HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Open bar & tipping...

hi all

i work at a catering/banquet hall where we have all sorts of parties ( wedding, bday, retirement, corporate functions, etc...)

when the bar is open, there is 3 choices:

1. cash bar
2. open bar & the bartender doesnt ring up anything in the register
3. open bar & the bartender does ring up every item, but doesnt charge guests but the host gets a extra bill at the end for those drinks rung up.

and let me say when its open bar, sometimes the host requests NO tip jar.

now, im always curious ( and sometimes totally pissed! ) about how the tipping goes.

when there is a cash bar, there is always a tip jar and i always get tipped ( some better than others of course...actually, last night a lady gave me .50 cents on a $7 mixed cocktail. )

when its open bar it goes both ways...and sometimes to the extreme. some people would think with a open bar people are super generous and throw money at you. that happens sometimes...and im very grateful. sometimes there is a open bar and not ONE person all night gives you a dime. its weird.

last week we did a huge funeral-after-party where there were 150 people. it was an open bar and the host said no tip jar because she was going to "tip us out" so last night when i was at work i asked the manager if the people had paid the bill yet and how much did she leave us. my manager told me they did pay the bill, but when the topic of our tip came up, the owner told her not to worry about it.

*^$#@^&( !!!!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. So what dd you say to the owner?

    Is this a job where tips are considered a substantial part of your income?

    Even when there is an open bar, I always tip the bartender. If there isn't a tip jar I lay a buck or two on the bar when I get my drink, maybe once or twice in 30 years someone has told me they can't accept tips.

    Of course when I'm out at a club I tip the bartender even when I order water (free)... I almost always have to drive or walk home, so I drink a lot of water.

    2 Replies
    1. re: svnirvana

      i didnt say anything....he is not the uh....easiest guy to talk to.

      the tips are not a substantial part of my income, we do get a good hourly, but it so interesting to see the difference event by event. i am telling you, alot of open bars people throw money at you. its interesting reading everyones thoughts.

      1. re: niccole

        Is there a certain amount of money you would accept to do this job without tips? If so does the "good" hourly income meet that level?

    2. "funeral-after-party" ... I would not have word it like that! :-)

      In that case, I would not expect to have a tipping jar, it is the not occasion for that, IMO, the person who hired the caterer should pay for the "tip".

      I think that for that kind of service (funeral), the tip should be included in the package price.


      4 Replies
      1. re: Maximilien

        we actually call them "mercy lunches" but i wanted to make sure everyone knew what i was talking about :)

        1. re: Maximilien

          I went to an funeral for a wonderful friend that happened to also be Irish. Believe me, it was a "Funeral-after-party" like you have never seen. What a send off. The bartenders were breaking a sweat keeping up with the patrons. It was open bar, no tip jar, and the people there were tossing cash onto the bar freely. Not sure what the arrangements were with the family of the deceased, but I don't believe there would be any issues with tips.

          1. re: awm922

            As part of a Developmental Psychology assignment a couple of years ago, we had to plan our own funerals and share the information with a loved one. I made sure my wife knew that I wanted an open bar and one of our favorite bands (The Boat Drunks).

          2. re: Maximilien

            I've been to some pretty amazing, wonderful, comforting, fun funeral-after-parties. And tipped.

          3. I work for a catering company that does many large functions. When the bar is fully hosted the (union) bartenders cannot put out a tip jar, they may accept cash but have to do it discretely. Any bartender that has a tip jar/glass/whatever visible on the bar front is told to remove it and if caught again, will be written up. Their tip is guaranteed, not the amount, just the fact that they get a set percentage based on the total consumption. I would assume that some variation of this process would be done in all catering companies but I could be wrong.

            I've been to formal functions (wedding, bar mitzvah) where the bar was fully hosted, and the bartender had a tip jar. I thought that was tacky and that possibly the host didn't know it was inappropriate. One time I did mention it to my BIL (not the host that time) and he didn't care, tipped the guy anyway. But he can afford to be extra generous, which is not a slam at him.

            So my suggestion is, clarify the tip process before you work the function, and you'll know how to proceed from there.

            7 Replies
            1. re: alwayshungrygal

              I would no more tip the bartender at an open bar at a wedding type event than I would tip the waitress who brings my dinner to the table. I consider that the host's duty to take care of And I'm not at these types of events very often, but I've never seen people tip. Maybe they are very discreet.

              1. re: DGresh

                Exactly. Some people don't know what is appropriate and others do, but don't care. I was really ticked to see the glass tip jar and refused to tip. And these weren't small parties, they were both upwards of 150 guests at each one. I'm sure the consumption was pretty good, the bartender never looked bored.

