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Mandatory tab at a bar

I am planning on hosting a casual party at a bar for 50 people or so, with guests coming in and out. I recently found out that the bar in which I want to host the party requires everything to be put on a single tab, which is a problem for me because I was planning on people getting their own drinks, and splitting the tab at the end of the night seems unrealistic since so many people will be leaving early. Also since it's all going to be on one tab I am worried about the bartender making a mistake on the bill and not being able to catch it. Does anyone happen to know what is the right way to have everyone pay by the drink so as not to be left with a massive bill at the end?

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  1. I don't have a solution. But why do they want one tab? Bars are generally set up to handle a scenario just like you are describing. It sounds like how a regular evening would run...

    1. I'm sorry if I"m confused but as you said "have everyone pay by the drink"...........so have them pay for their own drinks when the order them?

      1. Are you renting space in the bar for the party? Thus the tab portion? Or are you all just showing up at this bar? I think the set-up of the party will really impact if and how you may be able to handle this.

        There was one party at a bar that I remember where we had "drink tickets" to exchange for drinks. But in this instance we didn't pay for them - each guest was given 3 that were good for any mixed drink at the various bars. In your instance you could try something like this - if the bar would allow it . . . .but if they don't do this regularly, it might be a huge headache for them and they may not let you . . . .

        1. Don't tell the bar it's a party?

          1. I don't understand the premise of your party. Do you have a separate room or space just for your guests and there is a start and a finish time for the party, with food provided for which you are paying? Or, is it basically everyone just showing up when they can and ordering and paying for their own drinks at the bar? To me, that is not an organized party. It is just a bunch of folks meeting up and having a few drinks. If that is the case, I wouldn't even tell the bar, just have people show up as they want, but be sure to pick a place that is big enough.

            1. If they can't accommodate the group, I'd look for another bar. I can't see any way around getting left with a massive bill at the end, if it's all going on one tab!

              Have you talked to someone in management about your needs for your gathering? Perhaps they can help with a solution and run tabs for your guests, as they would regular patrons.

              1. I think there is a problem with the basic premise that you are "HOSTING" a party at a bar. If I were hosting, I would expect one tab, because I would be the only one paying the tab.

                This sounds like you are NOT hosting a party, but organizing a party/get together. If you expect attendees to pay for their own drinks, then they should pay as they go.

                If you have arranged some kind of volume or special discount for the attendees, then you and the manager should work out coupons or a bracelet or other identification to let attendees get the special rate.

                6 Replies
                1. re: bagelman01

                  Sorry if I didn't explain the scenario well. You are right- I am just organizing the party/get-together, but was not planning on paying for everyone's drinks. From my perspective, all I did was reserve space at the bar for everyone to meet up.

                  It sounds to me like the bar understood it differently. When they called to confirm the reservation they mentioned that: a. it has to all be on one tab, b. there will be dedicated servers. Until then, I assumed that we would have to go up to the bar like everyone else. Also, the space assigned to us was basically a small seated area near the bar, and they did not charge me for it.

                  1. re: jo_ro1984

                    If you have time, you should look at how another venue would handle it. If it's different, and more to your liking, you could move the party there, or you could use the information to negotiate with your original bar.

                    Could you have the attendees pay for their drinks in cash, and then you provide the gratuity to the dedicated servers after the event?

                    1. re: jo_ro1984

                      Sounds like the venue is already set. Have you tried calling back and speaking to someone in management? Perhaps if they understood that it's not a hosted party, they can accommodate the group differently. You may have to give up the space assigned to you, but getting stuck with a bill at the end of the night would be more of a nightmare, IMO.

                      1. re: jo_ro1984

                        "It sounds to me like the bar understood it differently."


                        "Until then, I assumed"

                        as the organizer (you are in no way hosting, btw) of this get-together THAT was your opportunity to have a conversation with the manager. simply explain you want a cash bar and see what they say. if they can't or won't accommodate you ( it absolutely does not matter why), then you need a different venue.

                        you say they're putting you in a small space, whatever that means. do your guests know this is cash bar? are they co-workers, friends, family? will everybody actually pay their tab or will some "forget" and just walk? will everybody be drinking or do you have lots of abstainers? will there be food?

                        from the restaurant's side, the single tab is to ensure full payment and will most probably include a tip for the server. plenty of people in big groups try to skate on their fair share of a tip assuming it will go unnoticed.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          Surely having a cash bar would also ensure full payment to the restaurant?

