Am I Supposed To Tip At An Event With An Open Bar?

When most people go to a bar, they take care to tip the bartender and/or the wait staff. But for many people, that courtesy seems to go out the window when someone else is picking up the tab, as guests assume that the tip has also been taken care of (or just don’t think about it at all). But are they making the right assumption?

“Every event is unique,” Patrick Maguire, editor of ServerNotServant.com, tells Consumerist, “but as a general rule, guests attending open bar events should always offer to tip bartenders, and many people don’t.”

We also spoke to Zac Hulayev, owner of two bars — the Drake Tavern and the King’s Corner Public House, both in the Philadelphia suburb of Jenkintown — who agrees that there are shades of gray when it comes to tipping at an open bar.

While there are plenty of events — especially weddings and catered business events — where the tip is taken care of, Hulayev adds, “there are the times where hosts will throw a private party with an open bar and the bartenders have tip jars ready to collect the rain of money coming in from guests.”

He says that bartenders at those less-formal events are likely receiving shift pay for their services, so the tip jar is a way for customers who want to show their appreciation by leaving a gratuity. A dollar per drink is a good rule of thumb for those who choose to tip, Hulayev explains.

A small number of event hosts will actually forbid bartenders from accepting tips. Hulayev says that he recently had his money turned away while trying to tip a bartender at an event in Philadelphia. It was a bit awkward, he admits, but at least he knew that the bartender was being properly compensated for the evening.

“The host and the bartender should discuss whether or not tipping will be allowed at the event,” adds Maguire. “If tipping will be allowed, the bartender should furnish a tip jar in plain view, to encourage guests to tip. If drinks are free, you can afford to tip heavy.”

So it seems like the attitude, at least from those who rely on tips for income, is that tipping at an open bar is not mandatory, but that it is definitely appreciated and it will certainly help you get better service.

“Tipping should always be given first priority,” explains Hulayev. “How else are you going to get your much-needed drink in a timely manner without giving the bartender an incentive to remember you?”

This sentiment was confirmed by a bartender at a recent open bar event in New York.

“I’ll survive if someone doesn’t tip me,” she told Consumerist, “but they’ll also survive if I wait to deal with all the tipping customers before I get them their next round.”

Comments

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  1. Bsamm09 says:

    I tip in this situation.

  2. Tim says:

    I was recently at an event for work with an open bar. I thought about tipping, but it would have been difficult to put in an expense report for a bar tip at an open bar. Or at least awkward. Plus, there was no tip jar.

    Maybe the guideline should be whether there’s a tip jar. If yes, tip. If no, don’t tip.

    • kmz says:

      Why would you have to expense tips?

      • cantiloon says:

        If your work is cool with reimbursing you for work-related events, why wouldn’t you expense them?

        • nugatory says:

          because the amount of time to create an expense report, argue with HR (because there are no receipts), and then deal with a paper check far out weighs the couple dollars used to tip.

          • cantiloon says:

            Fair enough. I work with some people who would definitely go after every penny, though I personally would probably write it off if it’s just a few bucks. Unless I was really annoyed that I had to be at something in which case I would probably expense it, which is super quick on SAP, just out of principle or spite depending on how you look at it.

          • Pre-Existing Condition says:

            If you’re already working on a project, it’s really not any additional work. You’re already dealing with expense sheets. Out-of-pocket expenses for work can really add up over the course of the year — If I’m in the field, I always document little things like batteries, office supplies, washer fluid for a vehicle, etc.

          • RandomHookup says:

            HR handles your expense reports? I’ve always dealt with Finance.

            • nugatory says:

              we get a talk from HR about submitting reports without a receipt even though its “acceptable” in the company rules. Just a big headache.

              • RandomHookup says:

                Odd, but then I’ve worked mostly for big companies. HR never gets involved in expenses, unless it’s to fire you for faking them. Expenses are for the accounting/finance folks.

                • atomix says:

                  I work for a small-medium company – 130 employees. HR puts the screws to managers to keep expenses down. Finance just processes what they’re given, and HR enforces policy.

