The two groups of employees at restaurants most people recognize are the servers and bartenders, but many wonder which group makes more money.
As it turns out, the bartenders often command more money although there can certainly be exceptions to this general rule in some establishments. When comparing the two, it is important to remember that each line of work has its own separate duties and responsibilities.
Bartenders and servers each have different jobs that have their own separate requirements.
The average server is going to be responsible for caring for a table from the beginning to the end of their dining experience. This usually means that a server has to greet their table, take their order, deliver their food, and then perform a number of checks during the meal to ensure their happiness.
The server usually presents the bill at the end of the meal, and they will typically be tipped on that bill, usually hoping for a 20 percent tip. A server can spend anywhere from as little as 20 minutes to more than an hour waiting on a table. Contrast that with the duties of a bartender, who usually just handles the making of alcoholic drinks.
A bartender may be making drinks for the servers or they could be serving their own customers.
Bartenders thus have much quicker transactions that are handled in a matter of minutes compared with servers. While the bartender’s tips may not be as large as what a server can get from a table, the bartender is usually capable of handling more orders than a server and thus getting even more tips than a server does.
On top of this, a bartender can also be tipped out by a server at the end of the shift for their work. So servers have to give out a share of their tips to bartenders and possibly busboys, but bartenders usually keep everything they earn for themselves.
Comparing the Salaries of Bartenders and Servers
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), May 2021 data showed that servers earned a mean hourly wage of $13.95 and a mean annual wage of $29,010 while bartenders earned a mean hourly wage of $14.59 and a mean annual wage of $30,340.
There were also 1,804,030 servers compared to 485,330 bartenders. All of these figures are actually fairly conservative, as most service industry employees earn more than what they claim. When the data is broken down by percentile, servers earned as follows:
Compare this with bartender data, which shows:
The states with the highest employment levels for servers were California (171,630), Texas (171,060), Florida (170,290), New York (91,740), and Ohio (64,740). The states with the highest employment levels for bartenders were California (39,060), Texas (38,600), Florida (35,890), Wisconsin (22,330), and Ohio (22,170).
States with the highest concentration of jobs and location quotients in servers with employment per thousand jobs were Nevada (21.46), Florida (19.79), Oklahoma (17.06), Louisiana (16.45), and Hawaii (15.62).
States with the highest concentration of jobs and location quotients in bartenders with employment per thousand jobs were Montana (10.94), North Dakota (9.43), Nevada (8.58), Wisconsin (8.11), and Wyoming (7.83). Annual mean wages for servers were highest in the District of Columbia ($48,240), Washington ($44,490), Arizona ($40,400), New York ($39,710), and Hawaii ($39,370).
Annual mean wages for bartenders were highest in Arizona ($45,150), Hawaii ($44,680), Washington ($44,120), New York ($43,780), and the District of Columbia ($42,790).
The 10 metropolitan areas with the highest employment level in servers were New York-Newark-Jersey City (91,580), Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA (62,430), Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX (48,860), Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI (45,210), Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX (44,210), Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL (40,790), Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA (37,410), Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ (32,010), Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV (31,380), and Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD (29,960).
The 10 metropolitan areas with the highest employment level for bartenders were New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA (19,620), Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI (12,570), Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA (12,160), Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX (10,240), Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX (9,230), Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV (8,820), Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL (8,750), Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI (8,340), Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA (8,100), and Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD (7,920).
Top paying metropolitan areas for servers by annual mean wage were Glens Falls, NY ($47,570), Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA ($47,080), Ithaca, NY ($44,970), Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY ($44,500), Kingston, NY ($43,440), Bremerton-Silverdale, WA ($43,040), Olympia-Tumwater, WA ($42,950), Elmira, NY ($42,740), Kennewick-Richland, WA ($42,340), and Portland-South Portland, ME ($42,340).
Top paying metropolitan areas for bartenders were Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI ($50,180), Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA ($47,820), Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ ($47,440), Flagstaff, AZ ($45,230), Portland-South Portland, ME ($44,660), Kennewick-Richland, WA ($43,440), New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA ($43,170), Urban Honolulu, HI ($42,990), Tucson, AZ ($42,660), and Prescott, AZ ($42,230).
The nonmetropolitan areas with the highest employment in servers were the Kansas nonmetropolitan area (4,540), the North Northeastern Ohio nonmetropolitan area (4,300), the East Tennessee nonmetropolitan area (4,110), the Mountain North Carolina nonmetropolitan area (3,380), and the Northwest Colorado nonmetropolitan area (3,270).
The nonmetropolitan areas with the highest employment in bartenders were the South Central Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area (2,320), the Northeastern Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area (2,310), the Northwest Minnesota nonmetropolitan area (1,880), the North Northeastern Ohio nonmetropolitan area (1,610), and the Western Wisconsin nonmetropolitan area (1,560).
The top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for servers were the Massachusetts nonmetropolitan area ($39,710), the Arizona nonmetropolitan area ($39,560), the Central East New York nonmetropolitan area ($39,280), the Western Washington nonmetropolitan area ($38,910), and the Capital/Northern New York nonmetropolitan area ($38,900).
The top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for bartenders were the Hawaii / Kauai nonmetropolitan area ($43,140), the Massachusetts nonmetropolitan area ($42,700), the Northeast Maine nonmetropolitan area ($39,240), the Southwest Maine nonmetropolitan area ($39,060), and the Arizona nonmetropolitan area ($37,840).
High-Earning Serving and Bartending Jobs
In May 2014, Workoplis interviewed a server who had been featured in another article for earning more than $100,000 a year. The server named Katie said her first waitressing job was at a jazz club where she made about $45 a night but then began making $400 a night when she began bartending. She now works at a high-end hotel bar where her actual salary is $10 an hour and the rest is tips.
She said she brought home between $4,000 and $6,000 a month. She said she was not actually making $100,000, but because most of her income was not taxed, she was earning the equivalent of what a six-figure salary would be after taxes. The kicker, of course, was she told Workopolis, “The bartender, a 70-year-old man, made more than any of us.”
While most of the numbers do indeed indicate that bartenders earn more than servers, there are a number of factors that can make a significant difference. The location of the restaurant, the type of restaurant, and the amount of actual work performed can all lead to different figures for certain situations.
Keep in mind that many of the BLS statistics cited here are rather dubious because both bartenders and servers do not declare all of the tips they make.
The result is that the actual salaries for both lines of work are probably much higher than listed. The BLS is right though that the highest-paying areas for both servers and bartenders will usually be the bigger more metropolitan areas. Similarly, bartenders earn the most in the upper-class bars compared with the dive bars and servers earn more in more upscale restaurants compared with the average chain restaurants.
Servers who are interested in becoming bartenders should know that it will typically take about a year to make that transition. You will need to spend anywhere from three to six months proving to a manager that you are a capable server before you can be promoted and then you will have to train behind the bar and learn to memorize the many recipes required to mix drinks before you can be capable of bartending on your own.
It is also important to remember that both servers and bartenders usually earn less than the minimum wage because they are tipped employees, so many restaurants are allowed to pay both servers and bartenders only a fraction of the minimum wage.
The good news for servers and bartenders is that both have the potential to earn more than their managers on most nights, as the managers are typically salaried employees who do not partake in any tipshare.
Closely related questions and additional subtopics
- Who gets better tips servers or bartenders?
- Do bartenders make a lot of money?
- Why do servers tip out bartenders?
- Do attractive bartenders make more money?