Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you most likely have a fair share of friends or acquaintances that have worked (or currently work) as a bartender.
As it turns out, especially here in the U.S. (more on that below), bartending is a very popular and high-demanding gig.
Bartenders often live flexible lives, rarely having weekly schedule that doesn’t shift…
Bartenders earn money themselves, usually outside the shadows of corporations and large management teams…
And instead of working behind a desk or inside a boring office cubicle, bartenders often get to work directly in the middle of social venues and events.
They get to meet all kinds of people, make friends, create relationships…
And most importantly, bartenders often get nicely compensated for their craft. This leads us to what we’ll be talking about today.
We can go on and on about the great benefits bartenders have and why they’re such a high-demanding job…
But instead, we’ll focus on one of the most critical factors of bartending in general… and an extremely common question from both aspiring and current bartenders alike:
How much do bartenders make?
As you may have guessed, there’s no one answer we can quickly provide…
In 2017, the average hourly bartender wage in the U.S. was $12.63 (including tips), sure. But where does that get you?
You see, bartending earnings depend on a number of factors making it a little difficult to predict how much bartenders actually make.
For starters, bartenders get paid in two seperate ways: Wages & Tips.
Wages are easy to figure out. (For your convenience, we’ve gathered bartending wages data on every state and some cities in the sections below)
Tips, on the other hand, greatly vary depending on things such as:
- Location: State and City
- Type of venue
- Shift times
- Overall bartending skills
…all of which creates a wide range of compensation/ earnings for bartenders in general.
But that’s why we’re here… to break down this data, separate the myths from realities, and provide a MUCH clearer picture on how much you will (or should) be making as a bartender in any situation.
This is a one stop shop on everything you need to know about how much bartenders get paid.
So strap in, find some coffee and let’s dive in!
Let’s clear something up….
Before we dive into further details, I wanted to express something very important. Consider this as a disclaimer:
How much you make as a bartender will depend on some things that are completely out of your control.
For example, if you live in Indiana, your hourly wages will be different from those who live and bartend in Florida. In the same light, if you can only find a job at your local neighborhood restaurant in the suburbs, your paychecks will most likely have a lower-ceiling compared to those bartending in New York City.
Unfortunately, you can’t do too much about where you work unless you’re willing to make a move elsewhere – to the big cities, or higher populated areas.
In retrospect, the one thing you CAN control is your general skill of being a bartender. In today’s world, it’s never an even playing field. And just because you work at the same restaurant or bar as your friend, doesn’t mean that you’ll each be getting paid the same.
You see, the better bartenders (higher skilled) earn more money than the average (less skilled) bartenders. Why?
- They will earn more tips (more skill = better/quicker drinks = happier customers = better tips)
- Management will often reward them with better/busier shifts
- It’s easier for them to find a more valuable job/venue (fancy or expensive bars, exclusive restaurants and events, etc.)
- Better hours and flexibility
So if you want to make more money from bartending, we suggest not worrying about the things you can’t control (i.e. where you live, state law, etc.) and instead focus on the things you CAN control (i.e. your general skills of being a bartender).
Note: To improve your bartending skills, below are some helpful resources that nicely complement today’s post of how much bartenders make:
- 5 Classic Cocktails Every Bartender Should Know
- Bartending Terminology: The Top Lingo You Need to Know
- 97 Essential Bartending Skills
- How To Write A Compelling Bartending Resume That Gets You Hired
With that out of the way, let’s jump back into bartending compensations, starting with the averages…
How Much do Bartenders Make on Average?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly bartender wage is $12.63. In addition, the average annual bartender wage is $26,260. (**all data is based on the assumption that you are receiving tips in addition to your hourly wage)
Knowing that these are only averages, let’s take it one step deeper and look at bartending wages depending on which state & region you are living in.
How Much Do Bartenders Make By Region?
Statistically, bartenders earn more money in the Northeast and West Coast regions with annual wages ranging between $53,740 – $26,580.
How Much Do Bartenders Make By State?
The top paying states for bartending are:
- District of Columbia
These states have hourly averages ranging between $15.18 – $23.02 and annual wages ranging between $27,530 – $47,880.
The least paying states for bartending are:
- 50. Kentucky
- 49. Louisiana
- 48. Mississippi
- 47. North Dakota
- 46. Kansas
- 45. Iowa
As a general rule of thumb, the bigger and more popular the city/state you work in, the more you will ultimately earn as there are more people/demand in these areas.
Here’s a neat snapshot from the BLS showing us the highest paying states for bartenders:
But for everyone in between, let’s take a look at the data from ALL 50 states…
Average Hourly Wages for Bartenders: State by State
- Alabama: $10.57
- Alaska: $14.26
- Arizona: $14.05
- Arkansas: $10.32
- California: $15.76
- Colorado: $12.79
- Connecticut: $11.43
- Delaware: $11.90
- District of Columbia: $18.29
- Florida: $13.54
- Georgia: $9.85
- Hawaii: $23.02
- Idaho: $10.52
- Illinois: $11.57
- Indiana: $10.27
- Iowa: $9.76
- Kansas: $9.69
- Kentucky: $9.10
- Louisiana: $9.26
- Maine: $13.62
- Maryland: $11.77
- Massachusetts: $14.66
- Michigan: $11.03
- Mississippi: $9.60
- Missouri: $11.97
- Montana: $10.17
- Nebraska: $10.52
- Nevada: $12.71
- New Hampshire: $10.99
- New Jersey: $13.79
- New Mexico: $10.64
- New York: $15.15
- North Carolina: $11.74
- North Dakota: $9.68
- Ohio: $10.46
- Oklahoma: $10.74
- Oregon: $12.78
- Pennsylvania: $10.78
- Rhode Island: $12.25
- South Carolina: $10.49
- South Dakota: $10.71
- Tennessee: $10.09
- Texas: $13.24
- Utah: $12.34
- Vermont: $15.33
- Virginia: $12.92
- Washington: $15.18
- West Virginia: $9.98
- Wisconsin: $10.23
- Wyoming: $10.51
How Much do Bartenders Make By City?
