Tab Management: How Do Bartenders Keep Track Of Tabs?

how do bartenders keep track of tabs
Joe | Last Updated: November 27, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

Setting up a bar tab is common for customers who want to enjoy a wide array of food and beverages throughout the night without having to pay for every item individually.

Therefore, managing tabs is an essential part of the bartender’s role, ensuring efficient service and accurate billing in bars and restaurants.

To do this, bartenders use various methods and tools to maintain accurate tabs, combining traditional practices with modern technology.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the specific methods used by bartenders to keep track of tabs and answer the question that everyone wants to know; How do bartenders keep track of tabs?

Let’s get into it…

How Do Bartenders Keep Track Of Tabs?

Keeping track of tabs is an essential part of a bartender’s job as it’s important to ensure that customers are charged accurately and that the bar is not losing money.

Mess the tab up and you may find yourself having an awkward conversation with your manager about why a customer was not charged for an item.

Business is business and all.

how do bartenders keep track of tabs
Photo by Two Shores

There are two primary methods that bartenders use to keep track of tabs:

Digital Solutions

In today’s modern world, everything is moving digital, even in the bartending industry. Many bars have switched to using digital solutions to keep track of tabs due to their accuracy and efficiency.

This can include using point-of-sale (POS) systems or mobile apps specifically designed for bars.

These digital solutions offer several benefits, including:

  • Accurate tracking of orders and charges
  • Easy access to customer information
  • Ability to split tabs between multiple customers
  • Integration with inventory management systems

POS systems are particularly popular among larger bars and restaurants that need to track a large number of tabs at the same time.

They allow bartenders to quickly and accurately enter orders and charges, and they can be customized to fit the specific needs of the establishment.

Mobile apps are also becoming increasingly popular, especially among smaller bars and pubs as these apps allow customers to open and close their own tabs, which can save bartenders time and reduce errors.

Old-School Methods

While digital solutions are becoming more common, many bartenders still rely on old-school methods to keep track of tabs.

These methods include:

  • Writing orders down on paper
  • Using a chalkboard or whiteboard to keep track of tabs
  • Using a tab book or ledger

These methods may seem outdated, but they can still be effective, especially in smaller bars or pubs that don’t want to invest in a digital solution or have the footfall to warrant it.

While they require less technology and can be more affordable than digital solutions, they do require more manual labor and can be more prone to errors.

I’ve worked in bars over the years that have used the old-fashioned way of tracking tabs and have seen the number of errors it can cause, especially when staff members forget to mark an order down.

>> Read more: How do bartenders get paid?

The Importance Of Efficient Tab Management

Keeping track of customer tabs is crucial for providing excellent customer service and running a successful bar.

Customers don’t want the hassle of paying for their drinks every time which can interrupt the flow of conversation with their family or friends and means they have to queue at the bar every time they want a drink.

Not cool.

Bar tabs are a great way to enhance the drinker’s experience by allowing them to pay at the end of the night, and whilst they may have a hefty bill to pay when the time comes, it makes the overall experience more enjoyable.

how do bartenders keep track of tabs
Image by Thomas Hawk

But whilst this is all fine and dandy for the customer, the tab needs to be managed efficiently to ensure the bar is accurately charging for every item ordered.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why efficient tab management is important:

1. Accuracy

Keeping track of tabs accurately is essential to avoid any discrepancies or misunderstandings with customers.

By having a system in place to track each customer’s tab, and updating it promptly with each order, we can ensure that the customer is charged the correct amount at the end of the night.

2. Speed

Efficient tab management also helps speed up the payment process at the end of the night.

By having accurate tabs, we can quickly provide customers with their total and process their payment without any delays or confusion.

3. Organization

Having an organized system for managing tabs can also help us keep track of customer preferences and orders.

By reviewing a customer’s tab history, we can identify their favorite drinks and provide personalized recommendations or offers to enhance their experience.

By using the right tools and techniques, bartenders can keep track of tabs accurately, quickly, and efficiently, enhancing the customer experience.

>> Read more: How Much To Tip A Bartender

Tips For Keeping Tabs Accurate

When it comes to keeping tabs accurate, there are a few tips that I have found to be helpful over the years of working as a bartender in different establishments.

First and foremost, it’s important to establish a clear system for keeping track of tabs. Whether it’s using a paper system or a digital system, consistency is key. Make sure all bartenders are using the same system and that it’s easy to understand and use.

Always double-check the tab before closing it out. This means reviewing the items on the tab with the customer and making sure everything is correct. If there are any discrepancies, address them immediately.

Customers don’t like having their tab wrong, so it’s important to be accurate when taking orders and ensure that everything is logged correctly.

The hassle at the end of the night when customers are squaring up their tabs can be frustrating if it’s all wrong, so better to get it right the first time around.

how do bartenders keep track of tabs
Photo by

It’s also helpful to keep a record of any changes made to the tab. This could be in the form of notes on the paper tab or using the notes section in a digital system.

This way, if there are any questions or disputes later on, there is a clear record of what happened.

It’s important to communicate with other bartenders and servers. If a customer has a tab open at the bar and then moves to a table, make sure the server is aware of the tab and the items on it. This can help prevent duplicate orders and confusion.

Finally, always be honest and transparent with customers about their tabs. If there is a mistake, own up to it and make it right. This builds trust and can lead to repeat business and keep everyone happy.

Keeping tabs accurately requires a combination of clear systems, attention to detail, communication, and honesty.

Final Thoughts

To wrap up, the most common ways for bartenders to keep track of tabs is by using a digital solution or using old-school methods such as the trusty pen and paper.

It’s becoming more and more common for establishments to track via digital solutions due to its accuracy and efficiency, especially in larger bars that have high traffic.

Smaller bars may still use old-school methods as investing in a digital solution can be more costly, but it all depends on the type of establishment you’re in.

Some bartenders even memorize customers’ orders, although I’ve found this to be a recipe for disaster and can lead to LOTS of errors.

Either way, keeping track of tabs may seem like a small task, but it plays a significant role in the success of a bartender.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and learned something new today. Catch you in the next one!