The Do’s and Don’ts of Becoming a Bartender

by Jason Bran on August 21, 2012

in You want to be a bartender?

Bartending jobs can be elusive. If you are someone that has a strong desire to get behind a bar but aren’t sure where to start, here are a few tips that I find myself dispensing often.

Ask yourself, “Why do I want to do this?”

If you think that you have industry changing cocktail concepts, that people want to watch you juggle, than you’re going to have a hard time convincing anyone that can help you to take you seriously. The people that are the best in this business are intrinsically driven to make their guests happy. They happily serve people regardless of their judgement of their work. They are comfortable with serving and take pride in being able to provide an experience.

Buy into common misconceptions. (Believe the hype!)

You will make a lot of money, meet a lot of boys/girls, and get to party while doing it all. Sure the job is fun, but it’s a business. You have to be responsible for yourself as well as the safety of others. If you are a liability to the business by putting your egocentric priorities first than you will be ousted.

Go to a bartending school.

These schools are expensive and don’t offer much return for your investment. Additionally the average curriculum is out of touch with the expectations of most of today’s popular bars.

Take the money you would spend on bartending school and buy some books.

Yes, books! I highly recommend those that cover proper bar techniques and use of tools as opposed to endless amounts of recipes. “The Craft of the Cocktail” or “The PDT Cocktail Book” are essential. Additionally buy some basic tools and practice using them correctly. You will still have money left over to buy an over-sized tie and pose for a bartender school graduate type photo of you to put on your resume.

Jump into the culture.

You don’t have to be working behind a bar to learn about bartending. Identify the bars that you enjoy the most and start visiting often. Get to know the bartenders, watch them work, try to understand what they are doing, why they do it a certain way. Learn from observations and occasional questions.

Learn about cocktails and spirits.

A great bar is always happy to talk about the bottles on the shelves with guests. Ask about unfamiliar bottles, and if you find something you like try a cocktail made with it. Drink it with the intention of learning from it rather than getting drunk. It is “studying” after all.

Allow your enthusiasm be misunderstood.

Nobody likes a show off. If you sit down and start quizzing he bartender or dispensing knowledge you studied from wikipedia in an attempt to brag, boast, or impress, you are doing yourself more harm than good. The same applies when the bartender is tending to a guest, don’t attempt to “help” the bartender by suggesting cocktails for an indecisive guest. If you often attempt to hijack the service experience, you are just defining yourself as a nuisance.

Make some friends.

Bartender friends can help you get your foot in the door, or behind the bar in this case. If they know you are eager to learn, applying yourself, and a “cool” person, they can be of tremendous assistance in finding you that first bar job.

Expect results from being lazy.

Finding a bartending job is not easy. If you just e mail every craigslist ad seeking a bartender, or call bars to ask if they are hiring it won’t generate much success. Nobody wants to hire work averse people.

Be strategic about seeking employment.

In addition to knowing something about the bar you are applying to work at, you should know who to talk to, when that person is there, and when they are slow enough that you can have a drink and get an opportunity to speak with them for a minute. Even if they can’t hire you, they may have a lead on another opportunity.

Forget what it was like when you couldn’t find a job!

All people get comfortable with their work but bartenders are very guilty of this. Finding a job isn’t easy, finding a good job is really damn hard. Should your hard work pay off, always stay humble and remember what it felt like when you would have done anything for the opportunity.

If you are searching, I wish you the best. If you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason Etheredge January 13, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Great list, and very very true. The last one has bitten me in the ass a few times but I finally learned my lesson. Reading through “Craft of the Cocktail” right now, a truly good book to have on your reference shelf.

Thanks for sharing


Melcark August 22, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Instead of bar tending school ( which I agree is useless) I recommend getting TIPS certified or another state sanctioned certification for learning to avoid over serving and proper IDing protocols. I find that this is a huge leg up. In addition, I would add, do not be afraid to wait tables at a place where you would like to eventually tend bar, work hard to prove yourself in order to get promoted. Show interest in what your bartenders are doing and learn recipes while working as a server. Most of us will gladly share our knowledge with an eager server and then will recommend them when positions open up.


Ricky Yarnall August 22, 2012 at 8:48 am

Your posts are always, ALWAYS, spot on! I hope that anyone looking to get into the industry reads this. I’ll do my best to see that they do. Keep writing and we’ll happily keep reading.


Jason Bran August 22, 2012 at 10:55 am

Thank you Ricky!


Thomas Welzel August 22, 2012 at 8:07 am

Nice collection, but I don´t aggree with “don´t go to barschool” – when I started, I went to barschool and I learned the basics of bartending. This is better than the sh*t, that a lot of uneducated barowner wanted to tell/teach me. If you haven`t any good bars in your space, then its better to consult a barschool. So you can practize for your own and prepare yourself for leaving the town.


Lauran August 22, 2012 at 1:45 am

Well said Bran. Stop being such a great guy, its annoying. Xo


Larry Taber August 22, 2012 at 1:37 am

I have been tending bar since the late70′s. I would not be without this service. Every bartender needs protection from liquor liability. It is affordable, and invaluable. A must have for protecting you and your job.


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