                1. re: DGresh

                  Funny, I always tip the bartender, but not the waiter/ess. I've been told there is a tip added to the bill for the dinner, but not the drinks.

                  1. re: escondido123

                    "I've been told there is a tip added to the bill for the dinner, but not the drinks."

                    I don't know who told you this, but in my experience as both a caterer and the person hiring the caterer/restaurant to host an event it is NOT true. The patron is charged a service (tip, gratuity) charge on the entire bill. And in some states, such as Connecticut even has to pay sales tax on this charge.

                    It is an insult to the host who has to pay this charge for a guest to tip the bartender, and disgusting for a bartender to put out a tip jar or accept a tip.

                    I know I'll raise the ire of bartenders, but I have done this job professionally in the past. When I was in the catering business, our bartenders were instructed that the host was paying the tip and they were NOT allowed to accept a gratuity from a guest under penalty of immediate dismissal. (A bartender at a catered function was paid a party rate, not their usual low hourly wage which is supplemented by tips). If a guest attempted to tip a bartender, the tip was to be refused and the guest told, I'm sorry the host has taken care of us.

                    Simply out, guests don't pay (includes tips) that's what makesd them guests not patrons.

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      A private party and a catered affair are not necessarily the same thing. I once held a very large party in my home for a non-profit. The price of admission included food and one drink--after that it was a cash bar. There was no tip jar but I saw lots of people tipping the bartender. Don't understand why that was wrong.

                      1. re: escondido123

                        I (personal opinion/observation) wouldn't call the function you hosted in your home a party. PARTY implies a host who pays and guests who don't. Here you/and the charity sold admission and sold drinks. Where the attendees are paying patrons there is no problem with them tipping the bartender (unless prohibited in the contract woth the caterer).

                        1. re: bagelman01

                          Good point, though I noticed people even tipped on the first drink that was included in the price of admission.

              2. I tip a bartender no matter what the situation is. I was raised by a dad who always tipped bartenders, hair stylists, corner newsboys, furniture delivery men, etc. It just feels wrong to me not to tip.

                1. If it's a cash bar, I'll tip. Otherwise, I'm a guest not a customer and I don't expect to tip. I got married recently and we had an open bar... tip jars were banned. It's fine if guests wanted to quietly tip, but having a jar out is just tacky.

                  1. When I have contracted catered events with an open bar there was always a gratuity charge included in the total price. I was assured the gratuity, usually 20%, went to servers, bartenders and bussers. If that is the case a tip jar is inappropriate. I would not want the guests to feel they needed to tip anyone.
                    Am I wrong? When you work an open bar are you getting a flat gratuity at the end of the night? Not?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Motosport

                      when i bartend i make $15 a hour. we do not get any flat gratuity at the end of the night. unless my boss is keeping it...

                      1. re: niccole

                        Even if your boss is keeping it, $15 /hour is way more than most servers who do get tips are paid. So your boss could argue the "service" charge is reflected in your hourly wage.
                        I don't tip at open bars for all the reasons already mentioned. I will at a cash bar, but I think that has been based on an unconcious assumption - that the servers are being paid a lower hourly wage because the host is not paying a bar bill with a service charge levied. So it is definitely interesting to me that you are being paid the same either way. I think your boss is guaranteeing you a decent hourly rate not dependent on tips, and any tips you do get are a nice bonus.

                    2. I am with DGresh on this. To me there is nothing more tacky than seeing a tip jar at an open bar. It is the host's responsibility to tip the bartender and staff.

                      1. Woah! That's not cool. If there is a tip jar, I tip, even if it's an open bar. If there isn't a tip jar, I still tip, because I figure thats just what you do when someone provides a service. This should be a no brainer!

                        1. I worked catering for many years and outside of that have organized many corporate and social events. Unless there is a cash bar, the tip is the host's responsibility. Guests often are not carrying any money at hosted events. And every catering outfit I've known works that into the price of the event. If your wage relies heavily on tips, your manager needs to address this either with a flat rate per server/bartender or a percentage of charges.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mojoeater

                            We had a large party during the summer. The planner was told that we, as hosts, would take care of the tip for the valets, the bartenders, etc. I DID NOT want my guests feeling like they had to tip anyone. We gave the owners of the companies very large tips and told them to please have their employees not accept anything. If anyone was offered, they politely said the hosts were taking care of it but 'thank you'. It's tacky to put out tip jars at a private function.

                          2. Open bar--do not tip. I have worked many "service" functions in my time, and that is the way it is done.....tipping an employee is embarrassing when they have to "refuse" you.....

