As a bartender, how much should I be tipped out by the servers?
November 7, 2014 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I am the first bartender this restaurant has hired and this is also my first bartending job, so both the owner and I are coming up with the tip out policy from scratch. This is in the US -- if you are not familiar with how US tipping culture works, please don't answer.

Just Googling results in wildly divergent answers and formulas and thus I'm hoping the hive mind can recommend something specific to our particular setup:

Both the servers and I are paid $2.20/hour + tips.

The bar is in a separate room from the restaurant. I have my own customers to tend to in addition to making drinks for the dining room.

Our process for serving alcoholic drinks in the dining room is:
1. The server sticks their head in the bar and tells me their alcoholic drink orders
2. I mix the cocktails or pour the beer or wine and set them at the end of the bar nearest the dining room
3. The server comes back to pick up the drinks and take them to their customers

The owner wants to establish a universal policy instead of just leaving it up to the individual servers. I'm the only bartender employee -- the owner is the backup bartender, and as owner he always lets his employees keep all their tips even when he's filling in for an otherwise tipped position -- so for now, I would be the only person the servers would have to tip out for this.

Most of our dining room customers do not order alcohol so a percentage of total sales (as is done in some restaurants) would not be fair to the servers. However, the bar is new and still slow enough that on a typical night beverages for the dining room represent a significant portion of the drinks I mix/pour during my shift so me not getting tipped out at all is not fair to me.

What percentage of alcohol sales (or percentage of tips on just the alcohol sales portion of the check) should the dining room servers be tipping me out? If you've worked in a restaurant with a separate bar before, how did tipping out between the servers and bartender work? Is there some sort of industry standard for setups like ours?

Please advise, thanks!
posted by Jacqueline to Work & Money (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The usual standard tip-out is 10% of tips from each server, which then gets divvied up between busser(s) and bartender(s) most places, sometimes the dishwasher, sometimes the kitchen staff.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:59 AM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We don't have bussers. I seem to be the only one who tips out the dishwasher -- I slip him $5 on busy nights when I need the pint glasses washed and returned ASAP because we don't have enough of them. I don't think anyone tips the kitchen staff but they get paid more than we do (and on most nights, half of the kitchen staff are members of the owner's family).

This place is primarily a reception hall for catered events like weddings with the restaurant/bar aspect a relatively new side business for them, so there's probably a lot about our operation that isn't standard.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:09 PM on November 7, 2014

I would go for a simple formula based on drinks ordered rather than percentages. Perhaps somewhere between 50 cents and a dollar for each poured drink (wine, beer, liquor on rocks) and slightly more, like 1-2 dollars for mixed or blended drinks. If drink prices are not too outrageous, this would probably give you about 10% tip on the price of the drinks, but without the added complication of making the servers calculate an actual percentage of alcohol orders to tip you out.
posted by trivia genius at 12:19 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, when I said 10%, I meant 10% of total tips for the night. No messing about calculating what percentage is drinks or whatever.

$1/drink is pretty close to what most people tip anyway (when having just drinks I mean), so that would take a big bite out of servers' wallets.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:29 PM on November 7, 2014

Response by poster: Most of our drinks are priced in the $2.75 - $5.00 range so those amounts would be a bit high but the fixed amount per drink would indeed be the simplest for us to calculate. But I've yet to encounter that method mentioned as being used anywhere in my research on the subject and thus I'm left wondering if there's a good reason that most restaurants don't go for this "obvious" solution?
posted by Jacqueline at 12:30 PM on November 7, 2014

A fixed tip-out per item doesn't take into account assholes who don't tip, is why.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:31 PM on November 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

If it's a slow enough bar that you can just keep a running tab of orders by jotting then down as servers order them (or have the servers place the orders in writing via a pad of paper and one of those stabby things), I'd just go with 10% of the drink total. That would ensure that both you and the servers are getting a decent cut, assuming diners are tipping decently.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 12:36 PM on November 7, 2014

A fixed tip-out per item doesn't take into account assholes who don't tip, is why.

This is why. Trivia genius' suggestion sounds like one from someone who hasn't actually worked as a bartender (a dollar a drink is beyond what many customers will tip!). Ten percent is the general rule of thumb (of the final tip total for the server in question); a bit more if they feel like someone has gone above and beyond. Never less, because that breeds resentment and nickel-and-diming. You also just have to trust the server to tip out honestly, which isn't really much of a problem because you were both there and know how busy it was (plus if there are multiple servers, an unexplainable discrepancy in tip-out will be obvious). Attempting to do some kind of per-drink math seems like a recipe for a headache (my god, tracking individual drinks on a busy shift would be a nightmare), unless you have a POS system that tallies that kind of thing for you.
posted by axiom at 12:41 PM on November 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: A fixed tip-out per item doesn't take into account assholes who don't tip, is why.

