Who hasn’t thought about becoming a bartender? You already know the bars can be a great time, you love drinks, and you’re probably strapped for cash. It seems like a no-brainer. But going about it seems like a haze all it’s own. Where do you even start?
For this one, we were happy to go ahead do some, er, “field research” to figure out exactly what you need to do to become a bartender. Examining both the World Wide Web and our favorite local dives, we’ve uncovered the answer to every question you probably have about your dream night job.
Think you’ve got what it takes to be the best bartender in town? Read our definitive guide and get going.
Is It Really a Non-Stop Party?
While it seems to be the dream of most college-lacrosse-players-turned-DJs to become a bartender after school while they “figure things out,” these are hardly ever the people you see across the wooden partition. Bartenders know how to have a good time, but they’re often more the chaperones than the host.
You have to be quick on your feet, ready for anything, and willing to stay sharp long into the morning hours if you want to be a good bartender. That’s your reality check. But if you still think you can handle it, there are some essential details you’ll need to be aware of.
Do I Need An Education?
In short: no. But you have to be at least 18 to serve alcohol—though according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most bartenders are at least 25. They’re not going to look at your college transcripts, grades, or volunteer experience. What they’re most concerned about is someone who can prove they’re a good, hard worker who’s also a good multi-tasker.
What’s the Easiest Way In?
This one comes straight from the top. Every bartender we talked to said the same thing: “Don’t go to Bartending School.”
Instead, they all say, your best shot is through one of two avenues: become a bar back, or a cocktail waitress. Neither one of these jobs requires any experience, but it does harken back to that same quality of being hard working and a good multi-tasker.
Having one of these jobs will get you in the door quickly, and will help give you space to learn the ropes while befriending the bar staff.
How Do I Apply? Do I Need a Résumé?
Dropping off your résumé certainly isn’t a bad idea, but it also isn’t a requirement. We recommend it, because it’s another way to show that you’re diligent and responsible. But it doesn’t stop at handing your résumé to whatever hurried, overwhelmed staff member sees you first.
You have to create a relationship with the higher ups at the bar you want to start at. Our bartending friends all recommend that you begin at your local dives and work your way out. They’re usually the ones who are least concerned about experience, and most likely to remember your face.
How Much Am I Going to Make?
Believe it or not, bartenders most of the time make minimum wage or close to it. All of your “real” money comes from tips. So while it’s not wrong to assume that bartenders make good money, you have to remember that almost all of it is based on customer satisfaction.
So if it’s a slow shift and you’re not doing a very good job, money is going to be tight. Conversely, if it’s a Friday night and you’re on your “A” game, this really could work out better than that finance job you turned down.
What Are My Hours Going to Be?
There are few bars that will put a new bartender on a Friday night, prime-time shift right from the get-go. You’ll probably have to work weekdays to start, and probably some of the slower nights of the week. But as you progress and build a good rapport with your customers, the good shifts will come.
But even when you’re working on a “good shift” it’s going to be a long night. Things start at about 7:00pm, with a good amount of setup before hand. Once the bar closes down at 3:00am or 4:00am, you have to clean up, and you probably won’t find your pillow until at least 5:00am. Let’s hope you’re a night owl!
Do I Have to Be a People Person?
It’s going to be a rough go if you aren’t a people person. If you haven’t already gathered from previous answers, your tips rely on you being able to provide a great customer service experience—which means dealing with people who can be hard to handle.
But if you’re a beer nerd who’s not great with your words, don’t shy away from becoming a bartender. It’s a fantastic way to bolster that skill, and something that really can be learned. If you would rather stick your hand in a toaster than engage in small talk—maybe you should rethink this one.
What Qualities Does a Really Successful Bartender Have?
Being a bartender means being someone who’s constantly misunderstood. Most of your customers won’t care what time you started, or what time you’re going home. They won’t appreciate the fact that you have hundreds of drinks memorized, or that you’ve got a lot of other customers waiting for you to serve them. They’ll just care that you get them their drinks quickly, make them taste amazing, and aren’t a jerk about it.
You’ll also have to learn how to properly handle someone who’s intoxicated, and they probably won’t thank you when you kick them out.
Really successful bartenders are gracious, hard working, and fairly unassuming of their customers. You don’t have to be anyone’s best friend, but when you find customers who love you, it makes it all the more worth it.
Bartending is a fun, fast, exciting job. You’ll meet all sorts of new people, and learn a lot. If you’ve got what it takes, stop waiting around: go out and get that job today!