So How Much Money do you Make?

I get a lot of seriously dumb-shit questions. Many genius customers throw unabashed inquiries out there with such ease and candor, you would think I’d known them for decades. I incessantly get questions like : (a) gay or straight (b) do you have a girlfriend [really stupid question - just go for it dumbass] (c) what should I drink (d) do you know how to make a Tuscaloosa Screaming Cucumber Reach-Around shot [or some other obscure restaurant's house special] and finally (e) it’s my birthday – buy me a drink? There is one subject of interrogation however, which irks me something terrible. That is: “so, how much money do you make?”

Well, Douchebag (greatest word in the English language), “How much money do you make?” Do I show up at your options and swaps trading desk and ask you about your big fat commissions? Do I ask if you’ve met your target December bonus thresholds and what you’ll be doing with said bonus? Are you struggling to decide which convertible Porsche 911 variant you’ll be leasing this year to match what’s left of your corn-row Bosley hair plugs, Havana Cohibas, and crisp Thomas Pink collection? Why do you feel the need to dig into my personal financial business? For the sake of all things holy, I’m going to spell it out for you below and hope you read my post. Maybe, I can finally put to this question to bed and duck the topic (and fake smile) at work at little less… you know – the place where I have little leverage to tell you what a retarded question you’re asking lest I be shit-canned for directly telling you like it is.

I live and work in New York City – downtown Manhattan specifically. I’m throwing that out there because experiences of other bartenders in other ‘hoods can and will be different. Heck, they’ll even vary from neighborhood to neighborhood within this very City. That said, I’ll get more specific. I work high-end, high-volume venues with nightclub-like atmospheres – mostly, restaurant bars. I have kids and fat-ass mortgage to cover. Combine all that with 18 or so years of bartending experience, let’s just say my financial expectations are not on par with a newbie 23-year old, living at home or in an $800/mo share, working at his/her first bartending gig in some dive bar down in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

I won’t work in a bar where I can’t expect to walk with at least $300 on a bad night. At most places I’ve worked, I can usually double that number and more on busy nights. Question answered? I hope so. So, as you can see, with significant experience, a lot of luck, and a good deal of time pounding the pavement for the right gig, earning a six figure salary in this business – even working only 3 or 4 nights a week – is not out of the question.

Sure, there are bartenders making more – such as at straight-up nightclubs or bikini-clad barkeeps at strip clubs. Those gigs are unusual however. In the case of the nightclub bartender, job risks include (1) loss of hearing (2) increased risk of violence (3) routine layoffs and (4) being subject to termination for any or no reason at any time for the mere suspicion of knowing  how to efficiently steal. The strip club bartender falls into (or out of =P) her own category altogether. I can’t compete with boob money. But she can easily make thousands a night. It’s a terribly sexist business – skewed in favor of hot females.

As I’ve alluded to here and mentioned in other articles, you likely will not be making big-money when you first start out at most bars – that is unless you have really big tits and are otherwise a hot piece of ass. The other opportunity of making beaucoup cash from the get-go arises when you have an angle – an in somewhere that most bartending job-seekers simply do not. For example: you’re a relative of the owner or manager. Or, you just happened to step in a pile of shit – walking into a bar in need at the exact time a veteran has experienced some inexplicable anomaly like a sudden broken his leg or has moved to the Wrong Coast. Seniority doesn’t play as much into the money making equation as some may believe. It’s more about ability, charm, experience, sales, connections and of course – appearance.

In any case, like in just about every other profession on the planet, there are dues to be paid before you make the big-time. Almost no trendy bar in this City will interview you until you have literally years of verifiable, New York City bartending experience documented on your resume. Until such time, I suggest honing your speed, knowledge, memory, multi-tasking abilities, psychiatry skills, and the like at shitty little bars on the outskirts of the City. You may have to eat crow for a while, working your way up from let’s say, $100/night. Busting your ass at a variety of establishments will provide you with all kinds of immeasurable and extremely valuable experience. Most importantly, and I kid you not, your time in the hole will well prepare you to do mental battle with an ever increasing number problem/needy/high-maintenance characters – the frequency of which, seems to increase in lock-step with apparent “affluence” and volume of the bar you’re moving up to.

Slug away – make that paper.


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8 thoughts on “So How Much Money do you Make?

  1. I am a bartender from Sydney australia and the tipping idea here is not what it is in the states due to our minimum wage being higher 19$ per hour. I do wonder how much different my actual money would be with the experience and the skill set i have. I really enjoyed reading your arfticle though. My experience of sydney has been that really good places to work at you can make about 700$ per week in wages and then 300$ a week in tips. That would be considered a decent bartending gig.

