Are you thinking of becoming a bartender? Are you good with people? Are you interested in pouring shots for college kids and getting hit on all night? Maybe you would like to making artisan cocktails at a refined restaurant and get hit on all night?
Bartending can make you a lot of money. It is a ton of fun and the people you work with will be amazing and hilarious.
But, what does bartending really entail? What are the hours? How’s the money? How long are the shifts? How can you learn how to bartend?
If you want to start bartending, read: Create A Great Bartender Resume
I asked 20 bartenders from around the country 9 questions that you’d want to know.
This is what they said…
1. How did you learn what you know about bartending?
- I learned most of what I know about spirits and cocktails from reading and studying on my own time. There are a lot of great books available and the internet is a great resource for keeping up with trends that are going on in other places, new products, etc. I was lucky enough to start at a bar that has a huge inventory of spirits so I could study at home and then come in to work and taste all of the things that I had been reading about, which helped to cement a lot of the info. Obviously the most important part of bartending is hospitality, and I think that is a hard skill to teach. It stems from a genuine understanding of and love for the service industry. I think one of the most difficult things for me to learn was how to balance being professional with having my own personality and style. To give excellent service while still being able to crack jokes and make people laugh. I had a few bartenders that I worked with that really helped me become comfortable being on stage, mostly by involving me in whatever banter they were having, including me in their jokes and such and putting me on the spot. Having a culinary background really helped me learn a lot of what I needed to know, like flavor profiles, balancing acid/sweet/salty/bitter, and efficiency of movement.
2. Do not go to The Bartending Academy. It is a waste of time & most managers will not count it as a positive. Get a job in a small bar, a dive. Here you will get day shifts which will give you time to familiarize yourself with the stuff behind a bar (schnapps, dish sanitizer, lemon wheels, blown kegs, jiggers, fruit flies…). Then as you improve on properly pouring Bud drafts, you will start getting night shifts paired with experienced bartenders. Gotta start from the bottom!
3. I started in a small pub, but learned the art of tending bar at a fast paced, high end restaurant.
4. Experience, lots of drinking and study through books and internet.
5. going to other bars and reading menus, learning from others, mixing drinks for friends in my own kitchen.
6. On the job however I just went to a Bartending course thinking I’d learn new drinks. They basically told us we would learn on the job at whatever bar we ended up at. It’s true. Plus learned from bartenders we’ve hired.
7. An intense training course by my employer…..TGiFridays
8. Another bartender
9. Although I did attend culinary school where I had a bartending class, I would say that almost 100% of my knowledge and skills have come simply from repeatedly making drinks. Hands-on experience is the only way to learn it.
10. By bartending. My manager threw me behind the bar, gave me a few pointers, and let me do my thing.
11. On the job and observing others.
12. I worked in an Austrian restaurant / bar at 16 and illegally served the old drunkards manhattan’s, gimlets, old fashions, and so on. The proprietor’s were a 70 year old couple and taught me old school style.
13. Observation, attempt, and failure then making sure I learned from it all. After watching bartenders and placing orders from customers you can get down the basics. Each time there was an embarrassing moment where I didn’t know the answer I swiftly sought advice. This built up a repertoire of knowledge that led me from being only capable of pouring a beer to suspending alcohols in agar.
14. On the job training and experience. The more you do, the more you know.
15. Started as a cocktail waitress, paid attention to everything, then a mgr. offered to teach me.
16. Getting cross trained at Applebee’s but really it comes with experience..
17. Casual drinking, and hands on bartending.
18. Being in the industry, learning from the ground up. I had the pleasure or being mentored from hostess to now manager
19. From my waitress job, bartender was to busy for the service bar. She would just tell me what was in something, then I would
2. What are some basic things that bartenders need to know to be a great bartender?
- You have to know the classic recipes and their proportions, that gives you the freedom to make substitutions and start being creative. you have to know how to make balance drinks and what proper dilution tastes like. water is the most important ingredient in a cocktail. you should know the products that you are selling to people and be able to answer questions like where its from, what its history is and what its flavor profile is. you have to have a broad knowledge of current events, music, art, movies, books, sports and whatever else people might like to talk about at a bar, and you have to know how to keep your composure when something goes wrong and you have a bar full of people watching your every move.
2. Mutli-tasking. Making 4 orders while you have 2 guests in front of you asking wine questions while you’re putting your To Do list together in your head (get ice, run dish machine, cut limes) sounds ambitious but it’s more than manageable if you learn how to multi-task.