                          1. re: Billy33

                            Cash bar events happen all the time. The only other thing the venue may insist on is a minimum spend, in which the organizer would need to make up the difference if that minimum isn't met.

                    2. How did you frame this party to the bar? Are they setting aside tables, assigning you dedicated servers?

                      1. A "host" pays. If you want a no-host event, then you either find a different venue that will accomodate you, or you make sure that your "guests" understand before the event that they are to pay you for their drinks, and you rely on their honor without complaining about those who take advantage.

                        1. I guess I always thought that's what the term "Cash Bar" ment. If I'm hosting some bar food, but want drinks to be paid on an individual basis, I would call it a "Cash Bar" i.e. you pay for your drinks as you request them. If a bar can't figure this out, then they're in the wrong business.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: mikie

                            the bar, from what i understand, is setting aside space JUST for this party, and providing a dedicated server JUST for this party.

                            therefore, imho, the bar is not at all out of line, especially if this get together is going to be taking place on a weekend night when the bar regulars are likely to be coming in.
                            it is a time-comsuming PITA to have people paying by the drink. if my bar was a popular venue, i'd never give any special dispensation to such a group (i.e. dedicated space, dedicated server) unless they were coming in early on a weeknight.

                            the first rule of bars: ATTEND TO YOUR REGULARS.
                            most regulars run a tab.

                            1. re: westsidegal

                              Well, you've made a number of assumptions that were not specifically spelled out in the OP. I never saw JUST once.

                              Regardless, I've been at many functions where food was served and drinks were not part of the pre paid agenda. In many of these cases people ran their own tab, just like the "Regulars" run their own tab. It shouldn't matter who the person is, they should be able to run their own tab. In many other cases people would run a tab for say half hour or so and would pick up a "round" of drinks for the group and then close the tab. The next person would then do the same. Now I wasn't tending bar, but it never seemed to me that the bar tender was upset by either of these systems of payment. They all seemed to be quite capable of keeping it sorted out and it not being a problem.

                              If you really just want to serve regulars, that's fine, tell people they are a time-consumming PITA and you don't want their business.

                              1. re: mikie

                                Perhaps you missed it but I do believe all of westsidegals points were one's that the OP added in their 2nd contribution to this thread. So while they weren't part of the original post, they were confirmed by jo_ro. So based on the additional facts jo_ro added I think westsidegal is pretty much on the money.

                                1. re: jrvedivici

                                  maybe not "on the money" completely . . . .

                                  A single server in a bar should be able to handle . . .let's say 25 tabs (50 people, some will probably be couples and/or paying together - and they aren't all showing up at one time, they are coming throughout the night) and I would assume most people will run a tab for the time they are there . . . .

                                  So unless the bar is setting aside a very large area, the impact on the bar isn't that great - and hey, they said they would have the party - and it could be bumping up the nightly business . . .

                                  So while I don't think the bar is out of line - they certainly aren't being accommodating - and an "attend to your regulars" mentality is a fast way to make non-regulars out of a party of 50 . . . I wouldn't support that attitude in my business.

                                  1. re: jrvedivici

                                    I went back and read the second post from jo_ro and stand corrected. It would appear to me that what jo_ro wanted was not what the bar wanted, a basic misunderstanding. Rock and hard spot situation, jo_ro wants "A" and bar wants to provide "B". It would appear that if jo_ro doesn't want the bar bill, he/she will need to find another establishment that is willing to provide what he/she wants in terms of who pays for what. Since it doesn't seem that the bar really wants to accomodate jo_ro, they are in fact telling him/her that they're a time-consumming PITA and we don't wany your business.

                                    I guess I still don't understand why a dedicated space and dedicated servers can't run individual tabs just like they do for everyone else in the bar. If I'm seated in this area or some other area I can typically run a tab, it doesn't really matter where I'm seated. Although I can see where there is concern about people coming and going, but if you start a tab when they come in and you have the credit card information, I don't really see how you would get stiffed. But then I don't run a bar and don't stiff people for a bar tab, so maybe this can happen.

                                    1. re: mikie

                                      Just a FYI, and this does come from experience, it could be something as simple as their POS system isn't set up to handle that many potential "open tabs". Even at a bar (especially where food is served) each stool is assigned a seat or number so when food comes out the runner knows approximately where the customer is seated. It's not uncommon for a bar area to only have the capacity to keep 20/30/40 "tab's" open at one time.

