Working as a bartender is not what it used to be…it’s even better. Bartenders have always been perceived as having a certain air of prestige and the bartenders of today are even more passionate about performing their job with excellence.
Being a bartender is so much more than mixing drinks. When a bartender walks behind the wood (behind the bar), he is in control and it belongs to him during the time he is there. He sets the mood and pace, and everyone looks to him for a successful, fun, and profitable shift.
In addition, he is the face of the establishment and its reputation frequently centers around the bartender and how he is perceived by the customers.
If you’ve ever sat behind a bar and watched in amazement as a seasoned bartender worked his craft and thought to yourself “I’d love to do that,” this article will explain how to become a bartender and what you can do to make yourself the ideal candidate for that coveted bartender position.
Bartending School: Worth it or Worthless?
Learning the basics of the job in advance can be advantageous and prevent you from going in blind. It’s possible your workplace may require you to have bartender training, but that’s rare.
If it’s affordable and you prefer to obtain some knowledge before you begin, it’s not a bad idea to get some classroom training in advance.
The cost can be anywhere from $200 to as much as $700 or more, depending on where it’s located and the type and length of the course. Some may offer a job placement service, but don’t expect them to guarantee it. I’ll explain why later.
Courses can last from up to three days to a full week, and depending on the exact length, here are some of the skills you’ll learn:
- Tools of the trade and how to use them
- Different varieties of alcohol, wine, and mixers
- Different glasses and the type of drink for each one
- Learning and practicing the proper way to pour liquor and draft beer
- Setting up the bar
- Cutting fruit
- Bar safety
- Basic drink recipes
The laws concerning age requirements vary from state to state. It’s usually 18 – 21 years old to serve alcohol in an on-premises establishment, meaning the alcohol is sold on the premises to be consumed on the premises.
Below is a breakdown of the requirements at this time:
- 21 states and Washington D.C. require 21 years old and over
- 25 states require 18 years old and over
- Arizona, Idaho, and Nebraska are 19 years old and over
- Indiana, 21 years and over (18 with restrictions)
License requirements also vary from state to state. In some states, the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) requires an Alcohol Server Certification in order to bartend. The course will go over liquor laws in your state, teach you how to recognize fake IDs, help you recognize when someone has had enough to drink, etc. Your employer will inform you what license you need and how to get it.
Unfortunately, bartender jobs are not easy to come by, especially for the inexperienced, which is why bartender training classes are unlikely to guarantee you a job.
Most employers hire from the server and barback pools and most of them have already put in their request for the next opening. There would be a bar full of disgruntled employees if you were hired ahead of them.
You will likely have to pay your dues for a while. Most people did not start as bartenders. They had to work their way up from a position that was easier to acquire.
One of the few ways of acquiring a bartender job without experience is to look for brand new establishments about to open. This can include restaurants, hotels, casinos, airports, and any other place that will have a bar. They normally hire all new employees, including bartenders, but it’s certainly worth a shot to try.
The Foolproof Method: Get in Line
Other than a new bar, the best way is to take a position as a barback or server. In addition to securing a place in line, you will work closely with the bartender every day and you will earn while you learn.
A barback assists the bartender and works closest to him. If a bar does not have barbacks and plenty of them do not, the bartender works a lot harder.
Barbacks typically get ice, restock, wipe down the bar, cut fruit, keep clean glasses stocked, and other duties that help the bartender do his job better and faster. As a barback, you will work behind the bar and have the best opportunity to learn from him.
Servers also work closely with the bartender. They learn the different drinks and are normally there at the bar while the bartender makes them; therefore, they quickly pick up which liquor goes into drinks and how it’s prepared and garnished.
Seeing it done is the next best way to learn other than actually doing it, which is why managers prefer to hire from their server and barback pools.
You also learn to work in a bar environment. You observe how the bartender deals with people under the influence of alcohol, how they interact and entertain their customers, the work involved behind-the-scenes, and even how they manage to look cool and calm and stay organized amid the chaos of a packed bar.
So, if you are serious about becoming a bartender, a barback or server job is likely the best way to get there. If it comes down to deciding between an applicant with classroom training only, and someone that has been there and knows the business, a hiring manager will choose experience in almost all cases. If you have both, even better.
If you are unable to get a position as a barback or server there are other positions further down the line such as busser or dishwasher. You will at least become familiar with that particular establishment and possibly move into a bartender position eventually. Work hard, be reliable, and let the manager know you want to work your way up to a bartender.
Building a Resume
Professionalism is as important for a bartender as with any other career, so building a professional-looking resume will will make the hiring manager more likely to remember you. For instance, as he is going through applications later, your resume will stand out because very few people will think they need a resume. It will show that you are serious about the job. Below are a few tips for presenting a good resume:
- Have it completed by a professional if possible. If not, it’s fine to do it yourself.
