A great bartender plays several key roles beyond just serving drinks to their clientele. A bartender will often times find themselves taking on the role of a best friend and having to lend a patient ear while many customers talk about their bad day at work or complain about the economy and politics. Most importantly, conversing with customers requires the ability to simultaneously juggle a multitude of other tasks in a very busy and hectic environment—all while maintaining a sense of calm composure and self-confidence. Additional key qualities of a great bartender include the following characteristics:
Have a Charming Personality
One of the most important aspects of being a bartender is the ability to socialize and effectively communicate with your customers. Depending on the size of the restaurant and the time of week, your job will involve contact with potentially several hundred customers each night. Your customers will want to converse with you, share stories, and tell tall tales, all while you are busy taking orders and mixing drinks. The ability to maintain your composure with a smile on your face is a key trait for becoming a great bartender and succeeding on the job.
Have the Ability to Multitask
Bartenders must be able to tackle several duties at one time, while being able to stay focused on each task. With several customers sitting at your bar, you will be getting requests for many different types of drinks while having to be able to accurately remember each order. Customers will be chatting with you while you are mixing the drinks, filling the glasses, and adding garnishes. Having a strong memory is essential for bartending as you must be able to keep track of each individual request while performing other duties and keeping the bar area organized.
Be Fast as Lightning
Speed is essential if you want to be a great bartender. Your job will require you to juggle many things all at the same time while providing fast service to your customers. You need to have heart and to really want to work in this business in order to not only last but to succeed as well. Your customers expect you to mix and fill their glasses in record time, and they do not want to wait forever to get their drinks. If you have a personality that is filled with spunk and drive and a never ending source of energy, you have already met one of the required prerequisites for becoming a great bartender.
Exhibit Stamina and Strength
If you are looking for a job where you can serve customers while sitting at a desk all day, bartending is not the right choice for you. As a bartender you will be standing all day, and the only time you may occasionally sit down is during your lunch or dinner breaks. Some duties you will perform as a bartender include having to lift hefty boxes of liquor and kegs of beer. A job as a bartender requires stamina and strength in order to also make it through a long day on your feet while serving customers their drinks, multitasking, and performing other duties.
Be Familiar with the Community
The social aspects of being a great bartender include having a solid knowledge of the community in which the establishment is located. Customers will often ask you for information about the area especially if they are traveling and are not familiar with the local offerings. Expect to be asked for suggestions as to the best places to stay and to go for entertainment such as theaters and casinos. Vacationers that visit your bar may ask you for directions to upcoming events and attractions. Providing guidance and suggestions should be easy if you live within the area of the bar where you work.
Be Good at Math
Part of your duties as a great bartender will be to ring up customers, provide change, collect tips, and keep an accurate balance of all transactions during your work shift. Depending on the rate of customer traffic and numbers served, some food and beverage establishments may also have a practice of only keeping a set amount of cash available in the register. You may be responsible for regularly depositing money within a safe throughout your shift and not just at the end of the night. Although you do not need to be an accountant or math geek, bartending does require solid math skills to succeed.
Have a Solid Knowledge of Liquor, Wine, and Beer
Becoming knowledgeable and familiar with all the many types of liquors, wines, and beers is not a feat that can be accomplished overnight. You will need to learn about the different types of liquors served in bars and the ingredients that go into making each unique drink. It takes time and practice to develop skill and expertise as a great bartender and there are several ways you can go about doing it. When exploring your options to learn about the business of bartending, possible pathways include acquiring experience through related jobs and completing a training course.
Exploring Alternative Pathways to Becoming a Bartender
The job of a bartender is one position that requires applicants to have at least some basic knowledge and understanding of alcoholic drinks or some exposure to the environment in which drinks are served. If you know nothing about making and mixing drinks or have never worked in a restaurant, your chances for getting a job as a bartender are minimal at best. Bar owners and restaurant establishments initially look at applicants that already come equipped with some skills that can be acquired through past positions working within the food and beverage industry.
Gain Experience in Other Restaurant Positions
If you have had a position within a restaurant and are familiar and comfortable working in this fast-paced business, you are already one step ahead of other applicants. When managers are interviewing for bartending jobs, if the pool of applicants does not include anyone who already has experience working in a club or bar, the next phase is to seek out individuals that already work in restaurants. Having worked in any of the following positions will definitely come in handy and tip the scales in your favor:
Food and beverage servers: Waiters and waitresses have a leg up when it comes to experience working in the fast paced environment of a restaurant or bar. You regularly deal with many customers, take orders, and serve meals – duties of which require you to speedily multitask while keeping a smile on your face.