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: KSlink

                              I've never tipped bar staff at a "function". That said, where I am, tipping bar staff under any circumstances is a comparitive rarity.

                            2. Most restaurants (not a bar I know) will have a mandatory tip added in the bill and will state it on the menu as well. It is up to the bar owner to indicate that there are two options (no tip jar = mandatory tip) - then there would be no misunderstandings.

                              1. The only time I'd tip in an open bar situation is if it were a sponsored event at an actual bar. Then I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that the bar staff is making their regularly hourly wage, and thus not tipping them would be mean.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: small h

                                  I have yet to understand open bar anyways, the last one that I attended I specifically told the bartender that I wanted 2 bottles to go.... but the bartender refused.... what does he not understand about open bar? No tip for him!!!!!

                                  1. re: cacruden

                                    You are supposed to carry them out via your stomach.

                                    1. re: cacruden

                                      The host wasn't paying to supply your off-premises drinking.
                                      Also, I don't know the jurisdiction yu are in, but in many states it would be illegal for a bartender to serve a drink he/she knew was leaving the premisies. If you want a bootle to go, you must buy it in a liqour store or other licensed establishment for the sale of off premise alcohol.

                                      1. re: cacruden

                                        Let me help you understand an open bar and the other issue you brought up.

                                        Open bar means someone else is paying all the charges for the bar: product, labor, tip and tax. It means the bar is open until the host decides to shut it down. It means guests may be refused a drink if they are intoxicated. It does not mean anyone can take alcoholic beverages "to go"; guests may not take alcohol outside the function area.

                                        Liquor and health licenses are very specific as to the area they cover and caterers don't want their insurance to cover accidents outside their event area. I did a party once where another caterer did the pre-function outside our building; we made the guests surrender their alcohol before they could come in (we had bars inside). We always post security at the doors and make guests toss the alcohol before they can leave at the end of the party.

                                        1. re: cacruden

                                          cacruden I believe you posted with "tongue in cheek"

                                          1. re: Deborah

                                            One function that I hosted for my daughter's Pre-Prom photo session at my house, included an open bar for the parents of my daughter's friends that were attending the prom.

                                            We gave specific instruction to the catering manager and the servers that alcohol was not to be served until my daughter and her 23 friends got into the two party buses and left.

                                            They were instructed that this was to be an open bar / cocktail event. We were also very clear that we wanted the catering manager to instruct the servers in our presence that tips should not be accepted.

                                            We communicated clearly our needs and they were followed to the end and we were extremely happy.
                                            The caterer included a 15% gratuity on top of his bill, but we gave each server $20 extra for the three hours they worked at our home. This was seperate and on top of what they get paid, plus the division of tips by the caterer...

                                            Ultimately, if you are the host , pay for it all , and instruct who you employ how you want your guests to be treated......

                                            Cash bar is just that...pay as you go, including tips.

                                          2. re: cacruden

                                            Am I safe in assuming that your tongue is firmly in your cheek?


                                        2. Your problem is with your manager/owner....not the concept.
                                          There are specific guidelines for tipping in these situations, as you've read on this topic.
                                          A good manager/owner would be looking out for their employees and not letting you walk away feeling the way you do.

                                          1. It's tacky to 'host' a party but leave the tip for your guests to pay. Include 25% tip in the bill and instruct servers/waiters not to accept additional tips.

                                            I never tip tip jars, or as I call them, when-entitlement-meets-guilt jars. People need to work out their Oedipal issues elsewhere.

                                            1. When I've hosted events with an open bar, I've always instructed the manager not to have the bartenders leave out tip jars. Like many others here, I also find tip jars at open bars to be tacky. Every time I've hosted a 18% - 20% service charge has been added to the final bill, which I've been told goes to the staff that works the event. I usually add 5% - 10% on top of the service charge depending on how good the service is (and it has usually been very good).

                                              I always make it clear to my guests that the drinks and tips have been taken care of, but it has never bothered me if any of my guests wanted to discreetly tip the bartender.

                                              When I am a guest at an event with an open bar, I almost never tip.

                                              1. Most posts herer seem to think ope3n bars are only private functions. I been to open bar nights at bars where one pays the cover and drinks are free. With the bartenders so busy dealing free drinks, it is best to tip as in the legendary mistaken definition 'to insure (ensure) promptness'

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: FrankJBN

                                                  That is new to me. I only know open bars at events. Learned something new. Guess that we're just going to too many events, and don't get to many bars?



                                                2. If it is an open/hosted bar, I usually start with two glasses of white wine, and will leave $5, regardless of the presence, or lack there of, of a tip jar. For the next round, or so, I usually leave $2 per glass.

