If you’re about to start your first bartending job, or you’re thinking it might soon be time to switch it up and get behind a bar for the first time, there’s no need to be overwhelmed by your new adventure.
Bartending is an incredibly rewarding and exciting path to take in the hospitality industry. But of course, it can be a little daunting for beginners. We’ve got some tips (and even a great beginners bartending course) to help you feel more confident and prepared when you get started!
When I first started bartending, I learned two very important things very quickly:
1. Working behind a bar means working among people who’ve been drinking (sometimes heavily). This was so obvious I didn't stop to think what that might be like and how it would differ from the brunch crowd I was used to serving.
2. If you haven’t been properly taught how to change a keg, there is a very good chance you’ll spray yourself with beer, probably directly in the face, and spend the rest of your shift smelling like stale booze.
It took a bit of getting used to but pretty soon I was hooked. Hip hop blared from the speakers in the bar while I poured pints and shots, mixed drinks, grumbled quietly to myself about having to serve sodas, and excitedly (but a little slowly) prepared cocktails – all the while smiling at every customer, chatting away, becoming best friends just for those fleeting moments while you prepare the drinks and they wait.
Bartending is so much fun. I’ve worked as a dishie, juice and milkshake girl, waitress, and cafe manager. The months I spent behind a bar were by far the best part of my hospitality career. But bartending is also hard work – and this is part of what makes it so rewarding.
If you’ve never worked behind a bar before, it can be a little bit of a shock. Suddenly you have to learn new techniques, recipes, and lingo. Then there’s figuring out where everything sits, how to use all the equipment (you pour the ingredients into the glass part of the Boston Shaker, it turns out), and how to avoid making a mess while you work.
While you’re processing all of this, your body is adjusting to the long hours of standing and running around. If you’ve worked as a server before, this might be more of the usual, but you’ve still got to adjust to the hours – your new life as a nocturnal animal.
"Bartending is hard work – and this is part of what makes it so rewarding."
Additionally, there’s adjusting to your new clientele – if you’re used to serving in cafes and restaurants, you’ll quickly learn it’s not the same crowd. In some instances, the customers are much nicer – they’re done with the day, relaxing with a drink; there’s none of that morning grumpiness before the first coffee kicks in. In some instances, it can be pretty tricky – intoxicated customers with a rapidly dissipating filter on their words and actions, who you might just have to cut off in a drink or two... never an easy job!
Your best plan of action here is to prepare yourself mentally and physically. Get some rest! Bartending is fast-paced, and it requires a lot of thinking on your feet as well as staying on your feet (wear good shoes). The worst thing you can do is rock up to your shift sleep deprived, or worse, hung over.
Aside from the physical demands, you’ve got to keep your energy up – every customer deserves the same hospitality, even if they rock up five minutes before closing (you can express your outrage to co-workers once your shift is over). You also want to keep your mind clear, focused and chipper for yourself and your co-workers – once that rush hits, positive energy will be your saving grace!
I could give you a rundown of all the important things you’ll find behind a bar and how to use them, but the thing is – every bar will have its own ways of doing things, and they will teach you how. No manager will send an inexperienced bartender into the wilderness unsupervised – and if they do, you should consider finding somewhere else to work.
People who work in this industry are by and large super enthusiastic about what they do. They will be more than happy to show you the ropes and to answer your questions (and do ask questions, whatever you need to know or need to clarify. It’s better to ask a million questions than to face a Saturday night crowd unsure of how to do something). You will be shown everything you need to know for your role and if you feel like something has been skipped over, remind them! “Hey, what do I do when a keg is empty?” is a really important thing to learn because as I said earlier… you don’t want to just wing that!
This goes for customers as well – if you’re unsure about what goes into that cocktail they’re asking for, don’t be afraid to clarify with them. Sometimes it’s a drink they had at one bar and figured it’s available everywhere. If they’re not sure, ask someone who works alongside you, or even consult trusty old Google if need be! Make sure you listen to and engage your customers – the better you know them and their tastes, the better your recommendations will be (and consequently, your tips as well).
There are some incredibly interesting, innovative things currently happening in bars around the world – craft beer, craft cocktails, craft everything… not to mention the rise of molecular mixology! It’s a very exciting time to be working in the industry. As trends emerge, try to stay on top of them – read industry publications and blogs, keep on top of new releases, and venture to as many bars as you can to see what others are doing!
The longer you stay in the industry, the more responsibilities you’ll have and designing a menu might be on the agenda sooner than you think. Continual learning and engagement with other bartenders and bars will greatly broaden your horizons and give you fresh perspectives and inspiration – as well as giving you a community that understands the highs and lows of bartender life.
"Don’t beat yourself up about trying to have a ‘normal’ life – if you finish your shift at three in the morning, you’re not going to want to go to bed right away and that’s totally fine."
If you’re just stacking dirty glasses or just pouring beers right now, you’ll find yourself quickly moving forward if you are determined – bartending is a serious profession that opens up many more avenues; embrace it and make the most of it!
Making friends with other bartenders is also really good for finding someone to hang out with at those ungodly hours when almost everyone else is asleep and you’re just sitting down to dinner. Don’t beat yourself up about trying to have a ‘normal’ life – if you finish your shift at three in the morning, you’re not going to want to go to bed right away and that’s totally fine. A person who works 9 to 5 doesn’t go to bed as soon as they get home! Just remember that you’re on a different schedule and try to surround yourself with others who work the same hours so you can have some company, and empathy!
Tidbits to Remember
Don’t drink on the job – you’re a professional. Don’t give away free drinks to friends – the drinks you sell pay your wages. Don’t be snarky to customers – if they’re being very difficult, get your manager to deal with it. Don’t be snarky to your co-workers (wherever they may work in the venue) – you’re all in this together.
Learn the basics and the classics – do some research into the drinks your workplace specializes in – whether it’s wine, beer, whiskey, rum, or gin. Find out enough at the start to answer basic questions, then learn the details as you go along.
Try to learn the recipes for the classic cocktails ahead of time, and try to learn your venue’s cocktail list as soon as possible! But don’t stress too much if your memory lets you down a bit. There’s nothing wrong with consulting a recipe. A customer would rather you do that than mess up their order!
Stretch, sleep, bring healthy snacks to work with you – your eating schedule will inevitably get disrupted, so until you get into a new rhythm, carry almonds, carrots, bananas or smoothies with you for power-ups! Be kind to yourself and have fun!
|Ivana Rnjak is a Production Researcher and Content Writer at Typsy. A waitress and bartender in a previous life, Ivana is an aspiring academic with an unwavering love of brunch – no matter what Anthony Bourdain says!|
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