      • Pre-Existing Condition says:

        When I work on T&M projects with clients who micro-manage per diem (want receipts for everything), I always report tips. It’s generally accepted that 15% is customary.

  3. Jawaka says:

    Sure, I’ll tip.

    15% of the bill, right?

    • kmz says:

      Ha, you’re so clever! Let me guess, you also only tip on the discounted bill when you use a coupon or voucher at a restaurant?

      • Coffee says:

        Tipping the bartender 15% when he pours you one on the house is always a good idea.

        • RandomHookup says:

          I’ve heard people say (probably bartenders) that you should tip the usual amount the drink would cost. That seems to defeat the purpose, especially if you weren’t going to buy another drink.

          • Coffee says:

            Yeah…fuck that…if it’s a $6 drink, I’ll throw the bartender a couple bucks if it’s on the house.

      • Jawaka says:

        Why, does it involve more work on the wait staff’s part to carry my non discounted dinner to my table?

        • Coffee says:

          Wait…but…it takes the same amount of work to make a drink that you pay nothing for, and you just said you don’t tip them…so…um…wait…what?

    • dks64 says:

      15-20% of the cost of the drink. That drink isn’t really free, someone is paying for it. Tip off that.

  4. Cat says:

    Am I Supposed To Tip At An Event With An Open Bar?

    Yes.

    • Cat says:

      And, YES, I am THAT Cat.

      New account – since I closed the old email address without updating my consumerist profile.

  5. Fast Eddie Eats Bagels says:

    My experience at weddings:
    1) tip large on the first drink
    2) Make sure the bartender sees the tip, and he/she will typically remember your face and drink.
    3) Next time you’re in line waiting they’ll see your face and have your drink ready before you even get up there.

    • Coffee says:

      Pretty much…that’s a standard bar tipping rule…tip big early, and occasionally thereafter, and you’ll be well-taken-care-of. I was in Mexico on a family vacation a few years ago, and we were at the pool in an all-inclusive resort…not having any other cash on my, I tipped the guy delivering the drinks 100 pesos (~$10 US)…he was so happy that each drink thereafter was top-shelf and STRONG…it was the only time I’ve seen my mother projectile vomit.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        “not having any other cash on my,”

        The world is dying to know Coffee, on your WHAT???

        Sorry, couldn’t resist.

        • Coffee says:

          The sad this is that the “e” isn’t even that close to the “y” on the keyboard. I used to just make simple typos, but as I get older, my brain has started typing the wrong word penis, as if it were unconsciously trying to sex the conversation.

    • Sarek says:

      Tipping at a wedding? That sounds déclassé to me.

  6. demona667 says:

    I used to tend bar at a catering hall where tipping was handled by the host and tip jars on the bar were a no-no. However, we were not expressly forbidden for accepting a tip from an appreciative guest.

    If someone from the cluster of people in front me tipped, then nearly everyone else in that group did.

    If in the next bunch if people didn’t see anyone else tipping, then no one did.

    I feel that tipping your servers is always acceptable.

  7. Skittl1321 says:

    I was insulted at my wedding to see tip jars out on the open bars. We paid a fee for the bar, which included a line item for “gratuity”. By offering an open bar, I meant for my guests to not have to pay anything (why should they? They were my guests). Then to have the servers take it upon themselves to guilt my guests into paying what had already been paid -that to me was WRONG.

    I didn’t take the time from my reception to address it, but I did have someone do it. We had already paid the gratuity: the jars were removed from the bars. If a guest wanted to give money to the bartenders, that’s fine. But they shouldn’t be made to feel like they need to, and that is what tip jars do.

    • Tegan says:

      Yeah, we’re having an open bar at our wedding, including a 22% gratuity in addition to the bartender’s 4 hour service fee that we’re paying. If I see any tip jars, they will be addressed swiftly.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      Yeah that is not cool. If there’s already been a tip paid for by the host, it is in extremely poor taste for the bartenders to then also put out tip jars. If they want to accept tips given by individuals, well that’s fine, but to advertise it like that…wow. Makes me wonder if those all inclusive tips are even making it to the service people in the first place.

