Bartender Salary: How Much Do Bartenders Make on Average?
It's notoriously difficult to predict earnings for any job that relies on tips. So many things factor in, including the type of venue, the clientele, your personality, your level of skill, how crowded your shifts are, and whether tips are pooled.
There are no guarantees, but we can look at wage data for bartenders across the country to get an estimate.
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How Much Do Bartenders Make, Officially?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary (median wage) for a bartender in the U.S. in May 2020 was $12 an hour or $24,960 a year. The bottom 10% of bartenders made below $8.63/hour ($17,940/year), while the top 10% made more than $22.93/hour ($47,690/year).
May 2020 was not a banner month for the profession, but these numbers are roughly in line with the reported income from May 2019.
"Reported" is the key word, there. For a tipped profession like bartending, the income is divided into two categories: base pay (an hourly rate) and tipped pay. Few in the service industry are 100% honest about their tips with Uncle Sam. The BLS collects their data from surveys instead of the IRS, but the point stands.
As a result, you can take BLS data as a conservative estimate. It's the low end of what you stand to earn.
How Much Do Bartenders Make a Year in Base Pay?
Even the base pay of a bartender (the "predictable" version) is going to vary a lot.
Part of it depends on where you live – that dictates the minimum wage laws and the crowd that a business owner has to staff for. The type of business and the skill required (as well as the owner's generosity) will dictate how much above the local minimum wage you can expect.
The tipped minimum wage is $2.13/hour by federal law, but many jurisdictions have a higher requirement. In jurisdictions that allow a tip credit, the employer is supposed to make up any shortfall in tips and pay out of pocket to bring employees up to the regular minimum ($7.25/hour by federal law), but many don't. That means it's possible to make less than the federal minimum wage.
Luckily, bartenders usually make more than the tipped minimum because they're rarely the lowest-ranking tipped employee. Sleepy bars in sleepy towns, however, may end up with the lowest possible base wage, especially in the Southeastern United States, where the federal minimum wage stands.
Estimates for the average national base salary vary from website to website, but as of early March 2022, sites report:
- $11 an hour (roughly $23,000 a year) according to Salary.com and Ziprecruiter
- $33,166 a year according to Glassdoor
- $16 an hour ($48,363 a year) according to Indeed
You can visit those links to check likely base pay at your location and experience level.
How Much Do Bartenders Make in Tips?
According to Indeed, the average bartender in the U.S. makes $150 per day in tips.
The amount of tip money a bartender will make in one night is directly related to the pricing/clientele at that establishment and how many customers they serve. On a slow night, bartenders can usually manage $40 in tips, but they may end up with nothing. On a crowded night, they can make as much as $400-600 in tips at a high-end bar or a fine dining establishment.
Glassdoor estimates the average bartender in the U.S. makes over $25,000 a year in tips, for a total income of just under $60k.
Where Do Bartenders Make the Most Money?
Since we're just talking about relative numbers, let's turn back to the BLS for this one.
According to them, bartenders make the most when they work in resorts, hotels, restaurants, and breweries/distilleries/wineries. Bars and casinos get you a mid-range income. The worst pay is found in civic, social, amusement, and recreational facilities.
The top-paying states for bartending are Washington State, Arizona, New York, and Massachusetts. Top metropolitan areas include Seattle, New York City, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, Boston, and Los Angeles.
Places where bartending pays the best also tend to have a high cost of living, so it will balance out. But bartenders in these locales that work at high-end bars, restaurants, and hotels report can make six figures a year.
But How Much Can Bartending Cost You?
Despite its excellent earnings potential, bartending can end up costing you money – that's because you can be held liable if you serve to an intoxicated or underage customer. In some states, you can even be held liable for the bad actions of a customer after they leave.
It's important to know the serving laws in your area and the possible consequences of breaking them, from criminal fines to civil lawsuits. Some states require bartenders to take training in alcohol compliance, while in other jurisdictions, you can get some leeway if your training is recent.
We offer alcohol seller/server training that's accepted by the legal authority in many jurisdictions. It's online, self-paced, convenient, and best of all, cheap. If you also need food handler training, you can bundle! Check out our catalog and enroll today!