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Feb 17, 2011 07:31 AM

Open bar - should you tip the bartender

I am throwing a party for my wife and I am covering the bar tab. I want to better understand if the bartender should expect tips from the patrons or if I need to add that on top at the end of the night.

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  1. This might sound greedy, but it's probably both. My reasoning is that some patrons will tip as normal, but a sizable percentage will not tip at all or tip very little(I am a bartender and it seems that the cheaper things get, the more you give away, the stingier people tend to get with gratuities. Some weird thrifty psychology kicks in or something....). I think it's the hosts responsibility to get the total tip up to 20% for the bartender. Of course this is a "by the seat of your pants" type're going to have to just guess a bit and try to do the right thing.

    1. Only if he/she was really over the top in service, otherwise, your guests will most likely (hopefully) tip the bartender, so no need. The establishment will also tack on a fixed gratuity for groups of X or more, right?

      4 Replies
      1. re: BiscuitBoy


        Gratuity is almost always added to the final bar tab, to be paid by the host. Open bar guests are not expected to tip, since the bar is "hosted", but many give a few bucks here and there.

        1. re: invinotheresverde

          From observing other bar patrons, my buddies, and myself....everyone throws the bartender a buck at an open bar...ymmv

          1. re: BiscuitBoy

            I do the same, but the host is expected to cover the gratuity.

            1. re: BiscuitBoy

              In my experience that has more to do with the guests either not realizing the gratuity is included or they're semi-aware but want to be sure.

              I usually do a little bit in that I'll throw in a couple of bucks here and there but I'm not rigorous about it like I am at a real bar.

        2. When I throw a party I pay for the party. Since this is an open bar and not a cash bar it is my responsibility to pay the gratuity. I have instructed bartenders to turn down any and all tips and that if they accept any tips there will be severe consequences up to and including a significant reduction in my payment. They must tell anyone who offers, "your host has taken care of everything and i can not accept a tip."

          38 Replies
            1. re: kmcarr

              What does that response even mean?

              1. re: princeofpork

                it means kmcarr really really agrees with jfood
                usually posters just put +1 if they agree but don't want to add anything else. the +10 is for emphasis.

                and I also +10 to jfood's response

            2. re: jfood

              I agree that it is the host's responsibility to pay for the gratuity, but I've always been curious as to why a host would tell the bartender there would be "severe consequences" for accepting additional tips.
              As a guest, if I see a tip jar out, I assume it is my responsibility to tip the bartender, or at least it is encouraged. If there is no tip jar, I assume the host is taking care of the bartender, however, if they go out of their way to do something extra for me, why can I not extend them a tip?
              I assume it is solely so that other patrons don't observe my tipping the bartender and assume they also have to tip? Is that it?

              1. re: hyacinthgirl

                The bartender's job is to service my guests equally, irrespective of upside. S/he already has been paid. A tip jar is not allowed and totally gauche. I do not want the bartender doing "something special" to get a tip if it means someone else might get less service. If you remove the incentive to differentiate service then noone should be treated differently. This is a private party I am hosting, money is not accepted by them in the same manner it would not be accepted by anyone who has be hired at a private party at my house.

                Hope that helps

                1. re: jfood

                  Wrongo, buddy. No one ever said by giving customer X amazing service that customer Y will receive less. There is always incentive to spend more time with certain guests, usually having nothing to do with money.

                  Sometimes bartenders simply spend extra time with certain guests. For example, if you ask me which bourbons we carry, a five minute discussion and taste test could begin. That's not because of a presumed tip, but because the guest is showing interesting in my favorite type of alcohol. Same goes if a guest orders a White Zin, which I don't carry, and I offer her a sample of the off-dry Riesling instead. A discussion/ Q and A could easily start on the spot. I would consider both of those situations doing "something special", would you not? They're not a standard as far as customer service goes.

                  There will always be just reasons to differentiate service, many of them having nothing to do with the tip. Think about it. You'd spend extra time with client Z if he was showing more interest than normal on one of your products, wouldn't you? Same goes for bartending. Believe it or not, most of us in the booze biz like what we do, and love answering questions and talking about what we sell.