So, fffm, in your opinion the formula should always be based on a percentage of tips instead of a percentage of sales? Because a lot of places seem to base their formula on a percentage of sales (5-10% of alcohol sales or 1-3% of total sales) and I'm wondering why they do that when it wouldn't account for no or low tips on some tables?

...assuming diners are tipping decently.

This part of the country (rural central Virginia) seems to have a low-tipping (5-15%) culture, based on what I've seen so far working at this place plus how much local bartenders and waitstaff flip out in gratitude when I leave my usual 15-25% and/or $1/drink tip as a customer. So I don't think we can safely make that assumption. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 12:42 PM on November 7, 2014

Not from personal experience, but...

My GF tends bar and waits tales at an upmarket place California. I don't know what th exact calculus is, bit generally, *all* tips are aggregated at the end of the night, and divvied out accordingly. People get fired with no warning for withholding tips from the kitty.
posted by colin_l at 12:42 PM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Um, $2.20 is less than the Federal Minimum Wage. Might want to file a complaint.

I would think the bartender would be tipped on the beverage portion of the order only, and that the fair way would be to split this out in the same way the chefs get tipped for the food portion of the order. I'm not sure how this works, but let's say I would think that would be split maybe 70/40 between the server and the chef? Except now you have to calculate it on the beverage portion versus the food portion.
posted by tckma at 12:44 PM on November 7, 2014

Response by poster: Ten percent is the general rule of thumb (of the final tip total for the server in question)

Anything based on total sales (instead of just alcohol sales) definitely wouldn't work here because on many nights some servers have no alcohol sales at all through no fault of their own -- this is Southern Baptist territory. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 12:45 PM on November 7, 2014

10% is pretty normal, like fffm sez. To others who advocate tracked-alcohol or -drink numbers, these guys are completely at the mercy of their POS software and how nicely it's been set up. Frequently that's not an option.
posted by cult_url_bias at 12:45 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, fffm, in your opinion the formula should always be based on a percentage of tips instead of a percentage of sales? Because a lot of places seem to base their formula on a percentage of sales (5-10% of alcohol sales or 1-3% of total sales) and I'm wondering why they do that when it wouldn't account for no or low tips on some tables?

That is my opinion informed by experience working in restaurants, yes. I don't know why other restaurants mandate a fixed percentage of sales--perhaps because that can be tracked in a very black-and-white kind of way.

w/r/t pooling tips: this is illegal in many places.

Kitchen staff don't often get tipped out; exception rather than the norm.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:46 PM on November 7, 2014

I worked at Outback Steakhouse in the early 90s. Tipping your server back then was a standard 10% of your bill.

At our restaurant, the waitstaff were required to give 3% of their sales (30% of their expected tips) back, and bartenders, busboys, and hostesses got 1% for each group to split.

If a server got stiffed on a tip, they had to eat the loss. OTOH, if they got 12, 15, or 20% then that was their bonus.
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:46 PM on November 7, 2014

Federal minimum wage is different for tipped employees.
posted by xeney at 12:47 PM on November 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Tipped workers have a lower minimum wage. However, if tips don't bring your wages up to the full minimum wage, the restaurant is supposed to make up the difference.
posted by postel's law at 12:47 PM on November 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yes, I was coming at it from the pov of I am the Walrus - if the server gets stiffed, it doesn't mean you should. Essentially the server is your customer. They should tip you per drink (maybe have them drop a quarter in a glass every time they pick up a new drink from you), then they can just keep whatever tips they make on the check.

There doesn't seem to be a "standard" way of doing it, as you found. Even the opinions in this thread vary quite a bit. If alcohol sales are low for you, I'd encourage you to find the option that seems fairest for everyone involved without necessarily worrying about how it would scale to a very busy restaurant in an area where every table orders multiple rounds. You can always revise the system if you become that place.
posted by trivia genius at 12:53 PM on November 7, 2014

Response by poster: No offense intended, but could people who don't actually have experience working in tipped positions in a restaurant/bar please refrain from answering based on how you imagine it should work? Compensation for tipped positions works very differently from other jobs, including from other jobs in the same restaurant that are paid a fixed wage (e.g., the kitchen staff) instead of relying on tips for the majority of one's earnings.

fffm and others who are drawing on your personal experience working in restaurants: thank you, your perspectives on how it usually works (and also on how you think it could work better) are very helpful!
posted by Jacqueline at 12:55 PM on November 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yes, I was coming at it from the pov of I am the Walrus - if the server gets stiffed, it doesn't mean you should.