    • Jawaka says:

      Thank you.

    • CalicoGal says:

      Yeah, I was at a wedding this past weekend (outdoor reception…100+ degrees. But it was still fun!) and I thought about tipping. I specifically noticed that there were NOT tip jars on the bars, so I deduced that the hosts were paying gratuities as part of the catering bill, as it should be.
      I agree that were I a bride, I would be pissed at tip jars on my bar as well.

      Now, at a company Christmas party, I tend to tip a dollar a drink.

    • msbask v2 says:

      I used to organize some events for my company and usually our open bars included gratuties, too. I remember being furious when I saw the tip jars come out.

      I just chalk it up to another reason I hate the ‘tipping’ system in this country.

    • msbask v2 says:

      I used to organize some events for my company and usually our open bars included gratuties, too. I remember being furious when I saw the tip jars come out.

      I just chalk it up to another reason I hate the ‘tipping’ system in this country.

    • RandomHookup says:

      That’s my view. Every event I have hosted included a tip for the staff. It’s a form of double-dipping.

    • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

      I’ve worked as a bartender in this type of situation and in every instance, the company kept the gratuity for themselves, and did not pass it on to me, the bartender. I only got what tips I was given by the party goers.

      • VintageLydia says:

        Stories like yours is why we went with a location and caterer that let us hire our own bartender. Plus I got to keep the extra alcohol at the end of the night. I’d never do it any other way.

      • RandomHookup says:

        Gotta love businesses that screw over their employees every chance they get.

      • Geekybiker says:

        That’s illegal you know. If its called a tip or gratuity the money has to go to the employee by federal law.

    • Smiling says:

      Wow. That was really crappy and classless of them to put out tip jars after they had been tipped already. I would have been furious. Good for you for making sure it was addressed.

    • Velvet Jones says:

      I agree. We paid for the bartender at our wedding, it was over $100 for about four hours of service. So he was making $25 an hour. Hardly tip-worthy. I understand if they’re being paid the normal below minimum wage, but if they’re getting a high salary already, especially at a private event, then no tip jar should be allowed.

  8. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    I’ll throw buck in a tip jar when I have a drink at an open bar.

    I spent a couple of years as a bartender and, unlike the bartender quoted in the article, when I worked an open bar I always tried to take care of folks in a timely manner. I never ignored or bypassed someone because they “didn’t tip.” Who the hell knows? Sometimes a drinker wouldn’t tip during the evening but would throw a few bucks into the jar before he left.

  9. necrosis says:

    Give them extra money for doing their job? Why does this sound silly?

    • dks64 says:

      No, paying them for a service they provided.

      • Jawaka says:

        Oh come on. It takes a minute to make a drink. A few seconds if you only want a beer. Is that service really worth a few bucks?

        Where does it end? Did you tip the sales rep at Best Buy the last time you were there for the service he provided?

        • JJFIII says:

          What do you think the person at Best Buy makes per hour versus a bartender? The other fallacy in your argument is Best Buy employees are paid a BONUS if they meet certain metrics. The bartender at an event has no ability to meet those extra income incentives. I would also say, if you think it is so easy to be a bartender, tell the people who want drinks to get it themselves. It only takes a couple of seconds. Other than whole legal liability and having grandma trying to make a drink nothing could go wrong there.

          • msbask v2 says:

            I have no idea what a Best Buy employee or a bartender makes, nor do I care (anymore than they care what I, as their insurance broker, make).

            And I wish they’d let me make my own drinks!

          • Velvet Jones says:

            At a normal bar, yes. But at private events, especially when you hire the bar tender directly, that rate is likely WAY hire than any low or even mid-range position(unless you’re a cheap SOB).

    • jasonq says:

      Just quit being a cheap-ass, tip a buck a drink, and get over it.