3. 1. Never let them see you sweat. You are on stage. Always maintain a calm and cool attitude. 2. Learn to walk away. Don’t let one guest utilize too much of your time. There are ways to dismiss yourself without being rude. 3. Be the best multi-tasker in the building and you will be successful! 4. Always know your recipes. Consistency is king!
4. Good service and people skills.
5. that a strong drink does not mean a good drink. how to make small talk with anyone, but also to know when to leave someone alone.
6. Knowing your regular customers. Knowing what they drink. How they like it without asking. They like to feel special. It’s your job to make them feel that way. They want great service and sometimes someone to chat with. You as a bartender need to determine when they want to chat or back off.
7. Speed, consistency, accuracy, be able to read people, a little flair to keep the guest’s attention and create a reaction, upselling
8. How to have small talk, be up on current events and know that when a person who is alone eats at the bar they want to be talked to and entertained.
9. Know how to make basic drinks and what you have on your drink menu. Don’t worry too much about the fancier cocktails. If someone comes in and wants something unusual I absolutely don’t feel bad about asking them whats in it and how to make it. Sometimes it makes for a fun experience! Keep smiling even when you are pissed! Even when you are cutting someone off and kicking them out, if you do it with a smile (and an apology) it ALWAYS goes much, much more smoothly. Know how to have a basic conversation with someone. Ask questions!! People always want to talk about themselves and the customers who are given the opportunity to talk usually tip much better than the ones you ignore! Remember that even when you are stressed and so, so busy that eventually the line will end and you can go home.
10. Always keep your ears open. Your job is to make sure people are having a good time, and the only way you’ll know is by being aware.
11. Priority is to put back everything in its place after using it. Be organised and do all dockets in the order they come in
12. Honestly, the makings of a great bartender have nothing to do with mixology it’s all about reading people, pushing the envelope, and witticism. Read people, engage, and don’t be a dick.
13. Measure – no matter how good you think you are there is no foundation to learn from without measurement. Know your customer – you can pat yourself on the back for knowing some rare and weird stuff but if it isn’t what your customer wants it doesn’t matter. Learn – experiment, fail, read, and learn learn learn. Bartending is not like being a server and vice versa. The guest interaction is entirely different and the rules are similar but with a twist.
14. Basic beer, liquer, wine knowledge. And how to mult-task. Stick and move, put it back where you found it. How to refuse to serve someone gracefully.
15. Be fast, be attentive, remember regular’s names and what they drink. Remember that you’re there to serve. Remember that giving drinks away is stealing from your employer.
16. Multitasking, good social skills, measuring and mixing drinks properly .
17. 20% making drinks 80% conversation
18. Knowing your audience. quantity and quality matter equally. You should be proud of every drink you put out
19. Smile, suggest, be there
3. What hours do you work, e.g, shifts per week, from when to when?
- I work 5 days a week, tuesday through saturday. Tuesday is my ordering and office day, so i work 10am to 8. the rest of the week I work from around 2-3ish.
2. Unlike servers, bartenders usually work an 8 hour shift broken up to daytime or nighttime. Sometime you could be the “early out” or “cover” to be there for dinner or lunch rush then sent home after it’s over.
3. I no longer tend bar. My employees work 4-6 shifts per week. AM shift is 10-4 and a PM shift is from 4-CL. The restaurant closes at 10PM and it takes about 45 min to close down the bar, assuming you are not busy until close.
4. 4-10 PM for early shift. 5-2 AM for closing shift.
5. 2-11 Wednesday-Sunday
6. I own a bar so work all the time but my actual Bartending shift is Saturdays, 10-6
7. Used to work 4 lunch shifts(10-6) downtown, and 2-4 night shifts (3-11)
8. 5-1am ish… 4 shifts a week
9. I bartend and cocktail. Cocktail Mondays and Tuesdays (our busiest nights due to drink specials and working right on campus in a college town!) from 4-12pm, and bartend on Friday and Saturday nights from 5 – 2ish.
10. When I was a bartender, I worked Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 4 to 12-1.
11. For 3 days a week I do 2 shifts. Then a single on 2 days, altogether about 45 hours.
12. Depends on the place, ideal hours are Wednesday thru Saturday from 4pm to 4am.
13. 5 shifts a week, 4:00p-2:30a
14. 6 shifts. 3 days, 3 nights on the weekends.
