For young people starting on their own or adults looking for a change, being a bartender can be a very attractive job. You can get paid to hang out in a bar, often earning enormous amounts of tips. The hours can be flexible, and your whole job is to help people have fun. It’s indeed a great job, either as a career or merely a way to pay the bills and save up for a couple of years. It also brings its fair share of challenges and downsides, however.
Before you decide to pursue a career as a bartender, you need to consider how you’re going to go about entering that career, and how well you’re equipped to handle the difficulties of a bartending job. You should be prepared for the negatives as well as the positives. There’s nothing worse than entering a job with unrealistic expectations.
1. How Are You Going to Get Started?
Bartending isn’t a job where you can walk into any bar off the street and start working. It takes a lot of specialized skills and knowledge to work successfully as a bartender.
Maybe you enjoy making drinks for your friends and hosting parties. This is a good start and may suggest you have some of the right skills for bartending, but you’re probably not ready to get behind the bar right away. That experience isn’t going to be enough to get you a good bartending job off the bat.
Learning the Trade
The first step to figuring out your path into a bartending career is education.
How are you going to develop the necessary skills? It’s certainly possible to study on your own. If you have the right equipment, you’ll be able to practice drink mixing and serving with tutorials online.
You might also check out books that include collections of different cocktail recipes so that you can study and try them out. Bartending at casual parties over time can provide some valuable practice as well. A good bartender will always be learning and practicing different drinks to expand their repertoire.
The other option to give you a boost as you start your career is to go to bartending school. Many aspiring drink-mixers find the price of bartending school to be affordable and easy to manage if they need to pay for it over time.
Most schools offer flexible class schedules too, so you should be able to fit it into your schedule while you continue to work somewhere else. You could likely finish bartending school within two weeks if you’re studying full-time, but you could spread it out over months as well and take it slowly.
Entering the Market
Once you’ve developed some of the skills and gained a little knowledge, you’ll be ready to find your first job. Bartending can be a very challenging job market to break into, so it’ll take some persistence. You’ll want to apply to many different places and make in-person connections so you can make a good impression.
The job is all about relating to people and serving, so you need to show off those skills when you go in to turn in your resume or ask for an interview. Don’t forget to dress professionally and present your prospective employer with your best self!
A certificate from a bartending school will give you an edge, but most bartenders start out working as barbacks either way. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Working as a barback and helping out the bartender gives you a chance to observe the job and pick up any skills you’re missing. You get practice working in a fast-paced bar environment and learn how to deal with customers. After a while, you may be able to move up to a bartending position or apply for full bartending jobs in other bars and restaurants.
2. Are You Ready for the Schedule?
Bartending can be both fun and rewarding financially, and some people can make substantial money by merely working one or two nights a week as a bartender. One hectic night of constant work and lots of customers can pay off very well in tips. That schedule may seem easy and flexible at first, but it can unexpectedly impact your life in unpleasant ways.
People working as bartenders often find themselves working nights and weekends, precisely the same times when their friends or loved ones may want to get together. When you work late, you’ll have to help close the bar and get home even later, so you may find yourself sleeping during the day and staying up all night, even when you’re not working.
If you’re going to be a bartender, you need to be sure you’re ready for a schedule that will put you at odds with other people with more conventional work schedules.
Missing Out on Holidays
Unless you’re one of many bartenders at a bar, you’ll probably never have a day off for big holidays like Halloween and New Year’s Eve. Most bars stay open even for holidays, and especially for holidays that involve lots of partying.
The fast pace and excitement of working late in a bar on New Year’s Eve can be a lot of fun, but it may pull you away from spending time with your family or friends. When you do see your family or friends during the day, you might be exhausted from the night before. It’s a great job, but it’s not for everyone.
3. Do You Like Working with People?
To be a good bartender, you need an interest in different types of alcohol and mixed drinks. More importantly, however, you may also need a passion for people.
You are continually meeting lots of new people as a bartender, and you will always be socializing and getting to know people to get good tips and make sure they enjoy your service.
Not all of the people you meet are going to be friendly and pleasant to talk to, however. Bartenders need to be social, but also patient. You’re going to encounter people at their best and their worst. Drunk customers in a bar can be very unpredictable.
You’ll have to meet and serve angry customers, intoxicated customers, sad customers, and more. You need to be tolerant and helpful, but you’ll also have the responsibility of cutting people off when they’ve had too much or calling security if they are dangerous to you or others in the bar.
Competition and Coworkers
Because bartending can be such a competitive job market, you’re also likely to encounter some tension with other employees and bartenders at times. When you’re first starting, some other staff members may see you as their competition in getting assigned more shifts and, therefore, more money. With time and some patience, however, you should be able to develop strong, supportive relationships with your coworkers. You’ll go through a lot of stress and excitement together as a staff, and that tends to bring people together.
Wherever you go with your bartending career and whatever type of bar or restaurant you end up in, your experience is going to be interesting and distinct in one way or another. The job brings its fair share of challenges and lows, but it offers many thrills and fantastic highs for the people willing to commit to the work.