Miss Charming's How to Become a Bartender Page

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In movies and TV, bartenders are typically portrayed providing solace to the downtrodden, offering psychological advice to the confused, supplying private detectives with info, or puttin’ on a show.


In real life, bar owners and managers see a bartender as a salesperson whose job it is to sell as much product (food and drink) any way they can. Owners and managers love big numbers. Can’t blame ‘em. From a guests perspective bartender’s only make drinks, flirt, and fill up tip jars, but when you work behind the bar—for real— you soon discover it shore is different from the way it looks up there on that big ole’ wide screen. But isn’t everything?


Concepts to Ponder

Most professions
are either mental or physical. Bartending is both. Here’s the deal: In your area, there are many bars a guest can order a Rum & Coke, right? So, why would someone want to keep ordering a Rum & Coke from you?


Here’s the big picture: Restaurants and bars are built every single day for one purpose and one purpose only; to make money. American bartenders work for tips. A $1 tip per drink has been pretty standard since the 1970’s. Guests that run tabs normally tip 15% or more. Your bottom line is to sell as much as you can because the more you sell the more money you make.

Bars are like any other store.
They buy products and sell those products for a profit. As a bartender you’re selling products just as a car salesman sells his products. And both of you are making a commission (bartender tips are kind of like tiny commissions that add up to one big one). So, you sell your product anyway you can to make money. If that way involves; attention, a smile, a good handshake, remembering names, telling them a joke, making a drink with style, or whatever! Then that’s what you do.

People like bartenders. They like to be their friend, they like to say that they know you, tell you lots of secrets, ask your advice, hook you up with all kinds of big ticket goodies…no doubt, it’s cool to be a bartender. Bartenders are like mini-celebrities in towns everywhere. Which is fitting because in order to make money you have to provide an excellent guest experience so that they will tip you. Which means that there’s a lot of acting going on in this line of work. Why do you think so many actors wait tables and tend bar before they become famous?



Some bartender schools can be helpful, but they’re not the only way to learn about bartending and they cannot guarantee you a job. As a matter of fact, you won’t even be able to put it on your resume or application because managers and real bartenders will roll their eyes. It’s sad for the good bartender schools because the bad ones have given their business a bad name. Also, know that you don’t have to learn the hundreds of drinks they make you memorize, which is my biggest complaint about bar schools. I’ve been making the same 30 drinks for almost 3 decades! My second, and last, complaint is that most don’t even employ people that actually work as a bartender. Wouldn’t you rather listen to someone walking the talk? I think that’s why students always liked me.



Here’s my analogy on bartender schools; I hurt my right hand (I'm right-handed) and was forced to write a grocery list with my left hand. Now, my left hand has seen the right hand write--it even knows the alphabet! However, it doesn’t have the experience. The proof was in my elementary looking letters on the grocery list. My right hand represents the bartender that gets experience by getting into the industry any way they can and my left hand represents the book learning method at bar schools.

The truth is that you don’t need to know the history of spirits to be a bartender. You can learn and absorb all of that later. A skeleton bartender needs to know about standard drinks, glassware, bar tools, mixers, garnishes, and the POS system. That’s it. You build from there.

  I highly recommend getting into the biz anyway you can in order to become a really great bartender (server, barback, cocktailer). This gives you a better sense and understanding of what the F&B business is all about. It also teaches you respect and gives you a foundation to build on. Combine this with some training at a reputable bartending school to tweak your knowledge further and you're on your way to becoming an extraordinary bartender. And extraordinary bartenders make the most money, get the best hook-ups, and are offered incredible opportunities. Who wouldn't want this?


Here's the deal. If you decide to shell out $600 to a bartender school and think that after 2 weeks you are now a bartender, well, you are sadly mistaken. The most important thing to know is that bar schools are a business. And all businesses need money to stay open.