That stiffs the server twice, though, which is why not as many places do it, I suspect. Tips are extra; why should the server have to pay out of pocket because someone didn't tip them? I'm not starting an argument, I'm telling you why this is a bad way to do things, and would be bad for Jacqueline's workplace, not least because of the low tipping rates. 10% of gross tips means the pain is shared amongst everyone; a fixed rate on drinks would mean only the server suffers if they get a table of jerks.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:58 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: fffm, you seem to have a lot of experience and I really appreciate your concerns for fairness. What would you recommend for a place like ours where the bartender is the only employee being tipped out by the servers (we don't have bussers and I seem to be the only person tipping out the dishwasher) and some servers have low or no alcohol sales many nights due to no fault of their own (Southern Baptist customers)?
posted by Jacqueline at 1:03 PM on November 7, 2014

"why should the server have to pay out of pocket because someone else didn't tip them?"

There are a million reasons for this. The server could have been misinformed during the afternoon tasting, a provided incorrect information they were lead to believe was correct.

The kitchen staff could have had all their dishwashers call in sick, and it's the poor server who takes the brunt of the customer outrage over poor service.

The sommelier could have suggested an ideal pairing, and the poor schmuck left pouring the wine gets yelled at again.

Pooling tips helps smooth over all the rough spots that are beyond the control of the server.
posted by colin_l at 1:05 PM on November 7, 2014

I have been both a bartender and a server. As a server I always tipped my bartender 10% of my total tips even if the bartender didn't make a single drink for me. Why? Because when we are slammed on Friday and Saturday that bartender is going to be sit on my drink orders if I don't tip them regularly. As they should.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:07 PM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

The complicated but most fair way is:

- Calculate total sales for the night
- Calculate percentage of total sales that were alcohol
- Calculate gross tips for the night
- Multiply by alcohol sales percentage
- Tip you out 10% of the final number

That puts a lot of work on the servers unless your POS is set up to break out costs in that way.

The much simpler way is just: "I made $100 in tips tonight, here's $10." Easy, fair, effective, doesn't take money the server hasn't made.

colin_l: for one thing, tip pooling is illegal all over the place (but not every place; check your local labour laws). For another, tipping rates are very low where Jacqueline is. Third, Tips are (theoretically) given for good service. I've seen tip pooling, and it always breeds resentment between the better servers and those who aren't so good. Fourth, and most importantly, it's not the server's responsibility to make up for the asshole who doesn't follow basic social customs.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:18 PM on November 7, 2014

It is clear in this thread you've never seriously bartended...

It's true, my experience is limited. However, several ideas here are based on how practical they are in a busy place, which OP has indicated is not really the case here. OP asked for ideas that would be fair to all involved, which I tried to provide.

My prior experience was at a private country club, where servers were serving folks in a small outdoor area along with poolside service. The bar was nowhere near the kitchen, and servers had access to non-alcoholic drinks from a self-serve soda fountain and cooler. There was no POS system. Members charged food and drinks to their membership and tipped cash, but order slips didn't always have the server's name on them - just the member's name and the food or drink ordered.

The solution I provided (servers carry small bills or a roll of quarters with them and tip the bar when picking up each drink) was the only way for the bartender to get the proper tips in that scenario. Waiting until the end of the day/shift meant that we knew how much alcohol was served, but not who served it so we didn't know how much each server should tip out to the bartender, and tips weren't pooled.

Sorry if that system won't work for you Jacqueline, feel free to ignore it if that's the case. It worked for us at that time, partially because we weren't super busy (as you indicated you also aren't busy) and because things were relaxed enough that we didn't have any other way to track tips.
posted by trivia genius at 1:35 PM on November 7, 2014

Because a lot of places seem to base their formula on a percentage of sales (5-10% of alcohol sales or 1-3% of total sales) and I'm wondering why they do that when it wouldn't account for no or low tips on some tables?