  10. VintageLydia says:

    At our wedding, we asked the bartender (a friend of a friend who worked at a busy bar) what he typically made on a Saturday night and paid him that plus a percentage over it. We told him not to put out a tip jar (since we were paying more than he would’ve gotten with tips that night, anyway. Plus that’s kind of tacky at weddings IMO) but if people offered to tip, he could take them. Most people took the lack of jar as a hint except my dear husband’s uncle. I think he tipped him a couple hundred dollars over the course of the night (the uncle has a tendency to get drunk and then get very generous.) Kid made out like a bandit.

  11. cantiloon says:

    I was at the bar at a wedding once with a dollar in my hand and was told by a few other guests to put it away as that was all covered and they didn’t want there to be any confusion causing uncomfortable situations over it. There was no jar. It would be weird to announce at a wedding “Don’t tip, it’s covered!” so I think the only real way is to go by the jar rule or just ask the people who are putting on the event.

  12. Hi_Hello says:

    can I not tip for soda and juices?

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Of course you can, but giving you a soda or juice takes the same amount of effort as some alcoholic drinks (whisky neat, etc), so expect the bartender to hate you and other guests to glare at you. (Assuming that there’s a tip jar.)

      • Hi_Hello says:

        I figure $1 tip min. for drinks. That’s $1 for a small cup of soda that was suppose to cost me nothing.

        Why would the bartender or other guest get upset at me?

        • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

          Because if tipping is expected (assuming there’s a tip jar out), your estimation of what the bartender’s effort is worth is obviously wrong, as I pointed out. So it’s just soda, so tip $1 for the first one and then skip the next 3 or 4. You’ll get those next 3 or 4 sodas much faster, trust me. You’d be paying at least $3-4 for a small glass of soda at a bar anyway, and as people have commented on dozens of times, the fact that you get something for free or at a discount doesn’t necessarily mean you should tip less.

          Whether you should tip or not depends entirely on how the bartender is being paid, which was kind of the point of the original post, since you seem to have missed it.

          • Hi_Hello says:

            open bar’s soda is about 1/2 the size at a regular bar.

            So let say the soda would’ve cost me $2.00.

            And I only get 1 soda.

            That mean, under the tipping system, if the bartender get paid by tips, I would have to tip 50%….

            Don’t get me wrong if the service was worth a 50%, I would gladly tip 50% but the bartender better do some sort of magic while getting my the small cup of soda for me to feel comfortable tipping 50%.

            • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

              So tip a quarter, if you must (and if you must ignore my other bit of advice, ” tip $1 for the first one and then skip the next 3 or 4″). But you’re working pretty hard to try to find excuses to not tip at all.

            • RandomHookup says:

              Or, if it’s only one drink, don’t tip and get on with your life.

  13. MrEvil says:

    It depends on what the host paid the bartender really.

    The wedding I attended last night was open bar and my friend (the groom) tipped the bartenders himself at the end of the night. No tip bucket was ever out.

    Other open bar events I’ve been to the bartender will have a tip bucket out. My dad way back when used to tend open bars at trade shows and he had a tip jar.

  14. TravistyRobertoson says:

    Drop a $50 up front and you will be well take care of.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      For $50 I’ll just buy 2 bottles of the good stuff and bypass the bartender.

      • Coffee says:

        The good stuff? What kind of swill are you drinking?

        • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

          Maybe he means 50ml bottles.

          Actually, there are a few good single malts (e.g. Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban) priced such that you can at least get one bottle for under $50 and have money left over.

          • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

            Hell! For fifty bucks you could by cases of the stuff! (I wonder if they still make Night Train or MD-2020.)

        • Blueskylaw says:

          The swill with the handle and red plastic cap. Why?

      • SerenityDan says:

        Maybe prices are different where you live but you wouldn’t be able to get 1 bottle of good stuff for $50 in Philly

    • some.nerd says:

      It must be nice to be a part of the 1%…

  15. 12-inch Idongivafuck Sandwich says:

    When I go to a wedding I pick out the bartender that I plan on going to the rest of the night, walk up, introduce myself/get their name, order 2 bourbon drinks for my fiance and myself, and hand them $20…

    Every time thereafter they just ask how many I need (I generally lap my fiance several times, so I don’t always need 2) – and always thank them using their name…

    • savvy9999 says:

      nailed it. this is 100% the way to go. tip LARGE first time, you’ll be treated well every time after.