Now let's say that someone does give you a chance without you "paying your dues" (it's possible!). Other employees get pissed off when someone is not pulling their own weight, especially when they have been waiting in line to move up. They will make your life hell. No one wants to train a new guy without experience then split tips with them when you are doing most of the work. The only training that someone should have to do is on the computer, showing you where stuff is and that's it. Any experienced bartender should be able to walk behind ANY bar and take off.

Don't ever get the idea that bartending is just about knowing 1000 recipes.



Of all the years that I've tended bar, I've made the same 30 drinks over and over and over. When popular drinks are going around it's easy to just add them to your memory bank. Learn the drinks all bartenders should know here.

Wait 'til you get to do the fun stuff that you don't learn in a bartender school, like carrying cases and cases of beer to stock, changing a keg when your slammed, stay after closing
for an hour or more just cleaning, then going home smelling like a brewery. Also, throughout the night be ready to remember 10 things at all times, count correct change, ID people, keep tabs straight, wait on servers as well, and if you don't have a barback you better get all those glasses washed, constantly clean the bar top, open wine bottles, refill mixers as you go, deal with many personality types, and on and on and on. Oh, don't forget to smile during all this.





Bartender License

You don’t need a license, certificate, or any paper to tend bar. Nurses, Doctors, and Architects need a license. Bartending is a blue-collar profession and even uses the basic application you filled out when applying for your first job at 16. However, some states and some establishments say that you have to be certified before you can work as a bartender. This is only about a food & beverage class you and everyone else in the F&B business must take. In these classes you learn basics like proper storage of food, safety, accepted forms of ID's etc. The reason establishment’s make you take the classes is because they get a break on insurance. Sometimes you will have to pay for the class. The most popular nationwide program is TIPS .



1. Good personality
2. Good grooming and nice looks
3. Great memory
4. Knowledge of liquor, beer, wines, cocktails, and local area
5. Good money handling skills and average math skills
6. Responsible and dependable team player.
7. Something unique
8. Physical strength
9. A people person
10. Fast and efficient


Miss Charming's Bar School Boot Camp


I propose that you create your own Bar School Boot Camp. Here are some things to consider.

1. Before you can get your foot through the door, ya gotta knock. Take a bartender book (mine that comes out in October would be perfect) and go to a bar that has a nice bartender working the day shift. Be there between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. (between lunch and dinner is a bar’s slowest time). Great places to try first are chain restaurants or any restaurant with a bar. You’re searching for a BarMentor (half bartender and half mentor). You might have to check out a few of places until you feel a connection with someone, but it’ll happen. Order something to eat and have this book just lying there. While you’re waiting for your food, start thumbing through the book. (Here’s a secret: most bartenders like people with books. So often guests look to bartenders to entertain them, but when you bring your own source of entertainment the bartender will immediately like you.) Here’s what I predict, the bartender will ask, “Whatcha reading?” And the door opens.
This is your opportunity to make a real connection with a real bartender. Tell them that you want to be a bartender one day and you’re trying to learn everything there is about bartending. Then ask them how they learned. Let them say as much as they want because bartenders don’t get to talk about themselves too often; this will be a refreshing change for them. Making a good connection like this is one of the best things you can do. You’ll be able to return and ask questions and get real information and instruction from someone who is actually doing what you want to do.

2. Somehow, someway, get several empty liquor bottles. Frat house trashcans, your barmentor, end of the night at parties, or dumpsters behind bars are excellent places to look. Clean them inside and out, fill them with water, and put pourers on them then label them. You can even get creative and add food coloring. (A few drops of tea work well for the whiskeys.) Next, go to your local thrift stores and get a small collection of bar glassware. You must purchase some bar tools because every profession has tools of the trade. You must know how to use them, and more important, get a good feel for them. And after you own them, you have the bonus of being ready to work any private party anytime, anywhere.
Don’t feel overwhelmed—I’ve made building your own practice bar easy! Go to my Bar Store at www.charming.barstore.com to help get you started. If you need a list of what to get then email me. The only other thing you’ll need is a large gym bag to store and tote your tools.
Teach yourself how to pour, strain, muddle, stir, build, rim, roll, chill, flame, float, layer, shake, everything. If you don’t have a counter that’s the height of a bar, use your ironing board. Go to bars and watch bartenders. What do they have on tap? Where is their wine kept? Where’s the trash can? Are they running tabs? Are the beer glasses chilled? What kind of bottle opener are they using? Just be aware of everything they do. If you can find a bar where the bartender is slammed and you can hide in the corner at the end of the bar, this is great—you don’t want them seeing you stare. Eye contact with a bartender should only be made if you need something or if they approach you.

