How can I get a job in a bar with no experience?

I have to become a bartender. Don’t ask why, just take my word for it.

I already have a full-time job I can’t give up right now, so any job I get in a bar will have to be part time. I’m thinking weekends and one or two evenings during the week.

My only work experience has been in offices, working with computers. But I work hard, I’m extremely dependable, and I’m willing to start at the bottom. If I have to wash glasses and keep the ice bins full for the first six months, I’m willing to do that.

I know bartending school is generally worthless, so I’m not considering that. I’ve heard a lot of people say the best way to get behind a bar is to get a job waiting tables in a restaurant that has a bar, and wait for the bartender to call in sick. I’d like to avoid having to wait tables if at all possible. But if that’s the only way to do it, I’ll bite the bullet and head on down to TGI Friday’s.

I’m looking for advice on how to get my foot in the door. Should I just pound the pavement, stopping in every bar in town to ask if they need part-time help? What shoud I wear? Should I come right out and say I’m looking to be a bartender? Or should I lowball it, maybe say I want to be a “barback”?

Speaking of which, what is a barback, exactly? As you can see, I don’t know a lot about the bar business, so please be specific in your replies. Thanks.

I think barbacking is the way to go. Most of the barbacks that I have known were promoted to bartender in a few months. A barback’s basic job is to restock the bar and keep all the supplies in order and help clean up at the end of the night. In a busy bar on a Saturday night, you may see someone wheeling or carring cases of beer through the crowd and icing them down. That is the barback. The barback takes care of other drink supplies like lemons and limes too. The job really isn’t as menial as it sounds. The bartenders may have barbacked themselves and will teach you to make drinks. You will also learn a lot just by being around the bar. Bartenders generally tip-out the barback some percentage of the tips so you can make a little money doing it. The barback may also fill in briefly as bartender during a slow time if the bartender needs to take a break or may do some bartending if the bar gets slammed with people suddenly.

It helps to have a friend who’s a bartender, if not, start hanging out at a small divey place where people have low expectations/tend to order serious drinks. (Not convoluted stuff with cutsie-poo names.) Get to know the bartenders there and eventually ask if they’re looking for someone to pull pints on St. Pats/New Years/Super Bowl or some other “drinking” holiday. Supposedly you will be there to just draw beers while the real bartenders are fixing mixed drinks, but since you’re a regular, many of the other regulars will know you and won’t mind you making their gin & tonics or scotch & sodas, etc. Pick up as much as you can and make yourself useful and mention that you’d like to do it full time. Eventually someone will quit and your name will come up.

I personally know 3 people who’ve become bartenders this way.

I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say this. It’s not going to make you an instant expert in tending bar or the tricks customers will try to scam on you, but they will show you how to mix drinks, manage large orders, and so forth. And the instructors at these places are themselves experienced bartenders (who are usually burnt out on the bartending lifestyle.) It gives you a little something to put on a resume, anyway.

A barback, um, backs the bar. That is, he keeps the liquor stocked, hustles ice, cleans glasses, bus tables, mop up vomit, clean the bathroom–anything that’s gotta be done to keep the bartender pouring drinks. It’s a great way to learn to do everything in a bar and resturant, because you’ll end up doing everything at one point or another (do you like washing dishes?), but it’s bloody hard work, and it doesn’t pay much (though a wise bartender will tip-share his barbacks generously.)

I’m not certain why you have to be a bartender, but a few words of advice to you: it ain’t like that Tom Cruise movie. It’s constant moving, paying attention to customers needs, making sure you get paid before someone gets their hand on a drink (and make certain they don’t slip you a $1 in the place of a $20, like in The Grifters), placating drunks who get pissed when you cut them off, closing, cleaning, and restocking the bar at end of shift so the next guy doesn’t piss in your locker, walking home and peeling your socks off of your soaked-to-the-bone aching feet, and everything else you might think of that’s unpleasent about a service job. It’s definitely the best money in a resturant, and maybe easier than being a waitron, but it’s hard-ass labor.

