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22 Things to Know about Bartending


22 Things to Know about Bartending

Bartenders impress with their sleight of hand and drink recipes. But it’s not all fun and magic—bartending demands an in-depth knowledge of alcohol, top-notch social skills and the ability to gracefully hold your ground when an underage or inebriated guest asks for a drink.

The 22 items below give insight into what it takes to make it as a career bartender.

  1. Depending on your state, you can bartend at age 18.
    If you live in Florida or Texas, you can bartend when you’re 18. The irony, of course, is that you can’t actually drink until age 21. If you’re under 21 but interested in bartending, check your state regulations and laws to see your options.
  2. Bartending makes you legally responsible for others.
    Bartending means refusing to serve underage people or the person who’s had one too many. It also means being able to read people, situations, and scanning the crowd to make sure everything is par for the course, especially if you’re not sure how incapacitated a guest is. To learn the rules and best practices for bartending, take the Responsible Training alcohol server training course.
  3. Bartending requires you to be nice to not-nice people.
    Some guests will be needy or downright rude. Others will get so drunk that they yell, break glasses or fall off barstools. Get used to it and step away from the bar for 10 seconds if you feel your tactfulness begin to crack.
  4. Customers expect bartenders to know every drink under the sun.
    If you bartend for a while, you likely know a lot of drink recipes. Customers, though, will expect you to know every combination possible. Study up so you can know your stuff and handle off-menu orders under pressure.
  5. Bartending involves setting a personal code of conduct.
    Some employers set guidelines about bartenders drinking while on duty. Others don’t. In those cases, you’ll want to establish a baseline you can work with.
  6. Bartending is physically exhausting.
    Bartenders can work 10-12 hours straight, which puts massive pressure on your lower back, knees, feet, and joints. On off hours, it’s important to work out the muscles you use the most to build up your stamina, so that when the dreaded 12-hour shift hits, you’ll be able to breeze through it.
  7. Bartending is more than mixing drinks and chatting with customers.
    Bartenders clean up after closing time and take inventory—you never walk out the door as soon as the last customer does. You may be asked to come in early, too, when customers reserve the bar for a bachelorette party or other occasion.
  8. Bartenders keep odd, and sometimes inconsistent, hours.
    Bartenders keep night hours but those hours aren’t necessarily a constant every week. Bartenders sometimes jockey to get shifts, and they typically work weekends and holidays, too. If keeping a social life, consistent schedule or financial stability is critical to your sense of wellbeing, a career as a bartender may not be for you.
  9. Bartending can be boring.
    Bars and restaurants experience downtime, so get comfortable with repeating routine tasks like cleaning glasses and checking inventory.
  10. To be a bartender, you’ll need to structure your off hours.
    You keep odd hours as a bartender. Because of this, you’ll miss out on a life with some structure. Create your own environment of stability around you, such as setting an alarm or eating meals at normal times to create consistency in your day-to-day.
  11. Bartending is fiercely competitive.
    Bartending is a competitive job, inside and outside the workplace. If you want to “stay in it to win it,” you’ll need to study and up your game regularly.
  12. Bartending tends to be a relatively easy job to get—and lose.
    Quality bartenders may be in high demand, but they struggle with job security and turnover. Competition is fierce (see point 13), but a lot of it can be explained by the nature of the bartending business. Bars come and go, as do bartenders as they improve their mixologies.
  13. Bartenders earn their keep with tips, not wages.
    Some bartenders make a living on actual wages, but they’ve been around the block a time or two. Bartenders just getting their start live—or die—by their tips. And if you want good tips, you’re going to have work on your drinks and presence. Bartenders get their tips as much as for personality as for a finely-crafted martini.
  14. Bartending wages and tips can be lucrative but unsteady.
    You can make a great living as a bartender, but you’ll want to be smart with your money. There’s no guarantee that what you make one night will be the same on another. Some bartenders live off their tips and put their wages into a savings account to make sure they can pay bills and buy food during the lean times.
  15. Bartending means thinking about taxes.
    Your hourly wage will be taxed but not the tips—those you have to take care of yourself. Most bartenders recommend tucking away 30 percent of your tips for tax purposes.
  16. Bartending can grow your professional network.
    The people you meet while serving drinks could be your next employer if you play your cards right. Don’t belabor the point — a needy bartender irritates as much as a clingy customer — but take advantage of professional networking opportunities as they arise.
  17. Bartending develops “soft skills.”
    Employers increasingly seek “soft skills,” things like empathy, flexibility and staying cool under pressure. Bartending for even a short while will develop those skills, fast.
  18. Bartending opens other career avenues.
    Bartending opens a different door into the hospitality industry than working as a waiter, hostess or food preparer does. You can go from working at a hole-in-the-wall dive bar to serving drinks on a cruise ship. If a career as a bar manager interests you, take some business classes to prepare for the role.
  19. Bartending demands regular study and practice.
    Bartending isn’t just about creativity; it’s a science, too. The greatest bartenders know ideal temperatures, drink ratios and density, and they regularly practice drink mixing and serving skills.
  20. People will judge you for becoming a career bartender.
    People who have never bartended may judge you for your career choice. They think, “Oh, anyone can do that,” or “Bartending isn’t a real job.” Ignore them as best you can. Bartending takes a lot of work and expertise.
  21. If you stick with bartending, it can lead to participating in national and global competitions, as well as work in the “upper echelons.”
    The best bartenders and mixologists attend global competitions every year, showcasing their recipes and service skills. And, many of them either work at fine-dining establishments or open their own restaurant or cocktail bar.
  22. Bartending is an evergreen skill.
    Bartending is a skill that never goes out of style. If you can mix drinks, you’ve got a gig no matter what.

Think a career in bartending might be for you? Prep by taking Responsible Training’s online alcohol server course today.