3. Go out and find a job anywhere in the food and beverage industry, even if it’s part-time. It’s important that you understand the inner workings. Also, if you’ve never worked a POS system or cash register, I highly recommend that you pick up a shift somewhere where you have to so you can get some real hands-on experience with it.
4. Keep your eyes and ears open for any mention of any party of any kind. When you hear of someone throwing a party, tell them you’d like to bartend the party for free. If they say, “All we’re serving is sangria,” reply, “Ok! I’ll serve the sangria!” If they’re only serving beer and wine, it’s a great chance for you to practice opening beer and wine bottles. The whole idea is repetition. Stop and think of something you’re good at. Now, why are you good at it? Most times it’s because you’ve had lots of practice.
5. Try to learn something new everyday. Learn how to cut garnishes, do bar tricks, spiral napkins, etc. Make flash cards, keep practicing, learn from books or any other media, and visit bars. When you finally apply at a bar, go there and hang out. Listen to the drink orders and watch how they do things and you’ll be prepared for how that bar operates.
Feel free to email me if you have any questions or concerns and, of course, your success stories.



When I guest speak at bar schools the number one thing that amazes me is that most the students have no idea that there are so many different types of bars. In their minds, they thought that there were only chain restaurants and dance clubs. Every profession has an entry level. Here are some great bars for a beginner bartender.

Pub or Tavern Beertender...At pubs and taverns you generally just serve beer. You can polish your people skills, memory, and many of the things on the bartender quality list. Tips can be good, but these places are generally local places, so you better get use to seeing the same ole' faces.
Service Bartender...A service bartender can be found in restaurants that don’t have an exposed bar, but offer alcohol on their menu. Servers come to your small space to get drinks. The only tips you receive are from the servers. Comedy Clubs, busy Asian restaurants, restaurants that have two or more floors, and places that provide entertainment normally have service bars.


Banquet or Catering Bartender...Banquet and caterer bartending jobs are perfect for a beginner. First you have to get hired at a catering company, hotel, or a place that hosts conventions and events. The company organizes the events and you tend bar. The bars are portable so there’s a little muscle involved in getting all of your supplies and stock together. Now, each event is different, but most times it’s just a basic bar set-up, which means that you won’t be making any frozen or blended drinks (just highballs, juice drinks, bottled beer, and wine), use a soda gun, and you don’t have to deal with collecting cash, running tabs, or making change. Sometimes it’s a cash bar, but it’s out of a simple cash drawer. Payment is different all over. It can be a percentage of the sales of the event or a flat fee, which is sometimes put on your check.


Day-time Bartenders...Many restaurants that have bars are looking for daytime bartenders because most of the money is made at night. Daytime bartenders can get a small lunch rush but spend most of their day stocking the bar for the nighttime bartender. Sometimes they get to overlap into the happy hour helping out during that rush. This is a great way to get your foot in the door, pay your dues, prove yourself, build a clientele, and get paid to learn. Plus, there will be many times when a nighttime bartender will want a shift off here and there and you’ll be the first one asked. Try Mexican restaurants, they seem to always need a daytime bartender for some reason.


Hotel Bars...Most hotel bars are pretty boring. You are totally dependent on the occupancy of the hotel. When it’s dead, it’s dead and even when it’s full it can dead unless it’s full of people that like to drink. Most times, locals don’t visit hotel bars unless they are really nice bars. But for a beginner bartender, this is a great stepping-stone to greater opportunities.