    • As i said earlier in my post you can make about 1000$ a week in sydney but i am a bar manager so my rate of pay (wages) is higher as i work 5 days a week on a 40 hour a week roster. I can imagine that if in a reputable bar where cocktail sales are the glut of the turnover i can imagine bartender earnings to way surpass my earnings. Just an example….Last week friday we did a 3000$ night. This is food and drink….now based on the model of 10 percent tipping (i am being very conservative here as i understand it is customary to tip 20% in america) You would expect 300$ If that 20% rule is true (which it probably is then that goes up to 600$ = I LOVE MY JOB!

    • I’ve done my bartendin classes and have done an internship for a while and im thinking about studyin in sydney . How much do u think i can earn as a bartender considering il be on student visa . Please reply asap . Will be realy grateful for ur help . :)

  2. Hey there Hemant! Thanks for the enlightenment. I’m often curious about tipping customs overseas. I’m familiar only with a handful of Western European countries’ traditions. Good info for when I visit my relatives in Sydney!

    That’s a pretty good wage! Not sure how the overall earnings relate to the local cost of living, but in NYC for comparison’s sake, you can earn a whole lot more than that.

  3. Thanks for the insight Freddy. I wasn’t sure my 4 years experience in New Zealand would pay off at all in New York, but I guess not, apart from well-rounded bartending knowledge. Ah well, bottom-end barwork, here I come.

  4. Loved the article and your sinister sarcasm. I live in the Bronx, am an attractive blonde blue eyed, big breasted female bartender with about 12 years experience, most of that time in yacht clubs. I have yet to reach $300 nights. I have not been lucky finding employment in NYC. All my jobs have been in the Bx and Westchester. I have an impressive resume, 12 yrs bartending with 8 of those years in bar management experience, but because it is not in Manhattan it counts for shit. Most ads are very clear in stating must have NYC experience. I landed 1 job in a city restaurant bar that had only 4 seats that no one sat at because there never was a wait for a table. The other gig I landed I had high hopes for, I landed a manager spot at the circle lines Zephyr Yacht, which did the same tours as the other circle ships but at double the price due to it being a luxury yacht and not the Popeye the sailor man boat that the other circle line ships look like. In my past manager jobs I always doubled as a bartender which means I got tips to supplement a crappy salary. The Zephyr however had me there strictly as a manager so no tips and only $15 hr. It was boring as hell. It was me, 1 bartender on shift and about 10-15 people on each 45 min tour who had no interest in drinks from the bar. What they did want at the bar was nachos and hotdogs. Thats what was a real turn off for me, after all my high end experience, my knowledge of wines and spirits and now I was in charge of franks and nacho cheese. Getting a bikini wax was more appealing then going to work there. Also not good to work on a boat if you tend to run late, because the job leaves without you. So I would park at the Brooklyn Navy yard where the ship docked and if I was late would have to hop on a mail boat from the Navy Yard to the seaport. I have been thinking about lying on my resume and saying I worked at lots of spots in NYC(Many places never really check up, I am just nervous that my interviewer might know the spot and the people there and start asking questions like “How is Jimmy doing, is Lisa still a cunt?”) I mean it can’t hurt, it’s not like any significant NYC bars are giving me a chance now. I know I can’t expect to get into a top NYC spot making $900 plus a night, but I don’t want to be on par with a newbie because I do have years of experience. I would like to be able to start with at least $200 on a bad night. I know NYC experience is valued because the bars are busier, which I do agree, but I have worked tons of special events that were high volume or had peak periods where everyone there comes to the bar at the same time, in high volume catering this is a regular occurrence. Its crazy because you need NYC experience to get a job but if no one hires how do you get it? And with tons of bartenders applying when a position opens they don’t have to take someone without NYC experience because they have tons of bartenders to choose from who have it

  5. veteran of a foreign war, too cold at home when I returned had me move to las Vegas, I have been a bar back for 9 months now, got my pour card. ( research that don’t want to get into it lets just say vegas is a union town shhh its a secret) I’m making good money but can’t stand bar backing no more especially for old school union bartenders. I think, well wondering if you’d say go the union route in a casino bar, or get some culinary training and pursue bar tending in a upscale restaurant. i was thinking using my G.I. Bill and going to the Le Cordon Bleu

  6. Bartending can be a lot of things, for some people it’s a temporary job where they earn the income needed to survive, while others turn it into a solid career and earn quite a lot of money from it. Just like any other job however, bartending might come with its dull moments, but on the other hand it allows you to meet a plethora of new people, sometimes very influential, and through that you can make great connections. Bartenders can gain a good income that ranges from $10000 per year up to $20000. And this doesn’t even take the tips into account, which might double the revenues.

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