How to Become a Bartender
By Édouard Manet - Museum page, Public Domain
In media, 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) anyway they can. They are only interested in the in the bottom line—the numbers.
From a guests' perspective, a bartender just makes drinks, flirts, and fills up tip jars, but when you work behind the bar—for real—you soon discover it is much different. As are most things in life.
Concepts to Ponder
Most professions are either mental or physical. Bartending is both. In your area, there are many bars where a guest can order a Rum & Coke, right? So, why would someone want to keep ordering a Rum & Coke from you?
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 1970s, but since prices have risen it can often be $2 for a crafted cocktail. Guests who 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 the owner's products just as a car salesman sells cars. And both of you are making a commission (bartender tips are kind of like tiny commissions). So, you sell your product in any way you can to make money. If that way involves attention, a smile, a good handshake, remembering names, telling jokes, making a drink with style, doing a bar trick, etc., then that’s what you do.
People like bartenders. They want to be their friend, they love to say that they know you, tell you lots of secrets, ask your advice, and hook you up with all kinds of big ticket goodies. Being a bartender is cool. Bartenders are like mini-celebrities in towns everywhere. Which means that there’s a lot of acting going on in this line of work in America anyway. Why do you think so many actors wait tables and tend bar before they become famous?
Bartender Boot Camp
If you want to get your foot in the door and behind the bar without experience then I propose that you create your own Bar School Boot Camp.
Take a bartender book and go to a bar that has a nice bartender working the day shift. Be there between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Great places to try are chain restaurants or any restaurant with a bar. You’re searching for a BarMentor. You might have to check out a few of places until you feel a connection with someone, but it’ll happen. Most bartenders like people with books because often guests look to bartenders to entertain them, but when you bring your own source of entertainment the bartender will immediately like you. I predict the bartender will ask what you are reading, but if they don't then ask them something about something in the book that you don't understand to make a connection.
Tell them that you want to be a bartender one day and you’re trying to learn everything about it. Then ask them how they learned to be a bartender. 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 information and instruction from someone who is actually doing what you want to do.
Somehow, someway, obtain several empty liquor bottles. Frat house trashcans, your barmentor, end of the night parties, or dumpsters behind bars are excellent places to look. Clean them inside and out, fill them with water, and put pourers on them. You can even get creative and add food coloring and label them. (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'll need to 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 for any private party anytime, anywhere.
Teach yourself how to pour, strain, muddle, stir, build, rim, roll, chill, flame, float, layer, shake, etc. 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.
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 use one so you can get some real hands-on experience.
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.
Try to learn something new every day. 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.
Bars for a Beginner Bartender
When I used to guest speak at bar schools the number one thing that amazed me is that most of the students had no idea that there are were so many different types of bars. In their minds, they thought that there were only chain restaurants and dance clubs.
Pub or Tavern Beertender
At pubs and taverns you generally just serve beer. You can polish your people skills, memory, and many other things.
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. Places that holds events such as a hotel or a place that hosts conventions and events need banquet bartenders. Each event is different, but most times it’s just a basic bar set-up.
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 lobby bars depend on the occupancy of the hotel. 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.
Restaurant/Bar chain Bartender
Most of these positions are hired from within. Others who took server or bar back positions 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 because they have to hire bartenders.
These are the busy nightclub bartenders that move to a non-stop heavy beat. Money can be huge even after tipping out the bar backs and splitting tips.
Pool & Beach Bars
These bars can be tricky because they are seasonal unless you live in a super warm climate year round. Your livelihood depends on the weather. I love these bars because of the constant connection with nature.
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.
Of course, there are more bars to list such as 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, 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 bars walking with $300-$500 a night and bartenders from the fancy bars walk with $50-$100.
The Top Five Ways to
Get a Bartender Job
Typically, unless you have a lot of experience, the position of a 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. 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 bartender's 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. 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.
The Second Golden Age of the Cocktail
Since 2000, something happened in the Cocktail World; 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 quality ingredients.
The man credited for this shift in the cocktail world is Dale DeGroff. His website is KingCocktail.com . This rebirth has exploded. By 2012, craft and classic bars were no longer limited to big cities.
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 help.
Make sure you become facebook friends with as many as these people as possible and that will lead to more connections.