Private Party Bartender...Tending bar at private parties are great because you’re working for yourself. Prices are settled on beforehand, you use what the host provides, and guests are always in a happy mood. The down side is that you almost have to be working at a bar already to be able to advertise yourself. As a beginner bartender I would ask for $100 for every three hours they need you.





Restaurant/Bar chain Bartender...Most of these positions are hired from within. Most of the time people are waiting in line to move up. Chain restaurants want you to learn their menu and pay your dues before you get behind the wood. But, here’s a secret, if you can find a place that’s opening your chances are 99% better. You can make great money and also get the opportunity to travel and transfer to other stores around the planet. The downside is that chains have so many corporate rules. But every job has its good and bad.


High-volume Bartender...These are the busy nightclub bartenders that move to a non-stop heavy beat. Most times they’re reading lips. Money can be huge even after tipping out the bar backs and splitting tips. The downside is that you almost always have to work holidays and weekends, you come home smelling like an ashtray, and you’re hearing begins to be affected. You can be hired from within, or know somebody to get these jobs.


Pool & Beach Bars...These bars can be tricky because they are seasonal unless you live in a super warm climate year round. The bartenders are like squirrels saving nuts for the winter because their whole livelihood depends on the weather. Every pool & beach bartender is addicted to the weather channel. They also usually stay put for a long while because the money can be huge, so it can be hard to make your way into the good ones. I love these bars because of the constant connection with nature.


Airport Bars...I’ve never worked an airport bar, but I’ve talked with some airport bartenders and they seem to do pretty good money wise. Of course, not every airport bar is the same. The biggest complaint seems to be the time it’s takes to get to the bar because they have to park so far out in the parking lot.

Cruise Ships...If you’re an American forget about it. I know, I know, you see the ads in the paper all the time. Trust me, they’re all a scam. I worked on a cruise ship for 6 years in the Caribbean, but I was part of an experiment. See, I worked with 56 other nationalities from around the world and the reason cruise ships have all these people working for them is because of the currency exchange in their country. For example, when I worked on the ship the daily pay for a cocktail server was $10. Now, the cocktail servers were from Thailand and one American dollar was equivalent to $25 in Thailand. So they sent 95% of their money home. You’re not going to get an American to work for $10 a day; it’s cheaper to hire people from other countries. I knew people that would work the cruise ships for 15-20 years and retire very rich in their country. Now, there are two places you can try. American Hawaii cruise line and the Delta Queen Riverboat that goes up and down the Mississippi. These are American owned.

Of course there are more bars to list. Other bars include Piano Lounges, Country Bars, Brew Pubs, Country Clubs, Jazz Bars, Wine Bars, Strip Clubs, Karaoke Bars, VIP Bars, Flair Bars, Sports Bars, French Bistros, Tapas Bars, Gay Bars, Neighborhood Bars, Biker Bars, Poetry Reading Bars, Pool Halls, Street Bars, Irish Pubs, British Pubs, Outdoor Bars, Cantinas, Salsa Bars, Ski Resort Bars, Amtrak Bar Cars, Excursion Bars, Dive Bars, Tiki Bars, and more.

As far as money goes, I have seen bartenders in hole-in-the-wall places walking with $300 a night and bartenders from the fancy bars walk with $50.




The Top 5 Ways To Get A Bartender Job

Know that--typically--the position of "bartender" is not an entry level position.

1. Be in the industry. This means that you’re already working as a host/hostess, server, busser, cook, cocktail server, or bar back. Managers prefer to hire within because they know your work habits, your dependability, and how you work with others. The immediate positions right underneath a bartender are; bar back, cocktail server, and server. Bartenders just like everyone else get sick, go on vacation, have emergencies, or just want a day off. This is your opportunity to prove yourself. Let management know that your goal is to make it behind the bar and you’re willing to pay your dues for it. At the same time, make friends with the bartenders. Run errands for them, pick up their food, tip them well, and have then quiz you on drinks. Trust me, it'll pay off.