                  That said, no, there should never be a tip jar at hosted events, which implies the guest should tip. If a guest want to shoot the bartender a fin for going above and beyond, I don't see why you'd particularly care.

                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                    hey invino! as a non-host next time I'm invited to a "catered affair" how do I request you're running things? heh.

                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                      i never said it was an absolute, mathematical zero-sum game on service. I said I want to remove any incentive to give different service. In your example...what if the guy receives the information in round one and there is noone on line, therefore no harm no foul. and he slips the BT a $5. Next round, a little more crowded and BT knows Mr 5er is back and there is now a line. Another conversation occurs for a couple of minutes while the next in line sees the discussion and now a $10 passes hands. Two things have happened that I particularly care about about. 1 - the people in line behind had to wait longer and and 2 - they think they need to tip. We can come up with all sorts of examples, bottom line "Not Tip" accepted policy takes all that stuff off the table. If BT had told the first guy, "I am terribly sorry but the host has taken care of everything and we are not allowed to receive any tips." Poof, matter closed for the next round.

                      And as I have delineated below. I "particularly care" because it is the way I would like to have my party handled. Please note the pronouns are all first person. If the BT or the guy slipping money at their sponsored and paid event would like to run their party a different way, they have that option, but this is my party, my payment, my rules and they have been agreed to by all parties.

                      It may be an agree to disagree sorta subject.

                      Have a great weekend, I.

                      1. re: jfood

                        The honest answer is that barstaff won't do that if there's a line. You're a non-drinker and I'm a very (much more than I'd like to admit sometimes) experienced bartender. You just have to trust me on this.

                        As far as the people in line behind the tipper go, they're either going to tip or not. Seeing someone else do it won't change that. I'm telling you this from personal experience.

                        For example, if a bartender at a hosted bar makes me a great Negroni and takes a few seconds to chat, he's getting a twenty, even if he says there's a no tipping policy. I'd simply leave it on the bar or slide it partially under the napkin holder. I doubt very highly that any bartender would throw it in the trash.

                        My thought process is: control what you can control and let the small stufff go. You literally can't control this (restaurants/bars/function halls will not fire the bartender), so why make a big deal?

                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                          correct in that you cannot control everything which is why i really like the B-man suggestion on the charity.

                          1. re: invinotheresverde


                            as a fellow bartender your perception and experience are spot on! it is clear who understands and loves the industry and those who are merely served. props.

                      2. re: jfood

                        All vet bartenders worth anything will not show preferential service. I have people that give me 100 dollar tips but they don't get preferential treatment. If i make 500 in one night and one guy tips me 100 how stupid would i be to spend most of my time on 20% of my money. The only bartenders who kiss up to tippers are lazy bartenders.

                        1. re: SH4LIFE

                          You are saying that 99 percent of all bartenders are lazy?

                      3. re: hyacinthgirl

                        Should there even be a tip jar out if it's a "hosted" party with an open bar? If *I* were hosting, I'd see to it that there were no tip jars in sight.

                      4. re: jfood

                        I agree with you completely. In fact I recently hosted a business affair with an open bar. The contract stated that the bartenders, hat/coat check and parking valet could not accept tips. No tip jars/glasses/plates were to be present.
                        Small printed signs were placed on the bar, at the hat/coat check and at the valet desk that read:
                        Your host has provided gratuities to our staff, please do not tip as it may not be accepted. Any tips left will be donated to charity.

                        At the end of the evening, the party manager came to me with $23 in cash that had been left by my guests and asked which charity the restaurant should make a check to.

                        The establishment handled this well, some of my guests just insist on showing off or ignoring rules.

                          1. re: BiscuitBoy

                            $1 per coat/hat checked, $2 per car (these personnel were also serving 'regula'r restaurant guests), $50 per bartender (these were also paid 'party' rates for exclusive service for my party, not their lower hourly wages received when working a cash bar).

                            This is on top of a service charge paid to the establishment, part of which was to be distributed to the service personnel.

                            1. re: bagelman01

                              fwiw, the last time i had a private event at a restaurant, i was told by a number of people (including the catering mgr) that the 'service' charge really doesn't go to the service personnel, it goes entirely to the restaurant.

