Bartending Tips: How the Pros Earn $400+ A Night In Tips

by Rob Doherty

People get into bartending for all sorts of reasons. Some simply need a job, but most people gravitate toward the industry because they have an affinity for some particular aspect of it. Maybe they like being at the center of the party. Maybe they’re a beer fanatic and they’ve always wanted to work at a brewery. And maybe they’re in it to get laid.

Whatever a person’s reasoning is for initially getting into bartending, I guarantee that their reason for staying in it changes over time. After enough years in a bar, the party can get old, but one thing that never loses its appeal is the fact that you walk out the door every single night with money in your pocket. It’s like magic: you can clock into your shift broke, and clock off with hundreds of dollars in cash.

It’s a beautiful lifestyle, really. For the most part, you never hear of a bartender living paycheck to paycheck. Maybe sometimes day to day, but that comes with the territory.

How Much Is a Lot?

When it comes to bartending, every bartender’s perception of the big bucks is based on what sort of bar they work at. Working at a lazy dive or a low-end restaurant, a $100 dollar night feels pretty good. At a busier dive, restaurant, or hotel bar, things tend to top out around $200 or $250.

But if you really want to rake it in, you want to be looking into positions at upscale cocktail bars or restaurants, hot dance clubs, high class resorts, or top tier casinos. At these types of joints, an average night will come in at around $250, good nights will easily exceed $400, and on a truly good night, bringing in more than a grand is not unheard of.

How It’s Done

There is a fine art to being a big-buck bartender. Some of it is overt, but much of what you do is very subtle.

First off, the obvious: look the part. Dress in a manner that suits your bar whether you’re working at a resort, a classy restaurant, or a rock venue, and make sure that no matter the case your clothes are always clean. No one likes having drinks reached across the table by a sweat-reeking mess.

Next, treat every customer as if they’re an old friend, even if you’ve never met them before. Shake hands, pat shoulders, give hugs, and always look happy to see them in general. Always present yourself with a smile and greet every person who enters the bar.

If you’ve never met a customer before, introduce yourself and ask their name, then remember it. The surest way to make the big tips is by developing dedicated regulars, and it all starts with being able to call them by name. From there, learn everything you can about them, but don’t be prying. What do they do for work and for leisure? Are they married? Do they have kids? And remember what they drink. Everyone loves walking into a bar and being able to order “the usual”. It makes them feel cool.

Possibly the most important thing you can do is make drinks quickly and accurately. The less time people spend thirsty, the more they’ll tip. And it never hurts to make a stiff drink now and again. No one likes a weak drink, but rarely will they complain about a little extra kick.

Be a Flirt

It might seem obvious that a bit of flirting will bring in a bigger tip, but there are a few guidelines to flirting.

First off, if you’re serving a couple, flirting is pretty much out. If you do it, you risk a scene. If, on the other hand, you’re smooth enough to subtly flirt with both members of the duo, go for it. This is called being charming and charm is what makes a bartender rich.

When flirting, don’t do it too often and don’t overstep your bounds. Bartenders who flirt constantly with absolutely everyone are generally obnoxious and despised by everyone around them. And bartenders who push things too far end up chasing off business, making a bar name for the bar, and ultimately getting fired.

The bottom line is, known how and when to deliver a compliment or a wink. Everyone loves getting a bit of extra attention…

Know When a Drink Is on the House

This doesn’t mean that you should be giving the place away for free, but every good bartender and bar manager understands the benefit of giving out a free drink now and again, especially to brand new customers or long time regulars. For the newbies, it gives them a good reason to come back. For the regulars, it lets them know that their business is appreciated.

But beware—giving away too many drinks can lead to a negative outcome. It sounds contradictory, but once you become known as the bartender who constantly gives out free drinks, you’ll see your tips drop. If you can’t act like a professional, people won’t treat you like one.

Jokes, Stories, and Lies

Everyone loves the bartender who always has a great joke or can tell a good story. Learn which of your life experiences are the most captivating, and craft them into a captivating tale. And feel free to exaggerate and adjust your story to meet your audience’s expectations. Your goal is to entertain.

While being able to deliver a good story is important, having the ability to listen well is equally so. There is a lot of truth to the old adage claiming that bartenders are part therapist and confessor.

Above All Else…

Provide excellent service! This one should be a no-brainer, but you have no idea how many times I’ve listened to other bartenders complaining about the size of a tip after I’ve just watched them ignore their customers, act rude or pushy, make sloppy drinks, and do a terrible job in general. If you want to be a well paid bartender, then be a good one and do your job correctly.

That’s really all there is to it. Try to work at a busy or upscale bar. Be friendly to everyone. Entertain. Do your job well. That’s the recipe to earning the big bucks.

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