Every place I've worked, all tip outs, including the bar, have been based on total sales (usually 1% or 2% for the bar) rather than on alcohol sales. In my experience, alcohol sales aren't steady or representative enough to base tip out on. If you get a party who decides to drink their way through dinner, suddenly you have high alcohol sales, but your total sales might not be anything special and you don't have a ton of extra money for a big tip out at the bar. On the other hand, maybe you had a great night in terms of overall sales and can afford an OK tip out, but your high sales are because everyone wanted appetizers and dessert or something and your alcohol sales in particular are ordinary or low. Even though alcohol sales represent more of what the *bartender* does for the staff, it doesn't come as close to representing how much money the staff actually are taking home that night and how affordable tip out is going to be for them.

w/r/t pooling tips: this is illegal in many places.

I do think that a tip pool would make more sense given how you're describing your situation (esp. that the manager sometimes bartends and then of course can't get a share of the tips, and since it sounds like the waitstaff and you work as a team anyway). Tip pooling is legal in VA, though I'm not sure of the specifics -- fwiw every bar I've worked at (cocktail, not bartending) in VA has done tip pooling. I've been part of tip pools (in VA) for restaurants, too, but only if we don't have sections for some reason (for example, at brunch, where we'd take tables on a rotation instead of according to sections, and serve more like at a bar/in cocktail).

In case the idea of tip pooling interests you: how it works, ime, is that all the waitstaff use one number to log into the software and put in tickets (though sometimes there's one number for bartenders and another for servers, for organizational reasons). That one number will then have all the sales in the restaurant or bar attached to it. At the end of the night, everybody turns in all their cash and receipts, and the manager pools the money and figures out how much total tip money there is to be divvied up. Then the manager calculates the "hourly" wage based on the number of hours the bar was open and the number of employees working. Then the tips get divided between the employees based on how many hours each employee worked. You can get your (share of) tips from the manager next time you come in for a shift. When people declare at clock out, they usually just pick a number and put in that same number every day, since of course they won't yet know how much they made. (Please let me know if the math is wrong somewhere in there, though!).

Kitchen staff don't often get tipped out; exception rather than the norm.

They're not supposed to get tipped out, because they're not supposed to be tipped employees. If you're having to tip out the kitchen staff, something is wrong -- the kitchen staff is getting screwed over because then they can be paid the tipped minimum as opposed to the "normal" minimum wage (which comes up *a lot* for bussers/dishwashers ime), and the waitstaff is getting screwed out of their tips. Slipping some extra money to the dishwasher on a busy night is fine, that's just an informal favor, but including kitchen staff in a pool wouldn't be OK, because that puts them into a different category in terms of wages. FWIW I've never tipped kitchen staff, even as a favor. It just wasn't the culture in anyplace I've worked.

Usually how it goes in the places where I've worked is that the kitchen staff takes care of each other by making/giving each other food, and the waitstaff takes care of each other by giving each other a share of the tips/money, but it's rare for waitstaff to give the kitchen staff money and even though the kitchen staff will often give the waitstaff *some* of their food they're probably not cooking up meals and things for the waitstaff unless something special is going on. YMMV, though.

Also, if you feel like the bar is going to waste somewhat because your clientele aren't drinkers, could you take on making other (virgin) drinks that are a pain for the waitstaff? Stuff like coffee, tea, iced tea, those annoying mocktails, etc? Some places also have the bartenders prep all the garnishes, like lemon slices, etc, for all of the waitstaff. I don't think that's expected as a general rule, it's just something that you could plausibly take on if you don't feel like you're pulling your weight or have enough to do.
posted by rue72 at 1:35 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

it's not abnormal for small, largely slow bars in restaurants not to take home what servers do - because you're just not as busy.

Yes, this is my experience, too, which is why I've stuck with cocktail instead of bartending (lol). In a lot of places where I've worked it's not even that the bartenders aren't as busy (in those chain restaurants where there are fifty million "special" drinks on the menu, all with complicated garnishes, bartenders are generally very busy, even when nobody's sitting at the bar!) but that they just aren't going to see as many customers as the waitstaff will. On the other hand, in my experience anyway, it seems like a bartender's regulars (*especially* those that come in during otherwise slow times, like during the afternoon/at lunch) will often be very loyal and generous, much more than a server's regulars are likely to be. I've worked in a couple places where the bartender would have two or three regulars who would come in most days at lunchtime and nurse a few drinks, and she'd be able to get more in tips from those regulars than I'd make from a whole section during lunch rush. So you're not doomed to make less than the servers even at a slow bar! But yeah, in general, I think servers tend to make more, because in general they have more customers. Ime bartenders tend to make about 75% of what servers do, though of course it varies place to place and day to day.
posted by rue72 at 1:49 PM on November 7, 2014

The more "fair" you want this system to be, the more of a pain in the ass it's going to be. I'm with the folks who say 10% of the server's tips, regardless of alcohol purchasing.

