Drink Magazine

Highest-Paying Jobs Without a Degree: Where Does Bartender Rank?

By Therealbarman @TheRealBarman

For those of you out scouring the Internet for the highest-paying jobs without a degree, you have perhaps come across numerous websites listing their top 10 or 20 jobs that pay the most without a degree, which were most likely quoted directly from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) file.

So let's quickly take a look at this list (top 10) before moving on to answer the question this blog post poses.


10. Power Plant Operators: $65,000

9. Farmers and Ranchers: $68,000

8. Power Distributors & Dispatchers: $70,000

7. Dental Hygienist: $71,000

6. Detectives & Criminal Investigators $73,000

5. Commercial Airline Pilots: $74,000

4. Nuclear Power Operators: $74,500

3. Elevator Installers/Repairers: $76,000

2. Radiation Therapist: $77,500

1. Transportation and Distribution Manager: $120,000

Before I move on to why bartending is actually in the top 5 of this list and the reasons why it's a clear choice, let me mention a couple of things:

First, I know that if I was searching for the highest paying job without a degree it would be for something I could get into quickly and move up the payment ladder as fast as possible. Some of these jobs are nearly as intensive to learn as going to college.

Some of these simply don't cut it, like Nuclear Reactor Operators or Police Detective. What average American is going to be a police detective? You have to have a 400 IQ to be one of those guys. And #1 on the list: Transportation and Distribution Manager. According to the BLS, you have to have 5 years experience, so that's basically the same thing as going to college. It shouldn't even be listed, even though technically you don't need a degree.

Now, since you're on a bartending website, you've probably noticed that bartending is not on this list, and this is because the Bureau of Labor lists the average median income of a bartender to be $19,530.

If you were to put a room full of bartenders together and ask if this number was true, they would most likely howl in laughter until they peed themselves.

This is because (which anyone in the bar/restaurant industry knows) servers and bartenders do not claim anything close to what they actually make in tips. This can cause problems for the bar or restaurant because if the employees are claiming too low on tips, they can be audited by the IRS, because the IRS wants their mother-f-ing money, y'all.

It's a rare to get audited though, and every place I have ever worked, I have watched bartenders who just made $400 in tips clock out and claim $40.

I'm not saying I support this (in case I'm being "Big-Brothered" by the IRS right now), but it's simply a fact. Speaking of facts, let's look at a few.

The Bureau claims that bartenders make on average $11.59/hr. The absolute MINIMUM nationally anyone who brings in tips can make is $7.25/hr. It's the law that employees have to make at least this amount.

So at the very least, this stat states that bartenders only make $4.34 per hour in tips. AT THE VERY LEAST.

That sort of naiveté makes me think that Patrick from Sponge Bob has been hired to head up the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here are my facts. I contacted and interviewed 100 bartenders from different states across the country (and remember that this includes slow lunch shifts at the bar on the side of i-80 running through Dexter, Iowa, as well as some Vegas & New York bartenders bringing in $800 per night).

The AVERAGE bartender in the United States (According to TheRealBureauMan):
  • Works 3.5 shifts per week
  • Works 24.5 hours per week
  • Earns $9.25 per hour in wages
  • Earns $189 per shift in tips

This comes out to $888.50 per week ($227 in wages + $661.50 in tips)

Multiply that by 52 weeks and were talking $46,930. Not bad, not great. We haven't cracked the top 5 yet, but i'm not finished.

The most interesting thing about these stats is the hourly amount earned with wages and tips, which in this case works out to be $36.84 per hour.

Something else that isn't factored in when the BLS created their top 10 list of highest-paying jobs without a degree is that all those other jobs assume a 40 hour work week. So allow me to make a similar assumption here in favor of the new bartending facts we have stumbled across.

$36.84 x 40 = $1,473.60 per week

$1,450.80 x 52 weeks = $76,627 per year

That technically puts bartending at #2 on the list, without extensive education, training or even intelligence. And even though my math is only based on 100 bartenders, you can certainly see how bartending would at the very least crack the top 10 for anyone working full time.

And even if you don't want to factor in my 100 bartender survey because you don't know where they came from or you don't trust me, you can't deny that with wages and tips, there is NO WAY the average bartender makes less than $25 per hour (still a ridiculously low and exaggerated estimate but I'm trying to make a point), which multiplied by 40 hours per week and 52 weeks still equals $52,00 per year.

That's conservative, but still not too shabby.

So to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even if you are watching, your facts are about as reliable as a Chrysler Geo.

The bartending profession is hands down one of the best and highest paid jobs you can get without a degree. And with only a couple weeks of training.

And if you don't believe me, go ask the next bartender you're sitting in front of at the bar how much he/she makes and you'll see that my numbers are far more realistic to the Bureau's.

Cheers, until next time,

Dave, The RB

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