                              i made sure to tip the servers in green money cash in their hands.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                Every caterer/establishment has their own distribution plan for the service charge.
                                It's a long time since I worked in the catering business, but at that time we charged 18% service. 60% went to the actual party help. 40% went to the house.

                                In the case of this affair which I hosted, the service charge was 22% with 10% going to the party staff. This was spelled out very carefully in the contract and observed by the caterer. I happen to know one of the waitstaff (daughter of a neighbor) who showed her check to my daughter. The paystub showed both a flat fee for working the party and an amount for gratuity paid by customer.

                                Not all caterers may be ethical or honorable, but the one I engaged is/was.

                                Discussion of the service charge needs to be made with the caterer at the time of negotiation not after the contract is signed.

                                That said, when I host, I pay, NOT my guests. I did not invite them to go out "Dutch Treat" (politically incorrect, but I'm old).

                                If the caterer wants my business, then he and his staff must abide by the contract in full.

                        1. re: jfood

                          Who says he's doing anything special? A bartender at a bar is also supposed to serve everyone equally, and they get tips. Seems awful judgy to presume that your guests are asking for favors and that the bartender is equally in cahoots. What if he's just a nice guy and one of your guests appreciated his service on a single drink? This seems a lot less far-fetched than your conspiracy theory. You could ask them not to put out the tip jar, but to say they cannot accept any tips at all sounds like you expect some servitude rather than service.

                          1. re: throwbookatface

                            in the US, the tipping of a server is based on the fact that they earn less than minimum wage and they need the customers to pay on a basis other than the owner of the restaurant paying them a minimum wage. In the instance of my private and pre-agreed priced party the owner, the chef, the clean up people the servers, the band, etc. have all agreed to a fixed ups no extras. It is my party and the owner of the restaurant, the counterparty to the contract has agreed to certain conditions and by extensions, his employs have agreed as well. Tipping is disallowed under the contract, the employees have agree to these conditions and that is what I expect. those are the conditions that everyone has entered into the deal. They do not like it...there' s the door or they have breached a legal agreement.

                            Tipping has gotten way out of hand from both sides. I want the servers to focus on their jobs and I want the guests to not see Tom slip the guy $20 and now they are next in line and feel any implicit pressure to do likewise.

                            You want to have a different arrangement with the owner and staff, i have no problem, but please do not put words in my mouth. all people that are hired to perform a task are paid for the task...pretty simple in my book, no ups, no extras.

                            1. re: jfood

                              To say that tipping is based on servers earning less than the minimum wage is not completely correct. Some states have minimum-wage law exemptions for tipped employees while others don't. California, for example, doesn't and in San Francisco, the local minimum wage is around $10 per hour regardless of whether the employee receives tips.

                              1. re: nocharge

                                thank you for the clarification nocharge...but it does not change anything in my position. Can't wait to see the thread, "if a server earns minimum wage does he deserve a tip"...that should be a fun one to stay away from. :-))

                              2. re: jfood

                                Right, I understand you don't want them going outside of a contract. My question remains, though - why include that in the contract at all? Yes, they agreed to a fixed price, but if some nice guy wants to show some appreciation, why is it your intent to prevent this from happening?

                                1. re: throwbookatface

                                  Contracts are in place to avoid confusion and to delineate the terms under which each party needs to perform. Under the "why include" I also include the time, the number of staff, the menu, the room, the date, the payment, the deposit, the refund policy, the number of committed guests, whether paper plates or china, whther white glove or jeans, whether self serve or served, all sorts of things. Surprises lead to bad feelings and potentially lawsuits and I try to avoid both.

