The 579,700 drink-makers employed in the U.S. in 2014 earned $22,620 on average, or an hourly wage of $10.88, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But you’re forgetting something. Mixologists can earn much more – as long as customers remember to tip.
Since this once-popular part-time job has become a long-term career choice for many Americans, it’s worth a study. ValuePenguin reviewed data from 381 cities across three important metrics: median salary, plus cost of living and location quotient (more on our methodology below) to figure out where the best spots to launch a career as a bartender or move to are.
Best Cities for Bartenders
To get from 381 American cities down to five, we applied our methodology. A quarter top 20 best cities for drink makers are in Florida, with Crestview coming in at No. 3 overall. The smallish city fell in right behind two places that you probably expected to top the list, but each of them separated themselves for different reasons. Here is what ValuePenguin found for barmen and barmaids looking for a new city to call home (or to confirm where their current one ranks):
1. Las Vegas, CA
It should come as no surprise that Nevada’s most infamous city has the fourth most bartending jobs (11,080) in America. And while the cost of living on or near “The Strip” is surprisingly better than average, Vegas also pays its drink-makers the 13th highest salary ($29,130). The city’s location quotient also points to it being the second-easiest city to find a vacation position. All good things if you’re looking for a place where “bad” behavior is encouraged, like in one of the MGM Grand Hotel’s eight sprawling bars. “It is different there as you are dealing with gaming at the bars and such a varied, changing clientele,” says Jacques Bezuidenhout, bartender ambassador for Partida Tequila in San Francisco. “You are also working in a 24-7 city, so some (friends of mine) have the 2 a.m.-to-8 a.m. shift, which always makes for interesting stories.”
2. Atlantic City, NJ
Speaking of expensive cocktails, dancers and big-screen TVs, the East Coast’s version of Vegas checked in at number two on our list despite having almost 10,000 fewer jobs than its sister city. The New Jersey party zone is likely to have among the most open positions considering its third-place location quotient. Atlantic City, of course, has the boardwalk and beach to go along with its Vegas-like casinos, all within a reasonable drive from Philadelphia, New York City and Baltimore. Ocean City, N.J., ranked eight spots lower, at 10th overall.
3. Crestview, FL
With its own proximity to the coast, Crestview and its almost 23,000 residents slotted in third in our study despite having just 720 jobs. Still, this city has the country’s 17th-best location quotient (2.19), so there should be, on average, a higher demand for bartenders. Self-titled “the icebox of Florida,” Crestview’s statistics also capture the data of nearby – and warmer – Fort Walton Beach and Destin, where a cold beer is probably preferred to a room-temperature shot. A more salient note: Five of the top 20 cities for bartenders are in Florida; see the full top 125 below.
4. Brockton, MA
Brockton, whose data is combined with nearby cities Bridgewater and Easton, comes in at fourth on our list despite having the highest cost of living among the top five. This is, in part, because the approximate 740 bar keepers here earn $26,530, or 24 percent more than the country’s average. Many locals prefer the likes of Tommy Doyle’s Pub Grill and Dylan’s Bar Grill.
5. Myrtle Beach, SC
Rounding out this list overall is the more affordable Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway, where another Irish haunt, Flynn’s Irish Tavern, has its regulars. This section of South Carolina is second only to Vegas in cost of living among the top five. Mixologists here make less base salary ($24,180), but a greater share of its 1,310 jobs are more likely to be hiring. In addition to its local tavern, which was converted from a city jail, Myrtle Beach has successful chains like Señor Frog’s and Fat Tuesday.
Top 30 Best Cities for Bartenders
Cost of Living
|Las Vegas, NV||$29,130||11,080||2.97||94|
|Atlantic City, NJ||26,310||1,670||2.96||110|
|Myrtle Beach, SC||24,180||1,310||2.62||97|
|San Francisco, CA||28,160||6,540||1.4||200|
|Ocean City, NJ||23,750||570||3.47||166|
|North Port, FL||24,550||1,720||1.56||92|
On Topic: What Should You Tip Your Bartender?
Bartenders don’t make more money than many of their peers in other professions, but one perk of the job is that their actual take-home pay can help to close that gap. Then comes the question – at least for the rest of us – about how much we should be tipping our drink makers. In search of a definitive answer, we polled a group of expert (albeit subjective) sources.
Jacques Bezuidenhout, San Francisco
“There is a lot of debate going on right now about this in our industry. We as bartenders should not be driven by tips alone. Granted it is a big part of our wages, so if you don't make tips then you don't make much money. I am seeing a few more bars and restaurants who now just build it into the check and everyone gets a standard wage. Some say it makes for better service.
“Personally, I tip bartenders and service staff 20 percent and more if they do a great job. I will go over the top if service was spectacular and many times it is. I also believe that you should not just tip for the sake of doing so – especially if you got poor service. There are many in our industry that just coast and still make good tips which I don't agree with.”
Liam Kolb, New York
“This is the million dollar question. Listen up: If you’re paying in cash, you should tip $1 a drink. For those paying on a card, I’d say 20 percent minimum (on a tab). Either way, this is just the bare minimum (regardless of service). Of course, I’d encourage people to tip extra for great service!”
Remy Connor, Florida
“Always tip your bartender. Always. You are not paying for your service, you are paying for every time you go into the bar. Personally, I always tip 20 percent.
“Of course, the bartender was slow, they haven't met you before. But the person they were talking to gives them $20 a night, 5 nights a week. You want to be treated well? Pay for it.
“If you get a rude bartender or server, still tip (but) do something different. Ask for a full glass of water and a menu. Then place the tip in the glass, place the menu on top, flip it over and pull the menu out from underneath. This leaves the bartender with a glass of water upside down with their tip inside. They have to spill the water in order to get their soaking wet money.
Amapola Ferchl, Miami, Fla.
“Here is some advice for those who need guidance: When in doubt, 20 percent minimum is awesome for everyone. If a bartender buys you a drink, the tip should be at least whatever the cost of that drink. For example, a complimentary $10 cocktail, should receive a $10 tip. At least I think that’s fair.”
These were the three key questions we asked in coming up with the list.
1. What can bartenders earn in the city?
We ranked the best cities for bartenders based on the median annual pay. Income is likely the most important factor people consider when starting their career or relocating elsewhere. A high salary in an expensive city, however, may be less attractive than a lower salary in an affordable town. Our next metric takes affordability into consideration.
2. How affordable is it to live in this city?
Now that we have the median salary, we’ll look next at the cost of living. The cost of living is a measure of how far earnings can be stretched. Cities with lower cost of living index numbers ranked higher in our study. For example, the average city is benchmarked at 100. A city with a cost of living index of 188, such as Honolulu, would mean that generally speaking, living expenses are 88 percent more expensive compared to the average city.
3. What is the location quotient for bartenders in the city?
A place with a high median salary and low cost of living may seem perfect, but job opportunities may be limited. Our third factor accounts for this by favoring cities with high location quotients. Location quotient measures the concentration of bartenders in an area as a percentage of all occupations, and then compares that to the national average. We interpret a higher location quotient to mean a relatively higher demand for a bartender’s services.