                                                  If it's a cash/non-hosted, it will usually be close to the same. If the offered wines are higher-end (for events, that is), which is usually not the case, I might tip a bit more.

                                                  We attend many events, though out the year, and the bar situation can differ greatly. Most are open/hosted, but the quality of the wines can differ greatly. The better the wines, the better the tip. However, many of the smaller events are cash/non-hosted, and the quality of the wines is usually horrible.

                                                  Now, I really have no ideas on hard liquor, and mixed drinks, even exotic ones, as I always just do wine.


                                                  1. As for the host paying a tip for the service providers, I do that will all of my catered event. Though the bartenders will get that "group tip" with my payment, I still tip, for my wines, and also when I get a glass for a guest. I normally have about 3 levels of wines - the ones for the masses, then a "secret cache" for those, who would probably know, and appreciate (I give a bigger tip on those), but they require a password, and then, there's the super-secret cache for the really big winos in the group - those require both a password and a handshake. I tip more on those. My hope is that those guests will see me tip, and follow suit - it is not to be ostentatious in any way, but just set an example. I want my guests to tip for service, even though I will too - however I also expect excellent service, perfectly spotless stemware, and an appropriate pour for that stemware (only about 1/3 up the bowl, with plenty of room to swirl. The servers earn their pay, and the tips.


                                                    1. Personally, I have never tipped at an open bar at an event where I was invited (wedding/ bar mitzvah/ embassy reception) and tragically - never really thought about it.

                                                      However, I wonder if people's various habits depend on how they first encountered the open bar. Personally, my very first experiences with an open bar revolved around being a kid at weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs and getting Shirley Temples. No tipping - though had I been told at the time that tipping would have gotten me more maraschino cherries, I would have definitely taken that under consideration. Then as a teenager getting served by a bar tender at an event with an open bar was largely done while assuming/hoping there'd be no adult interference.

                                                      I gather by the time I was "of age" and going to bars and tipping bar tenders - the open bar experience was completely separate for me compared to getting a drink in a bar.

                                                      1. We used to give a party (around 80 people) each year for the boat parade. We, of course, had a bar with one or two bartenders. One year I saw a tip jar - I was very upset. Turns out on of our GUESTS put it out. I told the bartender to take it down and KEEP taking it down even if he put it up again. I had DH speak to the guest - one of his friends but he wasn't going to listen. Jar went up and down until someone took him home!

                                                        1. DH and I are ridiculously extravagant tippers stemming from years of restaurant/night club work in our teens and twenties. If it's a cash bar we tip every drink and and a dollar a shot if we order a round. Also, we have "made" tip cups when there were not ones provided. I realize some people (the hosts) find this offensive in some cases like "I don't want my guests to feel obligated to tip" however, people like us really like to tip. If it was me, I would set out a tip "cup" in an inconspicuous place (visible to patrons, but not obviously noticeable to the barstaff) and if I was busted, say that a client must have set it there without my knowledge. Shady, but hey, some people want to tip.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: bamagirl30

                                                            <however, people like us really like to tip.>

                                                            Then do it. Why do you need a 'tip cup'? Do it quietly, put it on the bar, without fanfare and tip away...
                                                            The hosts at a party are the people who've made the decision to have them or not have them....when there's not one available it's not your place to make one.

                                                            1. re: bamagirl30

                                                              I seldom consult my host, and just hand over what I normally do, below the level of the bar.

                                                              Though I have really never been a server, or bartender, I want to reward the service.

                                                              When I host an event, I have never commented, one way, or another, but do not remember any "tip jars." I tip on the catering, but that is my thing. Even then, if a bartender at one of my events does something really good, like bringing out the 30 year MCallan for a guest, I will tip them directly, and hope that the recipient will do the same too. Maybe that is why some servers and bartenders stand in line for my events?

                                                              I would never wish to embarrass my host, so some things just pass out of eyesight.


                                                              1. re: bamagirl30

                                                                I have to say that while I can understand tipping at an open bar at an event if that's your custom - I really find the idea of creating a tip cup rather presumptuous. As can be seen on many of these threads, tipping can be rather fraught. There are those who just want to do "what's right", those who want to avoid "what's cheap", those who enjoy "being generous". None of those concepts are set in stone and if a party host does not want to place the burden of tipping on guests, then to subvert that issue by creating a tip cup is rude.

                                                                Also - depending on how the catering service is set up, you may just end up getting the bartenders in trouble. If I was a host and just saw a makeshift tip cup on a bar I wouldn't assume it was guests eager to tip, but rather that it was the staff. Should tipping just be your thing, then I believe that Bill's suggestions are most appropriate.