First, yes, you're not busy now and you could theoretically make a policy based on that. If you don't have a good POS system to tell you (which I assume you don't, since servers are communicating drink orders to you by leaning their heads into the bar), what happens the first night that everyone is slammed and there's a disagreement about how many drinks were ordered and by whom?

Sure, servers are going to be tipping, sometimes, on bills that don't have alcohol on them. That's why it's 10% of their tips and not 10% of their sales. If the common tip amount is 5%-15% of the bill (let's call it 10% on average), then you are getting 1% of their sales as tips. That's basically nothing.

So if a table walks in, orders one appetizer and then proceeds to drink for four hours, the server is making off like a bandit . . . if a table comes in and orders no alcohol, then the server is tipping you for "nothing".

As an alternate to 10% of tips, I'd say you go with 10% of alcohol sales, if that number is easily coughed-up by the POS.

Nothing you do here is going to be 100% equitable, so I'd advise going by the most administrable thing that is reasonable.

When I was waiting tables, back in the day, we tipped out based on a percentage of the tips we claimed in the POS system . . . which was always tracked our sales numbers pretty closely, but it was a higher percentage because it was common for servers to not claim all of their tips.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:39 PM on November 7, 2014

A few things:

I've worked where bar and BOH get tipped out an aggregate 10% of server tips, and I've worked where bar gets tipped out a separate 10%, so either way (since you're the only person being tipped out) you should get 10% of server tips at minimum.

Re: tip pooling, this document might help clarify some of the national rules. Assuming that you're still where your profile says you are, this document is specific to your state, where tip pooling is actually legal.

My vote, since you don't want to be the recipient of a tip out and also have to tip back from your own bar tips, is to go for a pooled tip system where you and the servers share equally in the pooled tips.

I also like your thinking around tipping out the dishwasher--that's the right thing to do.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:44 PM on November 7, 2014

They're not supposed to get tipped out, because they're not supposed to be tipped employees. If you're having to tip out the kitchen staff, something is wrong -- the kitchen staff is getting screwed over because then they can be paid the tipped minimum as opposed to the "normal" minimum wage

In Virginia, kitchen staff MUST be paid minimum wage, it is illegal to have them paid below that and require tipped FOH staff to share their tips to bring the kitchen wage up to minimum. It is also illegal for the owner to take a share of tips so he's not doing the bartender a favor by not taking any of the tips, it's illegal for him to do so.

All places I've bartended and served, the rule of thumb is that servers tip out 3% of their total sales (before tax) at the end of the shift which gets divided up between bar staff and hostesses. I also throw the dishwasher a couple bucks if it's a busy night and they do a lot of extra work for me. It's not required, but it's a nice thing to do.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:14 PM on November 7, 2014

I think everyone else has a good handle on how tip outs should work, but I just want to say, wherever I bartended, I made well over what servers made. Not minimum wage, but $6-7 an hour. Idk, this was 8 or 9 years ago, and maybe it's different in different places, but I was always under the impression that bartenders were paid a significantly higher base wage than servers, on top of any tips ...
posted by catatethebird at 5:29 PM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I waitresses in a venue with a similar setup (lounge/bar and dining room) the severs usually tipped put the bartender 10% of their tips for the night, plus sometimes a little extra if there were lots of mixed drink orders. seemed to be pretty standard.
posted by emd3737 at 3:47 AM on November 8, 2014

Bartender/server for over a decade here. 10% of tips, regardless. In return, I took very good care of my servers at the end of their shifts and when they came in off-shift. If I knew a server had a bad night (as I always did), or that they were going through a rough patch, I gave them back their tip. The relationship between restaurant staff is synergistic and it all tends to come out in the wash.
posted by lassie at 9:31 PM on November 8, 2014

Agree with lassie. 10% was the rule of thumb but if I didn't serve any alcoholic drinks, or maybe just got one bottle of beer from the bar that night, I would talk to the bartender and explain why I wasn't tipping out 10%. On the other hand, if for some reason I had a night wherein I was asking the bartender to make all kinds of crazy mixed and/or time intensive drinks, I'd tip more than 10%. As lassie says, I did have bartenders return my money if they thought they hadn't warranted it and/or knew my night hadn't gone well. And, in general, I tipped out to people I liked more than people I didn't like. All this to say that a mandatory policy would not have gone over well where I worked and probably would have engendered a lot of bad feelings on the part of the servers.
posted by youdontmakefriendswithsalad at 5:17 AM on November 9, 2014

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