Also, getting a weekend gig with no experience: real tough. Mostly, they’ll want to put you on a Monday or Tuesday to start out with and see if you can hack it. The best way to get a job at a bar is to have a friend that works there or knows the owner. Don’t, don’t, don’t go in there on a weekend or during the evening rush and ask to see the manager; pick a nice, liesurely 3 to 5 in the afternoon time to drop off your resume and answer any questions about it. Oh, and don’t just hand the resume over to the bartender and leave; either he’ll trash it 'cause it’s in his way and got beer spilled on it, or he’ll throw it on the managers desk and subsequently disappear into a previously unknown singularity. Hand your resume directly to a hiring manager.


If you watch the ads very closely, you will see when they have open hiring for new establishments. Generally those bars have no experience (although they sometimes fool you when an old place is opening under new management).


Don’t barback. Thankless work and you won’t learn much. First, learn how to make a few drinks. Most bar owners I’ve dealt with want some proof that you actually know how to pour a drink or 2. I also write all my recipes on notecards and keep them in a box under the bar. If I get stuck, I can always double check. Bartending schools are hit or miss. I went to one and the only thing it really gave me was an extra source for job leads. Most of them offer some kind of placement service. And just having that in can make the difference.

The bottom line is this though. If you have no real experience, school or not, you’re going to start on the crappiest shift they have available. Afternoons. It sucks, you’ll see very few customers unless you’re in a place that does a business lunch business. But once you get one job, you’ll have some experience that you can shop around to the bigger, better bars.

Here is one thing you may or may not know. There are hundreds of drink recipes but ninety something percent of people that order a mixed drink order something that is self-explanatory or nearly so. Typical orders will be for things like gin and tonics, scotch on the rocks, or rum and coke. A large percentage of people will order beer or wine and you won’t have to mix anything. That is not to say that it is easy. You have to be taught how to pour even a simple drink quickly and correctly. Time management and customer relations can only come through talent and experience.

The types of drinks that you usually make depend on the type of bar and the area of the country. A wild college bar may require you to make all kinds of crazy stuff while a hotel bar that caters mainly to businessmen will require you to make standard drinks well, be professional, and know something about the beer, wine, and liquor that is available.

And then you’ll have a bunch of jokers come in and order a Godfather, a Singapore Sling, a Dirty White Mother, an Electric Lemonade, Texas Style, a Sloe Comfortable Screw Up Against The Wall, and to top it all off, a Zombie.

I hate you guys. :wink:

But yeah, depending on the kind of bar you’re at, you may do just wine and beer, or simple cocktails, highballs, and collins, or exotics and sours. (Og help you if you work at a bar that features Irish Coffee, or a bar named something like “Kon-Tiki”.) Most places have some kind of specialty, but you have to be prepared to mix and serve anything you stock.

That’s what you won’t learn in a school. Watch and learn from other bartenders. (And don’t learn their bad habits, like sneaking out for a line o’ blow, or slipping tips.)


you won’t get a job off the street as a barback, let alone a tender. you have to work up to that.

you’ll start as a busser/server, and work up to barback. from there, you’ll have to wait for someone to quit or die. could be a while. don’t quit the dayjob. honestly. even most btenders still have 'em.

but it’s always good for us peons to have new company, and there’s always room on the bottom rung.

just don’t think you’re gonna jump steps ahead from the getgo.

unless you know the owner.

thats a different story all together.

Wouldn’t it be better to work in an established bar? :eek:

Thank you all for your responses. I’m seeing some common themes I’d like to address.

Barbacking - Sounds like something I’d be willing to do. Low-paying? I’m not trying to make the big bucks with this right now. Like I said, I already have a full-time job. Thankless? Sitting around watching cartoons is also pretty thankless, and it doesn’t pay anything, and since that’s all I’ll be doing if I don’t get a part-time job, I don’t see a problem there.

Hanging around in a bar waiting for a drinking holiday, or for someone to quit - That would be a good idea, except I’m not really a big drinker. I guess I could go have a beer a couple times a week at this one place I like that’s close to my house. Maybe it would lead to something, but if not, it’s still a pretty fun place.