2. Go get a job in the industry. High volume nightclubs are so busy that they must have bar backs. A bar back is a busy bartenders backbone. They keep the ice bin filled, fill the juices, wash glasses, empty the trash, change the kegs, run for backups and do anything else the bartender needs. Oh, and they are masters of staying out of the bartenders way. Bartenders will tip you out very well, if you’re good. The next best foot in the door position is to be a cocktail server. Take these positions, sponge everything and get paid to learn.

3. Apply at a place that that is opening. I have personally done this five times. If you have a little experience with great eye contact, grooming, presence, and a killer looking resume, then your 99% guaranteed a bar position.

4. Know someone. Yep, some people get bartender jobs just from knowing the right people and being in the right place at the right time. Pick out a bar that you like and get to know the manager. Work your magic and sell yourself. That’s all we do anyway.

5. Learn all you can from books and other media, set up a practice bar at home, talk friends into having parties so you can practice tending bar, go to bars and absorb everything you can, then walk to the edge and jump. Fake it ‘til you make it, baby. I’ve seen it done many times. But don’t worry, I’m going to give you lots of tips and hints to help you look like you know what you’re doing.


The good bartender jobs are never advertised in the classifieds. And by good I mean the ones where you make good money. Most times jobs are filled through word of mouth and hiring from within. What about those ads that say, Will train, Make $$$, No experience necessary? They’re either a strip club or bartending school. Lots of bartenders in the same area network, send each other business, and borrow things from each other when they run out throughout the night, so it’s like an underground system you have to break into.

Know that even I have had to take many server positions and then work my way up (yes! even with several years of bartending experience). However, it’s always talked about upfront with the manager at the interview about how I need to be reassured that I will be able to move up to the bar in a certain time frame. One time when working at Pleasure Island at Walt Disney World, I dropped from bartender to cocktail server just so I could watch all the fantastic live improv shows at the Comedy Warehouse. People thought I was crazy.


Second Golden Age of the Cocktail

Since 2000, something happened in the Cocktail World that you should be aware of and its the second Golden Age of the Cocktail. The first golden age was in the late 1800s until 1920. Bartending was taken seriously and cocktails were crafted with real ingedients.

Today, the second golden age can best be described by comparing and 4-5 star chef crafting an incredible meal with a classic foundation then using the freshest ingredients and imagination.

The man credited for this shift in the cocktail world is Dale DeGroff. His website is KingCocktail.com. Starting in about 2000 and all the way to today this rebirth has exploded. Craft and classic bars are no longer limited to big cities. They are trinkling into the the smaller cities worldwide. Dale started the Museum of the American Cocktail and also helped start the world's largest cocktail festival held every July in New Orleans called Tales of the Cocktail. Since, there are cocktail weeks popping up all over the world. There is now The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, San Francisco Cocktail Week, Portland Cocktail Week, London Cocktail Week, and so many more.

With so many websites and information, it's hard to know how to get started on the right path, but the links I've provided will get you started.

Make sure you become facebook friends with as many as these people as possible and that will lead to more connections.

Join Gary Regans' Bartender Database.

Join Tobin Ellis' Social Mixology.

Join Simon Diffords' newsletter.

Join Liquor.com.

When you are checking out drink recipes sites then there are two that you should use as guidelines. Ted Haighs' Cocktail Database, and David Wondrichs' Cocktail Database.

A new recipe database that is more modern is Kindred Cocktails.

Well, this should be enough to get you started in the right direction.



Below are some threads from webtender.com that I thought you might find interesting about how other bartender got a job.

How bartenders got their bartender jobs
Tipping a barback
A typical shift for a bartender
Different types of bars to work at
Application and resume advice
Qualities of a bartender
Bartender school threads
Bar school graduate venting
Bartender pay around the world

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