Contemplating the Intricacies of Open Bar Etiquette

bar etiquette, open bar, bar etiquette

While waiting for my wife to put the finishing touches on her makeup, I checked my wallet to make sure I had an ample supply of singles. We were headed to a wedding and I wanted to make sure I had one dollar bills to tip the bartender. As the minutes ticked by I occupied my time by contemplating the intricacies of wedding bartender tipping.


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Do I need to tip?

The wedding was for a daughter of a coworker. He had told me about a discussion he had with the groom’s parents, and how he had emphatically stated that at his family’s weddings there is always an open bar. He didn’t mind paying for it, but there would be an open bar.  If the drinks are meant to be complementary, is there still an expectation of a tip? Or would my coworker also tip the bartenders when he pays the bar tab? I couldn’t remember what I had done when I got married so I quickly decided I should definitely tip. After all, if the drink is free, tipping a buck per drink isn’t a big deal. Plus I have no idea how the bartender is paid.

When’s the best time to lay down the tip?

Normally a tip is thought of as part of the payment and is given after the drink is made. For weddings I like to do things a little differently.   I like to put my tip in the tip jar while they’re making my drink, or while they’re handing it to me. I want them to see that I’m tipping them. I like to think that if they see me tipping, the bartender will remember me, and give me the best service possible on my next trip to the bar.

How much does a wedding bartender make?

I knew there was going to be about 250 people at the wedding. I estimated that if each person had 2 drinks that would be 500 drinks. If a person tipped $1 or each drink that would be $500 in tips. If there were two bartenders, that would be $250 in tips for each bartender.   I then calculated that if they worked a 7 hour shift (6pm to 1am), that would be a wage of about $35 an hour.

I fully admit I have no idea about many of these questions. So, I’m asking you, my Clever Friends, do you know the answer to any of these questions?

  • Do bartenders get paid or tipped by the party that is footing the bar tab?
  • Does the act of tipping result in any kind of preferential treatment the next trip up to the bar?
  • How much does a wedding bartender make in an evening?

Thanks in advance for your help, inquiring minds want to know!

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • I know when we got married, we paid for an open bar, and they tacked on a gratuity, but then they stuck a tip jar out, which I thought was kind of double dipping, but I’m wondering how much of the gratuity that we paid for actually made it down to the bartenders.

  • Bartenders at weddings with an open bar are normally working with the company that catered the entire affair not for themselves, so that tip jar does NOT constitute “double dipping.” That bartender will see very, VERY little of that gratuity that’s tacked onto the final bill and it’s not much to begin with considering the number of servers and the split ratio. The bartenders aren’t getting paid much to begin with either; in many cases it’s a flat rate rather than hourly so they receive even less, and hourly rates, unless it’s a very posh catering outfit and a REALLY extravagant affair, will almost never exceed $10. Worse yet, at an open bar well over half of the guests (and I’m being kind) drink quite a few more than two drinks each, since after all, it is “free.” On the same note, as for the $35/hour based on everyone tipping you can forget that, too; based on long experience, less than half of the guests will tip anything at all because most people seem to think “free” means $0, period. Many people even get indignant at the mere suggestion they should tip – this is a wedding, they are invited guests, they shouldn’t have to PAY – get my drift? Finally, you have no idea how much work it is to tend bar at a large wedding where all the drinks are free. Grueling, to say the least. As I mentioned, many of these people feel that, as “guests,” they are somehow entitled and you’d better serve them chop-chop, thank you very much. Before I started my own catering business I was a bartender for a few caterers and worked more weddings than I care to recall. Frankly, I’d rather stick a fork in my eye than tend bar at another open bar wedding, ever. I now pay my bartenders pretty well, and if it’s an especially busy event I’ll often pay them a bonus at the end of the night – sort of like combat pay, if you will. You sir, are unfortunately an anomaly any more; polite and thinking of others while attempting to be logical. Sadly, though your calculations are logical and indeed, should be the norm, they are quite a bit off the mark. Please, please, tip your bartenders whether you pay for your drinks or not. They’re working stiffs same as you and me and making hundreds of drinks as quickly as humanly possible nonstop for hours, while also making sure they don’t run out of ice, limes, mixers, glassware, or serve underage or overly drunk guests (they are now held personally liable, both civilly AND criminally for mistakes or accidents in most states) is a tough, thankless job. They’re not getting rich, believe me.

  • I don’t actually have experience in it, but it seems like tipping is the way to go. I always tip when I go out and actually pay the food, because I know those folks rely on tips. I thought weddings are a bit tricky, since I assumed gratuity is included. It seems like it doesn’t though, so better tip them.

  • @MrFrugalWoods – I’ve always had the opinion that a tip should be something that is an additional over and above amount given for a job well done….but that being said, that is not how employers look at the tip. In many instances the tip is indeed the bulk of the employees salary. I don’t agree with that concept, but I don’t have any power to change it, and must tip accordingly.

  • @MoneyBeagle – That would be an interesting piece of information to know for sure….and is there any kind of system of checks and balances to ensure that the tip actually does get delivered to the right people. I doubt it.

  • @Marcie- Oh, my….thank you very much for sharing all that information! I was hoping that someone would do exactly what you did – it is so very appreciated. It’s eye opening information to read, and should be required reading for anyone going to an open bar wedding. I don’t know if I’m surprised at the lack of of tipping, or just saddened by it!

  • @SuburbanFinance – One could think so….but I think it may be better to go the cautious route and tip. After all, the meal and bar are otherwise free – it’s still a very inexpensive evening.

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