- Do some research to find a format you like. It does not need to be fancy or elaborate. Neat and simple is best.
- Include any service experience. If you have no bar experience, list anywhere you have worked with the public, which could include a grocery store, shoe store, department store, or anywhere you interacted with people.
- Include dates and the amount of time on each job. If possible, try not to have any long periods of time between jobs.
- Include college courses you may have taken, even if you think they’re not applicable. For instance, perhaps you took some business courses. It may show a hiring manager that you probably have organizational skills and the ability to work with money, which are both major responsibilities of a bartender.
Don’t be too pushy and needy but be sincere and let him know how much you want the job. In addition, prepare a few things to say in case he asks questions such as, “Why do you want to be a bartender?”
Qualities of a Good Bartender
Almost anyone can be a bartender, but it takes some special qualities to be a good one.
Calm and focused
A good bartender must be able to remain calm and stay focused no matter what is happening around him. At times, you will find yourself in the middle of a busy shift and have drink orders coming at you from every direction.
You will get yourself and the other staff members through a crazy shift by remaining calm and focused.
A good memory is vital. These days, most bars have a POS (point of sale) system that spits out orders from the servers, but in some bars, you still have to remember 10 drinks at a time. Even with a POS, you will have 20 other things to remember simultaneously.
Additionally, you should be able to remember a customer’s drink the next time they come in. It makes them feel special and they could become a regular. Subsequently, those are the customers that you can count on to bring in the best tips.
Outstanding bartenders are charismatic and have an amazing wit. Additionally, they naturally possess a special way of interacting with people. Sometimes people come in because they know you will be there. They count on you to give them a kind word and a pleasurable evening.
Without a doubt, excellent customer service is one of the most important characteristics of a bartender. If you genuinely like people, they will know. For example, never letting their glass become completely empty or if you spot a regular coming in the door, having their drink made before they sit down is noticed.
Furthermore, you’ll notice that he knows his regular’s names and what they drink. He remembers things they talked about the last time they were in and he knows the right questions to ask.
He notices things like the earrings that a woman is wearing or a man’s tie and is genuine when he asks how their day has been.
He is knowledgeable about liquor and how to make the most common mixed drinks plus those that are popular at the time. Have a drink reference book handy for the drinks you do not know. Having some wine knowledge is frequently beneficial, especially on those that you stock. Customers will ask you for recommendations in restaurant bars.
As a bartender, you basically do aerobics 6 to 12 hours a day. Bartending requires bending, squatting, twisting, turning, carrying heavy beer cases, and moving extremely heavy beer kegs, which typically happens the entire shift.
Contrary to popular belief, the best bartenders get plenty of sleep and keep themselves physically fit in order to do their job better. Additionally, most people drop some weight when they first begin the job.
Behind the Scenes
No doubt you have sat and watched the bartenders as they worked, and it seemed easy. He just mixes some drinks, tells a couple of jokes, flirts with his admirers, and wipes the bar now and then…right? However, you should know that what you’re seeing doesn’t even scratch the surface of his duties.
Notice that the bar is spotless and shining when the first patron arrives, it’s well stocked, ice bins are full, fruit and garnishes are cut, and about 30 other things are in place. That’s because the bartender was at work a couple of hours before opening to do all those bar preparations for the day.
Furthermore, he is also there a couple of hours after closing because he is cleaning, stocking, and the many other closing duties.
Cares About His Appearance
You may have noticed how clean and tidy he looks. He has pride in his appearance and is always impeccably dressed in clean and ironed clothing. Bartending is very messy; therefore, he likely has at least one or two extra changes of clothes in the back. He would never be caught running around with Bloody Mary mix on his white shirt.
Acknowledging the Customer
Notice that he immediately greets and takes the patron’s drink order when they sit down. However, you should especially notice what he does if he is extremely busy and cannot get to someone right away.
For those people, he greets them, places a napkin in front of them, and tells them he will be with them as soon as he can. This may seem like a minor gesture, but just letting them know you are aware of their presence keeps them from becoming impatient.
One of the most important things you will see is how a bartender always seems to stay organized. You may not realize it, but he is constantly getting ready for whatever is going to happen next.
When it gets super busy, notice the little things he does, such as putting tools back in place after using them. Searching for your shank (bottle opener) or another tool can waste an enormous amount of time.
Additionally, he keeps the liquor bottles around the well in the same order. A bartender can grab a particular bottle and put it back without looking. He doesn’t have time to search for anything.
That’s one of the main reasons a good bartender seems unhurried, but somehow stays caught up, by remaining organized and focused.