The top paying U.S. cities for bartenders (excluding Hawaii) are
- Orlando, FL
- San Francisco, CA
- Fresno, CA
- Walla Walla, Washington
- San Jose, CA.
You can find the hourly and annual mean wages in the chart below:
So if you’re looking to earn some decent cash flow while bartending, you may want to apply to restaurants and bars in Hawaii, San Francisco, Boston, or Orlando.
Bigger cities can make a huge difference.
Putting it all in perspective…
Out of all the countries in this world, the United States has one of the best bartending cultures. The bartending profession is thriving as more folks see it as a genuine career path nowadays rather than just a side-hustle.
Most importantly, the biggest beneficiary of American bartending is the amount of money to be made. Unlike some countries, the U.S. is home to a very large and outstanding tipping culture.
If you travel to Europe, you’ll notice that only half of the countries tip the way the U.S. does. More often than not, customers are not expected to leave any sort of gratuity. Zilch!
In fact, bartenders in the U.S. rarely rely on wages, and instead focus primarily on what they can rake in with tips.
With that said, it is worth mentioning that we can’t rely on the BLS data in its entirety as it is very difficult to track bartenders tips. Tips, for the most part, are virtually undocumented.
Plus, bartenders often don’t “declare” everything they make during tax season. Thus in reality, the numbers we see above are a bit off.
So although the data says bartenders, on average, earn roughly $26,000 per year… in reality, bartenders make between $35,000 – $45,000 each year, all thanks to their tips. Heck, as we will see below, there are some bartenders out there making over $100,000 per year.
How Much Do Bartenders Make in Tips?
As a general rule of thumb, tips make up about 75%-85% of an average bartenders earnings. For example, if the average bartender in the U.S earns $12.63/hour, in reality they are making $9.47/hour in tips alone.
And if you’re earning $30/hour (this is a bit more realistic), you’d be making roughly $24/hour in tips.
As mentioned before, the amount of tips you receive greatly depend on a numbers factors, making it a little difficult to predict.
- Location: city and state
- Type of venue
- Shift times
- Overall bartending skills
So for your convenience, we’ll break down each of these tipping factors to uncover what bartenders usually make in all situations.
Let’s dive in…
Time of Shift
This one is simple…
The best shifts to work as a bartender (earning you more tips) are always going to be the busier ones.
The more drinks you make and sell, the more tips you’ll receive. Although Sundays–Thursdays may be easier, you may not make as much. Generally speaking, Friday and Saturday nights are the best shifts to work.
The worst shifts to work are often Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday nights. This leaves Thursday night as our only wildcard because it can go both ways. Some Thursdays are busy, and others are slow.
Type of Venue
The type of venue/event you are working will also play as a major factor towards your end-of-the-night payout.
To make things simple, we’re going to divide up the type of venues into 3 separate classes: upper class (where you’ll earn the most from tips), middle class, and lower class (where you’ll earn the least from tips).
These are the venues and locations where you’ll make the least amount of tips. This is your batch of dive bars, small-chain restaurants, and unpopular clubs. On the busiest night, a bartender in this class can make up to $200, but not much more than that. On a regular, slow, weekday night, a bartender here will make roughly $40-$50 in tips.
How do you know if a place is considered a lower class venue? My suggestion would be to visit the bar over the weekend. If you see a bar that has a row of vacant seats, it will usually mean that the bar isn’t that popular. Another sign of lower class bars will be laid out in print on the menu. If drink prices are next to nothing, don’t expect to make much.
These are your sports bars, music venues, and typical neighborhood bars. You could even consider some college bars in this category. On good nights you should earn anywhere between $200-$500. On bad or slow nights, you should be earning at least over $50.
The biggest difference of lower-class and middle-class is the amount of “good nights” through the week. Lower-class bars highly rely on the weekend to pay all the bills… whereas middle-class bars have busy weekends AND occasional weekdays.
Here’s where you start seeing the best of the best. If you’ve ever had a friend that comfortably lives while bartending – making north of $50,000/year, it’s because he probably works at one of these bars. This is your batch of high-end clubs, resorts, fine-dining/expensive restaurants, and popular city bars with an array of cocktail ingredients.
Bartenders in these establishments are making $150 per night at minimum… around $500 on average… and up to $1,000 on the best nights. If you’re working here, you probably have many years of experience under your belt. Most upper-class bars have one thing in common: A wealthy clientele.
How Much Can Bartenders Actually Make? The Sky’s the Limit…
We’ve all met the person that’s been a bartender for nearly 10 years… makes close to six figures… somehow manages to always travel… and wouldn’t trade anything for it.
But here’s the reality…
Although making that type of money by bartending is definitely possible, it’s NOT likely. In fact, you can call anyone making north of $100,000 per year behind the bar part of the “top 1%.”
Simply put, it’s far from the norm.
The modest reality is that most bartenders earn anywhere between $35,000 – $40,000 a year.
But don’t get me wrong. If $35,000 is the AVERAGE, that means there’s still plenty of opportunities to make more than that.
For those willing to step it up, grind out the hours, learn from best in the business (or experienced bartenders), and put a few years of experience under your belt, you can easily make more than $40,000 per year.
If you follow the appropriate tipping factors (good location/venue/shifts) in addition to a good work ethic, you can make anywhere between $50,000 – $70,000.
As with everything in this world, nothing is given, only earned. And in that case, the sky really is the limit! Take advantage of America’s tipping culture, build your bartending confidence, and have fun!