                                      Maybe they don't have a POS system at all and that is why they are bringing in an extra person as a server?

                                      There are any number of legitimate reasons why this request can't be facilitated by the establishment, they were up front with jo_ro, he hasn't indicated they were rude they just can't specifically facilitate his request, which I can completely understand.

                                      1. re: jrvedivici

                                        Pardon me for being dense, POS system or not, I just don't see the difference, but that may be due to my inexperience of doing anything at a bar but drinking and paying.

                                        If as you say, the "system" is flawed, then how would they accomodate the patrons that would normally be in that area of the bar? Are they crowding in more patrons than they would typically have in that area? Since it's a seperate area just for this group and only one person is paying for food, that part seems like it should be simple for anyone and any "system". So now it's just about the drinks, and I've lived in enough cities to know that bars have standing room only crowds on many occasions and they seem to be able to accomodate that just fine. I'm sure there is some valid reason for the bar's policy, it's just beyond my comprehension, at least if they really want business, but maybe they don't. My business experience has always been to try to accomodate a potential customer and not take the Hobson's Choice approach.

                                        1. re: mikie

                                          If you wouldn't mind pointing out where I said or insinuated you were "dense" I would certainly appreciate it. This is a discussion board, all I was doing was trying to give you some viable reasons why the bar/restaurant policy is what it is. There was no name calling.

                                          1. re: jrvedivici

                                            I wasn't trying to insinuate that you called me dense, only my inability to understand your explanation. Dense was my term for me, sorry for the misunderstanding. Unfortunately I still don't understand why the bar should have to treat the drinks Jo-ro's "guests" order any differently than any other guests.

                            2. I think you need to find a new venue.

                              I don't think this is necessarily unreasonable of the bar - it appears that this is their standard policy for reserving an area for a large group. It may be a technological reason, or a logistical reason, or a not getting stiffed reason.

                              But I can't see a way of having a single tab and managing to collect the cost of individual drinks from individual people throughout the evening that both work and wouldn't totally throw off the tone of the party.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                I agree with this suggestion. I assume since the bar is reserving the space for you, they want to make sure they actually sell some drinks. You could be a group of tee-totallers meeting for a bible study for all they know. Single tab, guaranteed minimum makes sense from their perspective.

                              2. You party is quite big and to run separate tabs would probably require the bar to have more bartenders on duty which might add to your cost. Either have a cash bar or have everyone agree to split the tab evenly.

                                1. It certainly is a nightmare situation for the bar. Imagine a big crowd of people coming in and trying to spend money on drinks!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: chowyadoin99

                                    Spending money, and a large group of people opening tabs are two different things. If you think people don't walk out on "tabs" on a semi regular basis you are giving your fellow man too much credit. (Get it? Credit?)

                                  2. Thank you everyone who commented for the suggestions! After a few people mentioned that it seems unusual for the bar to be unable to accommodate multiple tabs, I decided to try talking to the manager again. It turns out the fourth time was the charm, because they eventually relented and decided to let us open a tab for every person (provided that we close each tab immediately after getting each drink). I'm still not 100% sure I understand why they won't just accept cash like most other bars, but hey in the end it all worked out (granted that a few people were a bit annoyed and confused). Thanks again for everyone's help!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: jo_ro1984

                                      I'm sorry if I missed this somewhere else in this thread, but did you say the bar "won't just accept cash"? So you are saying the bar wanted everything on one tab originally, now they agreed to separate tab's that have to be paid immediately, using just credit cards? No cash?

                                      I feel silly typing this, but that's how I'm reading what you are saying. If that's accurate that is beyond weird.

                                      1. re: jo_ro1984

                                        Re: paying with cash. Did they specifically say you couldn't pay with cash? I'm guessing that when they said open and close a tab they are just saying that every drink needs to be paid for immediately, as opposed to someone ordering a few drinks over a couple of hour period and paying for all of them at the end. It sounds to me like they explained it to you as if you were working there, i.e. a tab will be opened in the POS, the drink order will be entered, and then it will immediately be closed with payment. It really shouldn't matter how you pay and I'd actually think they would prefer you pay in cash for dozens of transactions rather than be charged for multiple credit charges.