Dec 27, 2006

How to Become a Bartender in 10 Easy Steps

We all know that bartenders are the rock stars of the blue collar world. Everyone wants to be your friend and some want to be you, period. Of the latter, many think the road to success begins with bartending school. But working bartenders know that this is a fallacy that results in ill-trained, poorly-skilled blowhards (am I being too harsh?).

Jeffrey Morgenthaler recently saved one of his readers (maybe more, we'll never know) such a fate by spelling out the easiest path to landing a real-life bartending gig. Reflecting on all the illiterate resumes that crossed my bar over the years, the overanxious and overly cocky expressions, and the drunken pleas from strangers to put in a good word, I owe Jeffrey a huge thanks on behalf of working bartenders and bar owners everywhere. Hopefully someone will heed his advice.

But while his get-hired-now plan is a very good one, I would like to add the following caveats and tips for job-seekers hoping to strike it rich while getting drunk:

1. Stay humble.

Bartending is a service job, so if you are uncomfortable being in a servant role, it's probably not for you. Power-tripping bartenders are the worst of the worst in my opinion: if you think I'm beneath you because I'm on the other side of the bar, I sure ain't gonna shower you with monetary praise. It is possible to be cocky and kind, but you better back it up with skills.

2. Know how to actually mix drinks.
Yes, you must memorize recipes. That's the easy part. But you must also know the principles of mixology: how to combine, balance and influence flavors. You must take pride in the product you turn out. And for god's sake, taste your drinks! If you can't drink it, I sure as hell probably won't want to.

3. If you're not moving, you're doing something wrong.
This speaks to Jeff's mention of being a hard worker—too many bartenders use a slow shift as an excuse to read a book. Sure, if you can lean you can clean. But beyond that, a slow shift is the perfect opportunity to cultivate regular customers. Move up and down the bar and chat with the one or two people sitting at either end. Get to know them, and they will come back. On your shift. But only if you chat them up and let them know it's your regular shift. Better yet, engage them both in one conversation. All of a sudden, a lonely guest has met some new friends. That means bigger tips for you. See how this works?

4. Don't get lazy.

All bars are not created equal. High-volume dance clubs require different skill sets than neighborhood dives, which require different skill sets than upscale hotel bars. It's easy to figure out your clientele and stick with a one-size-fits all service style. But that's when you get rusty and when a guest comes in asking for a Sidecar, you've forgotten how to make it. Or you're so used to depending on your barback that you let a keg run out instead of replacing it when s/he calls in sick one day. Always develop your skills, challenge yourself and take pride in your work.

5. Never take your barback for granted.
Not all bartenders have the luxury of a barback, but those who do must tip them out fairly. These people sweat and break their backs so you can go home with a full pocket. Treat them right and you will always have clean glasses, bussed tables, fresh kegs and stocked bevnaps. Give them a reason to come in on time. Eventually, they may be in your shoes. So respect them and teach them what it means to be a professional bartender.

This is a list that really is unending, so feel free to add anything I've left off. I just run into so many new bartenders who are so taken with the perks of the job that they forget what it means to be a professional. Bartenders deserve the rock star reps we have, but only if we earn it.

Further reading:
Jeff's original post
Joe Bartender's description of bartending school
Cheryl Charming's extensive Hints and Tips for Bartenders

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