                                  And to give my reasonings:

                                  - I am the host and therefore the owner and decision maker of the event
                                  - I have hired the room, the chef, the staff and I decide the guest interface or I find another place
                                  - they have agreed to more than a fixed price, in consideration for my paying a fixed price they have agreed to provide the room, food, staff, etc under terms and conditions of the contract including no tips (although I love b-man's charity idea above). I have not entered into an agreemnt of "I will pay $100 per person and you will do what you want."
                                  - the staff are by extension seconded employees of mine for the event
                                  - I do not want any incentive, and not to mean collusion, bad intent, or anything whatsoever to motivate any of my seconded staff from performing anything but perfect and equal service to each and every guest
                                  - I do not want any of my guests to feel pressured to "keep up with the Jones" because one of the guests is being ill mannered and waving a hundy at the bartender or any other of my seconded staff
                                  - I completely, totally and emphatically resent the fact that the tip mentality has extended to every tom, dick and harry customer facing activity and I want nothing to do with it at my hosted party
                                  - i do not allow this at parties I host at my house, just because it is at a restaurant does not change basic good manners

                                  Let me turn the question around.

                                  Why is it so important for an employee to have his hand out at every event including those in which he is well compensated? This is a private event not a gig at a restaurant or bar.

                                  Hope that helps.


                                  1. re: jfood

                                    Wow. Just wow. Tipped employees always have their hands out? They're nothing more than common beggars, are they?

                                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                                      Oh I. You know my love for restaurants and servers. A hyperbole always brings a point to an interesting conclusion. I have seen tons of posts where people lump wallstreeters into the biggest bunch of pompous a-holes in the world and i am only 5'8". :-)

                                      But if you took that personally, I apologize.

                                2. re: jfood

                                  Tom is going to slip the guy $20 whether you like it or not, I assure you.

                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                    And if he gets caught then he may not get paid by the restaurant for working the private party under the terms of the agreement. BT's call.

                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                        Maybe, maybe not. Or it might take the following form. If my contract says "no tips" and the BT takes a tip, i will absolutely reduce my payment to the caterer-restaurant, and not dollar for dollar. They can now decide how to handle the BT. They may decide to eat the reduction or pass it on, their call.

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          I used to believe if I was unhappy with any portion of the service or food of a restaurant, e.g. * bad food requested to be taken off the bill*, I would not pay for that portion of the meal.....I have even relayed a few stories here of my past experiences......where I said I would not pay the bill, or that portion of the bill....and the restaurant could call the cops, file a report and I would address it in municipal court.

                                          Regardless if it is truly a civil matter or not.....It has now been revealed to me that this is theft of services and I could be arrested for non payment., then proceed as indicated above. There have recently been a few stories of celebrities being arrested for refusing to pay their checks that seem to support that position.

                                          You may very well be correcty with your position on your contract terms....but really, is it worth it for youu to find out to prove your point.

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            Then you're breaking your end of the contract. ;)

                                            I just say breathe in, breathe out. It's out of your hands, dawg.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      you know nothing about the restaurant business. You get skilled bartenders and servers because the restaurant industry is pure capitalism. The strong make money the weak have to deal with it. Flat rates cater to inferiority.

                                  2. re: jfood

                                    absolutely agree. I would not expect my guests to even necessarily have money on them to tip.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      When I've thrown a party with an open bar I've tip the bartender significantly. I never expect my guests to spend a dime. They are guests for goodness sakes. No tip jars are acceptable at my parties.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Absolutely. There's no tip jar by the food or cake, I presume, so there shouldn't be a tip jar by the bar either.

                                      2. Well, I think it depends on a few things. First, if you are paying the bar tab, who is paying for the food? Are patrons paying for their own? Where is the party? Is it in the backyard, a restaurant, a banquet hall, etc.

                                        If you are in a private space, you will probably have your own bartender. Usually there is a charge for the bartender. Any gratuity will be on top of that. You can either allow them to put out a tip jar, or not, your choice. Either way, it's nice to give them a little extra at the end if you were happy overall.

                                        If you are in a bar or restaurant, are the drinks being served to guests at the table, or are they going to the main bar? If your guests are being served at the table then tipping is not an issue, as no money will be changing hands. If that is the case, you should add the gratuity to the bar total.

                                        If they are going to the main bar, you can either allow tipping or not, but you really won't be able to monitor it. In that scenario I'd just let the bartender accept tips, and then tip again at the end.

                                        1. Anytime I've ordered/contracted for an open bar, I pay the gratuity. No tip jar! If someone wants to slip the bartender a few bucks, that up to the individule. If I go to a party/event with an open bar, I won't tip. I know the game. To each his/her own.