  16. PragmaticGuy says:

    When I made my son’s bar mitzvah and my daughter’s wedding (both at the same place) the bartenders were expressly forbidden to accept tips as they were included in the price I paid the caterer.

  17. El_Fez says:

    “but they’ll also survive if I wait to deal with all the tipping customers before I get them their next round.”

    They’ll also survive on weak ass watered down drinks. too. The two people you need to tip HEAVY? Bartenders (tip well the first round and drink well the rest of the night) and Chinese/pizza delivery dudes (consistently tip well and get rocketed to the top of the delivery runs).

  18. some.nerd says:

    If you make me a good cocktail and there’s a jar, sure, have a buck.
    If you just pop the cap off a beer, get real. It took you >2 seconds and I could open it myself with my keychain.
    And yes, I AM fun at parties. ;)

  19. mbd says:

    When I am a guest at an event with an open bar, I feel that I am a guest, and as such it is the obligation of the host to cover the cost of the bar including tips. The bar tender is providing a service for the host, not the guests.

  20. LuzioFantazmic says:

    Way back in my bartending days, I worked many open bars. many many people left a cash tip.

    But….

    The Tip would also be paid for by the person who booked the event and was based on the amount of alcohol sold. The tip was 20% and would be split 75/25 between the bartenders and the banquet manager.

    The price per bottle billed was was roughly twice of what you would pay at the local liquor store.

    So if I went through 5 bottles of Barcardi at $50 per, the top on just the rum alone was $50.

    And during a big event, you could easily empty out 50+ bottle by the end of the night.

    And we poured real heavy. A normal drink would have one shot of liquor in it. Open bar drinks would have 4 in it. People loved the stronger drinks and the more you poured, themore you made. But you also had to cut a lot of people off. Of course this was back before they started cracking down the servers in drunk driving cases.

    You could easily walk out with $4-500 in one 5 hour wedding.

  21. CheetoDust says:

    Yes – always Yes. The bartenders will let you know if they’ve already been covered. Plus your drinks will be fast, first, and strong.

    And always tip on those all-inclusive holiday events that include booze (New Years Eve, for example). Many people don’t. Tip well – and get fast service. Don’t – and you can wait in line like cattle trying to catch a buzz that will never come.

  22. Dagny Taggart says:

    My company had a function once that had an open bar (and an automatic gratuity added to the bill). When the person in charge of paying the final tab found out that tip jars had been out all night, she refused to pay the gratuity, and the restaurant ended up removing it from the bill. The bartenders ended up screwing themselves, because I am sure that amount was far more than what was in the tip jars.

  23. njack says:

    It’s an open bar of course you tip.

    2 reasons: 1. Don’t be a cheap ass. 2. The bartender will be sure to take care of you and make you a quality drink.

    I’ve tended bar in a past life and in some cases the event was an open bar. Typically I’d give people who tipped me preferential treatment and made better drinks for them (either higher quality liquor or just a stronger drink). They didn’t need to tip me for each and every drink, but a tip early in the night goes a long way.

    • bhr says:

      So if I don’t tip (on top of the tip you get from the host) you will make me a shittier, more watered down drink so I need to come back more often?

      When I hosted events for a former job I had to pay 20% on the bill for tips. Why would my customers need to add to it? I actually stopped using one place when I saw they were using tip jars.

      When I was in school I waited tables and bartended. I loved occasionally filling in at weddings for friends, I could make $200+ for 6 hours, which was a lot better than I did at my regular job.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Sorry, but if the host is footing the bill for gratuities, then I don’t feel obligated to tip again for anything but “special” service. As a beer drinker, I don’t think the lack of a tip will have much influence on my life.

  24. Reno Raines says:

    Don’t let Ron Donald talk you into the tip jars. Take the flat gratuity!

