A bartending job is much like the Holy Grail: sought after by many but usually very hard to attain. I was a bartender for years. In fact, I paid for college by bartending. I have been asked hundreds of times by friends, strangers, and the random drunk, “how can I become a bartender?” Although I’ll admit that bartending is not an easy field to break into, I’ve written some practical guidelines to help you get well on your way to slinging drinks and earning tips.
Decide if Bartending is Right for You
Bartending can be a very lucrative job, but it’s not for everyone. People with fantastic memories and great charisma make bartending look easy, but in reality it is anything but simple. You may enjoy going to bars every weekend and hanging out with friends, but before you make this type of job choice, you have to understand something – the view from behind the bar is VERY different.
Drugs are rampant behind the bar. This is simply a statistical fact. Does it mean that you have to indulge in drugs to be a successful bartender? Not at all! (In fact, it will severely hurt you if you were to get caught up in that lifestyle.) But you have to be aware of the environment in which you are going to be spending about half of your waking hours.
Women especially need to ask themselves: Am I ready to put it all out there and get hit on nightly by drunks? Because guess what, ladies, you do just that. Drunk men (and some women) are vile, and if you get offended by vulgar language and aggressive behavior or you are easily intimidated, the bar scene is not for you. If you get offended when out and about, you can simply leave. When you’re working, you can’t always do that. (And the bouncer may not always be around to come to your rescue.)
Morning birds need not apply. Bartending requires you to stand for hours on end all through the night. Then, when all is said and done and everyone has gone home, you have to start cleaning the place up.
This is not meant to scare you away and make you think that the bar scene is terrible – on the contrary, I enjoyed my time behind the bar – but I have seen many a would-be bartender fall by the wayside and crash – hard. This is not a job that just anyone can handle.
Pay Your Dues
Don’t think that you can simply skip the hard work and go straight to rolling in the money, because that’s not how it works.
In most restaurants and bar, the bartender’s job is the most coveted position and requires the most trust from the manager, since the bartenders are usually the ones handling both the money and the liquor. That trust and respect has to be earned. Don’t ever forget that you’re not the first in line for the job.
Don’t Waste Your Money on “Bartending Schools”
Bartending schools are a crock. There, I said it. I started out as a cocktail waitress while two of my friends both attended bartending schools. They spend hundreds of dollars learning a few flashy tricks while I got paid learning the ropes and earning the respect of my boss and coworkers.
A few months later, I was offered a job helping out behind the bar and later became a bartender. Meanwhile my friends graduated their respective programs and were offered great jobs – one as a cocktail waitress and the lucky guy as a bar-back. Ultimately we all ended up in the same job, but I was able to do it several months faster and about $500 richer.
The quickest way to become a bartender is to make friends with current bartenders and bar managers/owners and get ready to work your way up.
If you have decided to go for it and try to make it in the bartending world and have accepted the fact that you’re going to put in many hard, dirty working hours and are willing to work your way up the bartending ladder, then congratulations, and good luck!