15. Am not tending bar right now, but when I was it was typically a 4 – close shift, always worked weekends
16. Monday, Tuesday, Friday Saturday from 4- 11pm or sometimes later!
17. Day and night time shifts.
18. Usually 4-12 or 10- 4
19. Random shifts mostly on call .
4. What kind of establishment do you work at, in what state or country? How much money can you expect to make per shift?
- I work at a classic cocktail bar where we make all of our mixers from scratch including sodas, bitters, syrups, etc., juice fresh citrus every day, hand carve every piece of ice that we use, and stock over 400 different bottles of liquor. Its in Denver, CO. Our bartenders average about 150-200$ a night. (I’m on Salary). its not the highest paying bar job, so our bartenders are here because they are genuinely into cocktails and they have unlimited freedom when it comes to making drinks.
2. Shuga’s is a boutique-y place, set in an old home just south of our downtown. We have designer drinks that require muddling, zesting & fresh squeezed fruits. I work 8+ hours 2 days a week, making an average of $25/hour. I am on the dinner shift. One day a week I am the cover & work from 6-10 during dinner rush. I get to come in late & leave early.
3. Upscale restaurant in TN. Bartenders make $100+ per shift.
4. I’ve worked in every kind of place, from strip club bar to James Beard award winning chef’s lounge. Money ranges from shift to shift and place to place. Range per hour could be $15 – $45 not counting your actual wage.
5. North Carolina, private beach club. $200+/- average each shift.
6. Neighborhood bar in East Dundee, IL USA. Since I’m day shift its not as busy as nights but since we serve food it increases your tips. Regular bartenders make hourly wage too plus tips. Our night bartenders can walk away with a few hundred each or more but waitresses tip out bartenders and bartenders tip out bar backs.
7. Worked at TgiFridays in a sports arena in Pittsburgh Pa. Between 100-220$ a shift
8. Oyster bar Michigan $100
9. I work in a quasi-Mexican restaurant with a full bar and live bands 4 nights a week right across the street from Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. When I’m cocktailing I rarely make less than $100 a night. What I make bartending depends on the music and how big of a crowd they bring. $200-$400 a night.
10. I worked in a restaurant/nightclub, with live music ranging from folk to bluegrass. The restaurant is in suburban New York. I’d pretty consistently make $100/shift.
11. It’s a casual place in Fremantle, Perth. AUSTRALIA. $250
12. Currently I am a server at an Italian restaurant in Albany, NY but the keep there pulls anywhere from 100-400$ a shift.
13. High end privately owned.
14. Two jobs. One sport bar. One seafood restaurant with it’s own brewery.
15. Varies — depends on the location & clientele. Last job was at a neighborhood restaurant & pub. Usually made 100 – 150 a night, but made 700 one night when there was a Rugby tournament in town.
16. I work at wine and roses in Lodi, ca which is a 71 room hotel, restaurant, 5600 sq foot spa etc.. It is a resort that does many weddings and special occasion events. In tips anywhere from 100-250 a night
17. I work in a stir fry restaurant in Naperville, IL. I can expect to make $140 a shift.
18. I work at and urban casual restaurant. 150-350 a shift
19. I work at a neighborhood sports bar in oak lawn il and I hope to make at least $$100 for day shift or $200 for night shift.
5. What do you absolutely love about bartending?
- I love that it combines a lot of the things that I enjoyed about cooking like combining flavors, the fast paced competitiveness, and the gratification of seeing someone really enjoy something that you created with the thrill of being on stage and interacting with people. it has forced me to be more confident and personable and it has introduced me to all kinds of interesting people. its the ultimate networking job.
2. I love being busy…all of the time. There is always something to do in a restaurant. I like making cocktails, learning & teaching people, I love the family that comes with a restaurant crew, I like meeting & chatting up new people, I like telling people who are new to town or visiting of the great stuff we have here (sometimes I think I should be a concierge)
3. The people! They are right there, in your face, and keeping you on your toes!
4. Good people, shift versatility and being around food and drink culture.
5. talking to and meeting new people!
6. You meet so many nice people. Usually they are happy and fun. You get some high rollers who over tip and some that are clueless and leave $1 after they’ve put you through the paces. It’s part of the biz.
7. The high paced atmosphere
8. You can satisfy people quickly and they are almost always happy with your prompt service
9. Meeting people! And getting to talk to people I wouldn’t normally talk to just passing them on the street. I have built some great relationships with some of my regulars. I also love “being the bartender”, which has a certain renown. Everyone wants to talk to you and “knows you” and when you remember someone’s name or drink they feel so special!
