Should Bands Tip The Bar?

Tim Brennan


After every good show, I make an effort to be generous and appreciative to the people working the show. If we make a little extra, I try to tip the house sound guy. When the tab comes and I see that they reduced some of what I owe, I tip the staff based on what my bill should have been. It’s the way I thought it was always done.


But around 2 a.m. one night/morning, I heard the following between a band member and a bartender. When the bartender gave this band member a final beer and his credit card receipt, he took the receipt, crossed through the line for tip, signed it, and handed it back to her.


“You know why I’m not tipping you, right?” he said. She rolled her eyes and said, “No…” (With the number of news reports about people not tipping because of perceived sexual preferences, political bents, or just being assholes, you can only wonder what was running through her mind.)


“Because we’re both employees,” he replied.

“What?” she asked, not expecting that.

“Yeah, we’re both working here tonight. So we’re both employees. Why should I tip you if you’re not tipping me?” was his reply.

“How do you figure?” she asked.


He looked at me with a can-you-believe-how-dumb-she-is grin.


“We. Both. Worked. Here. Tonight. I was on stage you were behind the bar. Me tipping you is as rational as you tipping me. If you’re not tipping me, I’m not tipping you. Or if I tip you $5, you should tip me $5.” It was as if he was giving her a lesson.


“Okay. Whatever,” she replied and went about her job cleaning the bar, clearing up tabs, washing glasses, closing up the register, and telling people to get out because the bar was closed.


He strutted away, beer in hand, and asked me, “You know what I’m saying, right?” Not really. Just not the way I work.


I’ve been a bartender, a bouncer, and a door man for various bars in college. Tossing out drunks twice my size, cleaning the women’s toilet (always worse than the men’s), breaking up fights, and arguing with underagers who want their fake IDs back, was work. There were a hundred things I didn’t like doing when I worked at a bar.


Being up on stage, playing music with my friends, and having people watch what I did was somehow different than being an employee of the club. Yes, the bartenders and musicians are all there to sell as much alcohol to as many people as possible. But I’m having fun on stage. Bartenders may not be having much fun behind that bar.


In my little world, I expect to take care of the bar staff. When I need a drink, they will serve me ahead of the people three-deep at the bar, so I can get back to doing my set quicker. Some will make sure that if the bar is getting low on my favorite beverage, they will hold a couple aside for me, instead of selling the last one to a customer. If someone harasses me, they will help out when needed. When they know I’m playing a certain night, if they like my project, they’ll tell their regulars and friends to come to that show. At the end of the night, they are the ones cleaning the slop. They are the ones locking the door after everyone, and venturing off into unlit parking lots alone. Yeah, I tip them.


Maybe the next time that band plays the bar and the member says “Hey, I’m getting thirsty up here.” That bartender who didn’t get a tip will reply “Go tell your wife. Maybe she’ll fetch you a beer. Because I. Don’t. Care.”


But perhaps I am wrong and that band member I overheard is right. I wonder if the house sound guy ever tipped the waitress who brought drinks over to him.


So I leave it up to you. Should performers tip the staff at the end of the night, or are they co-workers and tipping is unnecessary?