Knowing somebody who owns or works in a bar - Probably not too likely. I’m new in town and don’t know anybody at all. The upside of that is I have more spare time to pursue whatever I want.

It’s not like the Tom Cruise movie - Really? Because I measure success in life by how much I can be like Tom Cruise. If bartending’s not like that movie, I’ll have to go back to my original plan of being a smirking fighter pilot.

I’m kidding, of course, and sorry to make fun of you, but I’m not trying to be like Tom Cruise or anybody else. I’m doing this because it’s the next thing I have to do in my life. I might hate it and never want to do it again, that’s not the point. The point is to do it, whatever it is, no matter how hard it is. Things have to be done and I’m the one who has to do them.

If somebody was trying to get into my field, I’d probably say the same thing many of you are saying - “It’s hard… You have to start at the bottom… It helps to know somebody…” And yet here I am, and I got here totally by accident. If I can get this far in my field without even meaning to, then I can get a job in a bar with a little effort, don’t you think?

Or a race car driver? Or maybe a pool hustler? :wink:

Sorry if the firt post came off as snarky–it wasn’t my intention–but while it kind of looks like fun, it’s hard and pretty dirty work, and I’ve seen people burn out quickly from it. (A component of that is that you are working graveyard shift hours and not getting up until 11 or 12 i n the morning, which makes you feel kind of disconnected.) As long as you’re cognizent of that, no problem, but a lot of the kids I saw in the bartending course I took a couple of years ago (on a lark, I haven’t tended for years) were thinking it was just going to be a big, Coyote Ugly-style party.

Oh, absolutely. It’s one of the types of jobs that there’s enough turnover that you’ll never be out of a job for long, and you can take the skill almost anywhere. As long as you’re willing to work your way up, you’ll be fine. But many people think that one 40 hour bartending course is going to have them working the 6-to-bartime Friday night, $500+ in tips a night shift, and then knocking down a few after the doors are locked. The reality is that at 3am on Saturday morning after you’ve finished restocking the bar, dumping the ashtrays and mopping the floor, the only thing you want to do is go home, stand under a hot shower for about an hour, and then crash into bed and sleep like Lazarus.

Like I said, though, it’s the best job in a resturant, and it’s a good fit for night owls/insomniacs.

Either than, or being a (wait for it) Taxi Driver.

{shish-ba!} Thank you, thank you…you’re too kind. Hey, I just flew in from Cleveland, and boy are my arms tired. Do you have any naked pictures of your {splat}. :smiley:


The better/higher tipped jobs are in established bars with a good clientel. The probability of getting a job in an established bar is pretty low if you don’t have any skills.

If you end up at the right place, baretending can be pretty fun. I bartended in one of the nicest bars in New Orleans in college and it might just be the most fun job I ever had. The money COULD be great too. A busy Friday or Saturday night could mean $400+ dollars in tips. Of course, there were the other, dead shifts that brought the average down.

From what I’ve seen, you’ll need a bad attitude, ability to avoid eye contact while looking up and down the bar, and if you are a woman, very large tits.

You obviously go to the wrong bars.

But yes, for a woman, um, extra-ordinary assets are a bonus in terms of getting tips and good shifts.

Sorry. That’s just the way it is.


Hey, I didn’t say it was a bad thing. :wink:

Um, ‘an established bar’ as opposed to ‘a bar with no experience’…

Thank you, I’m here all week (though not in the bar, obviously)

I’ve always wanted to be a bartender, but yeah, the no experience thing does kinda mean the likely hood of getting a job are zilch, but one questionI have:

I have never worked in a bar, but I do have some bartending experience. While in college (graduated last year,) I routinely tended the bar at my fraternity. While we certainly bnever had huge crowds of poeple all yelling at the same time for a drink, like some bars might be like, I did learn the basics of bartending, such as how to mix several common drinks, how to properly pour, remembering who I need to cut off, what drink goes to who, and that sort of thing. Of course, that’s not the kind of thing I can put on a resume, and again, tending bar at a college party is differetn than a bar, but would any manager look on that as worthwhile expereince?

Are managers usually in the bar from 3-5? And how do you ask to see the managers?