10. Meeting new people.s
11. Making coffee.
12. Good people and the smooth fast pace when you’re slammed, I live for it.
13. The interaction with patrons.
14. The people. and …the people. And other bartenders!
15. the challenge of keeping up on a crazy busy night
16. I’ve been doing this for 14 yrs, I love the relationships that are made with guests, the challenge of taking care of the bar, the tables, making drinks for servers etc. every night at my place its diff based on hotel occupancy, restaurant reservations and guests that come to the lounge to listen to live music.
17. The people.
18. Being around people, listening g to people’s stories. And being able to be creative
19. Making friends, flexibility, good money.
6. What do you absolutely hate about bartending?
- Sometimes the hours, sometimes you get guests that are really disrespectful, but those are small gripes. I love my job.
2. Dumbasses and there are a lot of them. Douchebags who want to sit in the well & ask you what every single drink you’re making is. People who learn your name & insist on using it at every possible moment. People who order “double Long Island Iced Teas”
3. See above:)
4. Bad management or establishment ownership.
5. drunk people.
6. Waiting on people who think you are their personal bartender. They am don’t want to share you with rest of bar. Or customer who is rude when they can see you’re busy and they want you to wait on them now after you acknowledge them. So rude.
7. The late nights
8. Dealing with the occasional drunk
9. Always having to keep my happy face on. My face is pretty expressive and when I’m annoyed or tired or stressed my customers can tell! On busy nights it is impossible to not be stressed so sometimes I get short with people and then I feel bad later. Cutting people off is no walk in the park either.
10. Getting sexually harassed by drunk people.
12. The ignorant people
13. Bad drunks.
14. Stocking, hauling kegs etc. And when other staff don’t stock their own sh*&^t.
15. dealing with people that get ugly when shut off
16. Good ?? Only thing I dislike about it, is when people are intoxicated and rude or demanding or demeaning..
17. Being overwhelmed.
18. Rude people that think they know more about bar tending then you do
19. Not much other than the occasional feet hurting.
7. How many years have you been bartending?
- On and off for 6 years.
- since 1994…let’s not do that actual math, ok?
- 10 years before I jumped on the manager train
- 10 total. 2 years as an owner.
- 5 years
- 10+ years
- over 25.
- 30+, off and on
- 2 years
8. How much easier would it be for someone to train as a bartender if they had a solid understanding of spirits and knew the classic cocktail recipes?
Some people expounded on their graph answer. Here’s what they said.
1. It is the only way I would allow someone to train at my bar. It is not optional.
2. Some new servers don’t understand the questions that come after the Martini order. I had a server yesterday not understand that Dirty had nothing to do with Up
3. The problem is that each establishment has their own idea about what constitutes a classic cocktail, so knowing something in advance is almost prohibitive. Sometimes the person with little bar knowledge, but great customer service skills is the best person for the job!
It’s hard to teach the graces and timings of tending bar, I don’t care how much you think you know.
9. What do you wish you would have known before you started bartending?
- I did quite a bit of research, I feel like i was pretty well prepared.
2. That I should’ve gotten a 401K when I was offered but thought I wouldn’t be bartending long so I didn’t need it
3. I wish I had a basic understanding of wine and spirits. I knew how to make the drinks, but had no back ground information.
4. That I may be locked in forever.
5. Basic recipe
6. All the different types of beers, wines, spirits. I’m not a beer drinker so get stumped on what people want when they ask me to explain. Wine I know enough to get by since were not a wine bar.
7. More recipes for shots
8. Nothing, I think I started off pretty well prepared. I worked in the restaurant for a year before I started bartending so I knew our menu and our clientele pretty well. I guess I wish I would have know how much I would love it so I could start sooner!
9. Cocktail recipes
10. Basic knowledge
11. More about all sports.
12. That your nights will be taken away and you will get in the worst form of restaurant social structure – work all night, party with co-workers, sleep all day, repeat.
13. Buy good shoes. And how the long and late hours would change and shape my life. And save money. Working in a cash business…put $20 a shift away for retirement. Boring but important.
14. nothing really — I had a great teacher
15. How its very addicting..;) haha
16. How to free pour.
17. How addictive the money was
18. How to tell the drunk people from just stupid people!!
I would like to thank all of the wonderful bartenders that contributed to this article, thank you! Thank you Cody, Stuart, Andrew, Donovan, Andrew, Erin, Jamie, Lonnie, Peter, Fran, Amber, Melissa and everyone else!
Sincerely, Jennifer (iamWaitress)
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Jennifer, iamWaitress on Google+!