Working as a bartender isn’t as easy as it looks on TV. To really make it in the profession, you’ll have to master a variety of skills while learning on the job. Luckily, this effort pays off in the form of a career that’s often lucrative — and almost never boring.
Steps to becoming a bartender
While every bartender finds their own route to success, many careers share a common trajectory. Here are the first moves to make as you plot your own career.
Earn a bartending license
Some states require bartenders to have a license. Even if your state has no such requirement, being certified still boosts your prospects on the job market. Bartending courses are easy to find online, and you’ll come away with an extensive knowledge of state regulations and useful tips for dealing with unruly customers.
Get a job as a barback
Working as a barback is a great way to gain invaluable experience of how a bar operates in the real world. It’s a tough job — lifting kegs and carrying crates isn’t for the faint of heart — but there’s no better way to get your foot in the door and learn more about the industry.
Gain practice at a restaurant bar
The bars at restaurants are often slower than those at nightclubs or evening venues, making them perfect for beginners. They also tend to promote from within, meaning you can apply for a job as a host or server before working your way behind the bar. Once you’ve landed that coveted bartending gig, you’ll gain key experience that busier bars will be happy to see on your resume.
Find a mentor in the industry
Whether you’re working as a barback or climbing the ranks at a restaurant, you’ll benefit greatly from the kindly advice of a mentor. Experienced bartenders have all sorts of wisdom to offer their younger colleagues, from simple mixing tips to future job opportunities. Don’t annoy your favorite bartender with pesky questions in the middle of a rush, but do what you can to get on their good side and elicit tidbits of useful information.
Master the art of pouring drinks
Making drinks is truly an art form, and — like all genuine artists — you need to invest time and effort into improving your craft. If you’re not getting the experience you need at work, practice your skills at home. With enough training, you’ll develop a real knack for making the perfect drink.
While not all bartenders invent their own drinks, it’s always best to have a working knowledge of mixology. Take some time to learn about how different liquors, mixers, and ingredients interact. Then, do some experimenting on your own. Even if you don’t invent the next hot drink, you’ll still learn a lot about your craft.
Commit to patience and flexibility
Nobody lands their dream bartending job right away. Late, sweaty nights as a barback and tipless afternoons in an empty restaurant might not be much fun, but they’re rites of passage for any aspiring bartender.
Don’t count on bartending school as a shortcut
Bartending school can certainly help expand your knowledge and improve your skills, but it’s no substitute for real-world experience. No matter how much training you receive, expect to climb the bartending ladder the old-fashioned way — with hard work and patience.
Soft skills bartenders need to master
To become a successful bartender, you’ll need to master the following soft skills:
- Delegating tasks
- Calmness under pressure
- Social skills — making people feel welcome
- Basic mathematics
Hard skills bartenders need to master
Alongside general professional skills, bartenders need particular skills that are specific to their profession. These include:
- Pouring liquor
- Mixing drinks
- Serving food
- Knowledge of wine, beer, and spirits
5 Strategies for your bartending job search
Bartending jobs are everyone, but that doesn’t mean they’re always easy to find. The competition is tight, and the most lucrative positions are in especially high demand. As you conduct your own bartending job search, use these strategies to increase your chances of success.
- Use your connections within the industry to land an interview without having to formally apply.
- Look at job advertisement sites to check for openings in your area. Jobble’s job platform is a great resource for bartenders and anyone else looking to participate in the gig economy.
- Try some cold outreach by calling or emailing restaurants directly.
- Order a drink at your favorite bar, chat up the bartender, and (unobtrusively) enquire about potential openings.
- Drop by establishments and leave your resume with a manager on duty.
With a bit of grit and determination, these strategies will eventually land you the bartending gig you’re after. From there, it’s just a matter of working your way up to ever-more-lucrative positions. Good luck, and happy mixing!
About the Author: Ben Clabault is a freelance writer from Sandwich, Massachusetts. He has spent much of his adult life traveling through Latin America. He currently lives with his fiance in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. His areas of expertise include travel, marketing, SaaS, and global cultures. You can find his work on Copyfolio and reach out to him on LinkedIn.