  25. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    I mentioned this in reply to someone, but it bears repeating – not all companies are above-board when it comes to actually giving the gratuity paid by the hosts to the bartender(s.) I worked as a bartender during events with an open bar, and the gratuity was NOT passed on to me. Speaking to other bartenders who work in environments where a bar was set up for a wedding, bar mitzvah, company party etc most of them said that their companies kept the gratuities as well, or kept half and gave them half. In these instances the only tips I recieved would be what was given to me by the party goers.

  26. mediaseth says:

    I always want to tip, but I suck at keeping cash handy, or when I do, I only have large bills and run into the awkwardness of seeking change.

    I don’t always know when I’m going to be in an open bar situation. Without going into further detail as to why, it happens to me every so often. So often, I just start tabs with a debit card and tip well in the end. Cash is there only if I need it, and if I remember to get it.

    I’m pro-tipping. I just wish there was a way to keep the awkwardness away from it.

  27. buddyedgewood says:

    Seriously, who doesn’t know not to tip in this situation?

    Oh, maybe this article is for the Mitt Romney’s and fellow aristocrats of the world who attend open bar functions all the time.

    Okay, well now they know, but they still won’t care…

    “let them eat cake!”

  28. BrianneG says:

    I always, always tip at an open bar. I even tipped the bartenders throughout the night at my own wedding. Yes, we were charged an 18% gratuity on top of the final bill but I know that the catering staff and bartenders don’t see a dime of that. We also tipped the head waiter a couple hundred dollars for him to split with the rest of the waitstaff and we let them take home the extra candy from the candy bar we put out for our guests.

    We always make sure to have plenty of small bills before we attend a wedding.

  29. bonzombiekitty says:

    I just had a wedding on top of the bar bill that I paid was an 18% gratuity. Other people I have known that have done open bars have told me that whatever they paid includes gratuity, so leaving any money at the bar is, in my view, purely optional. The bar bill was ~$4000. So that’s about 720. Assuming each of the two bartenders got 1/4th of that, that’s $180, which works out to about $45/hr. I think that’s pretty fair.

    They had tip jars out as well, and while it irks me, I just got over it because it’s so common. I would have given the bartenders an extra $50 each anyways because he was really nice and did a really good job.

  30. bsoist says:

    I always tip anyone who relies on tips for a living. I think sometimes we think too much about whether the server is being overtipped. I refuse to look at it that way. If I were drinking at an open bar, I would tip what I always tip – because I can afford to, it’s a nice thing to do, and most importantly, because the person serving deserves to be paid for his or her work. If the bartender ends up with twice as much somehow, why should that bother me? I was actually thinking about this very thing lately when Terri and I had breakfast this weekend. We eat at restaurants quite a bit, with and without the kids, and we spend quite a bit of money doing it. I normally like to tip well. A series of circumstances this weekend conspired to leave Terri and I to a quiet breakfast together. On Saturday we found a cute little place we’d never visited and the breakfast was delicious. It was also very inexpensive. On Sunday we ended up at a favorite place down the street. It’s a bit more expensive than Saturday’s spot, but very reasonable (and delicious). I used to second guess myself in these situations because what I think is a fair minimum tip in these cases turns out to be 35% or more. I decided some time ago to just leave the generous tip, for two reasons. First, I think of it as a payment for services – it’s worth a certain dollar amount in my opinion, not necessarily a percentage. Second, I figure that if the entire meal, including tip, is a reasonable price, why should I balk at that? Which brings me back to the open bar. A few drinks for a few bucks is a great deal. Enjoy it. If the bartender goes home with a few extra bucks, that’s even better if you ask me.

  31. legolex says:

    I work in the hospitality industry (hotels) and I learned that bartenders for weddings/events are usually the highest paid employees for the evening. While I am not against tipping for great service, they are being paid way above minimum wage and it doesn’t matter if it’s open bar or not.

  32. SavijMuhdrox says:

    i tip if the bartender does their job well.

    as to the cost, a dollar a drink is fine.. especially if the tab is being paid by someone else. if for some reason the person tending bar is being a real shlub, then i won’t give him a tip.