Dining room attendants: Busboys and busgirls also acquire valuable experience in the food and beverage industry by removing dishes after customers finish their meals and then efficiently cleaning and resetting tables with skill and speed. They may also assist other food and beverage servers on very busy nights or when the restaurant is short of staff and needs a few extra hands.
Food Preparation Attendants: Workers in this position will acquire experience by assisting cooks and chefs during the preparation of meals. Tasks may include cleaning, cutting, and mixing meal ingredients. Other duties involve cleaning and maintaining equipment and storing food. This type of job teaches essential skills that can help prepare you for a future job as a bartender.
Barback/Bartender’s Assistant: A bartender’s assistant, often referred to as a barback, provides help by taking on many of the secondary duties beyond making drinks such as keeping the bar area clean and continually restocking supplies. This position is more often seen in restaurants and bars that are extremely busy with a high volume of customers.
The Pros and Cons of Bartending School
Deciding whether to attend bartending school is a personal choice and comes with its own set of pros and cons. Your past job experience in the food and beverage industry plus your acquired knowledge of liquor, wine, and beer and how to mix drinks all play into whether you should move forward and sign up for a training course. Some advocate against the cost of taking courses to learn the trade. What you need to remember is that on-the-job learning to become a bartender is a rarity in this industry, hence the potential benefits of pursuing an education.
Managers of bars and clubs generally do not want to hire an applicant for an open position who has absolutely no past experience nor any understanding of alcohol and how to make drinks. Bartending is a very fast paced business and the environment is not conducive to taking on a new hire and providing on-the-job training. That being said, bartending school can be a good option in some situations and a good place to start to learn more about the industry.
When choosing a bartending school, the hands-on approach is the best way to learn more about this business and to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge. Bartending is one profession where you need to be onsite in an actual classroom to properly learn how to make drinks. Distance learning and web-based training options just don’t cut it when it comes down to learning a skill that requires the use of your hands to make and mix drinks—you can’t do that online.
If you are interested in attending bartending school, you will need to do some further research to find out what type of training is available in your region. One option you may want to explore is USABartendingSchool.com, which is Better Business Bureau (BBB) accredited. The site offers a listing of bartending schools within the U.S., which are state authorized institutions of learning. An additional resource to check out is the nationwide bartending schools directory posted on ABCBartending.com.
State Bartending Laws and Liquor Certification Requirements
Beyond meeting the basic requirement of being of age to drink alcohol, serving it within a bar, club, or other type of food and beverage establishment as a bartender comes with its own set of rules and regulations. The APIS (Alcohol Policy Information System), a site maintained by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, has various maps and charts that help to clarify the laws and any questions as they pertain to “underage drinking and minimum age for on-premises servers and bartenders.” (APIS, 2015) Regulations may vary in each state so it is important to become familiar with your region’s laws.
Guidelines for Liquor Certification
Do to the nature of the type of work involved in bartending and its associated legalities, many states require that those serving alcoholic beverages complete certification. Those that are new to the trade of bartending must become knowledgeable with the laws as they relate to areas such as overdrinking, requesting proof of ID, hours of service, and how to effectively deal with drunken customers that may be violent. Additional information is available online at ServerCertificationCorp.com, which provides an easy to use alphabetical listing of all the states and their certification requirements.
The Future of Bartending: Job Outlook and Potential Salary
The hourly wage rate for a job as a bartender will vary from state to state and will also reflect the experience level of the applicant. More luxurious resorts and hotels that charge more for their services may offer a higher wage or salary with added benefits, perks, and bonuses. Beginning positions for those just starting out may average at about minimum wage. However, even with a lower hourly rate, bartending can be a lucrative position due to the potential that comes from added income received in the form of tips. Some bartenders with experience working at busy high-end establishments can make six-figure incomes — so the potential is there.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the future outlook for bartending is bright, progressing “faster than the average for all occupations” (BLS, 2015) with a projected growth rate in the range of about 10 percent during the period of 2014 to 2014. Positions can be found across the nation at a variety of places that include not just your typical bar but also jobs at hotels, resorts, clubs, taverns, inns, and any type of establishment that caters to travelers. Applicants that have the necessary knowledge acquired from formal training courses and or experience working in other types of positions within the food and beverage industry will have an edge on the competition when applying for jobs.