gratuity is a way to ensure that a bartender is paid appropriately. It's not slight against you or your group; it's a protection of income.

People drinking beer in the pub

Auto gratuity is rarely 20%, most often between 15% and 18t%. If you want to tip 20%, calculate 20% of your bill ($137.00 → 13.7 x 2 → $27.40) and subtract the gratuity from that ($27.40 - $24.66) to get the difference you should tip ($2.74).

Tipping a Bartender at a Wedding and Other Events

If you're the one hosting a wedding or another event, take a moment to see if a tip is included in the package or not. It may only be a certain percentage with the expectation that guests will tip your bartenders, or you will include an additional tip at the end of the night. You'll most often take care of the tip as the host, and the burden won't fall on the guests if the event has an open bar. At the end of the night, you can expect to tip 18-20% of the liquor cost of the event. As always, an additional tip is welcome for those who went above and beyond or you're extra appreciative of the service.

If you're a guest at a wedding with an open bar, you can tip $1 or so whenever you order a drink or every other drink. If you don't have small bills, you can always tip around $5 for yourself, your date, or your friends and not have to worry about tipping each time you go up.

The bottom line is each event and contract will be different, so make sure you know whether you need to tip the bartending service separately or if it's already included in the contract. You never want to sour a business relationship or otherwise with an overlooked detail.

Bartender making red cocktail at the open-air wedding party

Why Should I Tip My Bartender?

A bartender makes a living on tips. In most states, bartender hourly ranges usually hover around $2-3 an hour, and their main source of income is tips. Some states are increasing the hourly tip salary or cash wage, but it still won't be equal to the standard minimum wage. By not tipping, the bartender is essentially paying for you to eat there. They may not be paying for your food, but without a tip or one on the low side, this means after tipping out a food runner or barback, the bartender is paying their support staff from their own funds.

It's never fully appropriate not to tip your bartender, although there are a few occasions or events when it may not be necessary. At a wedding or event, most often, the hosts will tip the staff at the end of the night, but you can still tip your bartender $1 or $2 with each drink order. If the event does not include an open bar, the same rules apply for tipping with beer and cocktails as you would at a bar.

Easy Tricks for Tipping

Keep these tips on hand for easy reference the next time you're unsure how to navigate tipping your bartender.

  • Aim for $1 a beer, or $2-3 per mixed drink, depending on the number of ingredients and how it's prepared
  • When closing out your entire tab after taxes, 18-20% is a good tip to start with. Calculate 20% of your bill by moving the decimal once to the left ($53.00 → 5.30) and then multiplying that total by two (5.30 x 2 → $10.60). The resulting number is a 20% tip.
  • Auto gratuity is typically 18%. If your bartender was attentive or made things easier for you in any way, calculate a 20% tip, subtract the 18% tip, and add that difference or more to the tip line.
  • Undertipping or not tipping at all means the bartender is paying out of pocket for you to have enjoyed a drink or meal at their bar. If something arises that causes you to decline a tip, speak with the bartender or manager as soon as the need arises.
  • Cash is king in this world. However, it's still taxable. But having cash on hand is excellent, so go ahead and tip cash whenever you like.
  • Verbal tips don't pay the bills. If you like your bartender, the biggest way to compliment them is a good tip with a compliment.

Just a Tip or Two for Tipping Bartenders

No one wants to do mental math after a night out, but hopefully, these tips have made your next night out with friends a bit easier when you find yourself arriving at the tip line of your bar tab. Using this guide, you'll bet the one pointing out to your friends that maybe they should tip a little extra.

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