What do I need to know about bartending?

I’m thinking about being a bartender as a second job.

What kind of qualifications do I need to start me on the job hunt? Is there a bartenders school or course I should attend or can I learn this trade “on the fly”? I know there’s such a thing as a barback but I’m not really sure what they do, and I don’t think I’d like it as well. Is it customary to be a barback for a while before moving on to bartending?

What are the pros and cons of bartending? I figure it’s a skill I can take with me and use to supplement my income no matter where I live. Are there certain personality traits that lend themselves to being a better bartender?

I’d be interested to hear first-hand accounts from those who have been (or are) bartenders.

Well I’ve never been a bartender myself but I have been married to one and I have loged sevral hundreds of hours as a costumer so I think I qualify.

I you’re a chick show off them boobies and a little innacuous flirting here and there wouldn’t hurt either. (flirt with the guys you wouldn’t normaly give the time of day to also.)
If you’re a dude; Talk shit about women and have a sense of humour.

This at least works in the neighborhood bars that I go to.

I’ve supplemented my income many times by waiting tables (and relied upon it entirely at other times). Each time I’d talk to the bar staff and find they were making more than I. Not necessarily a lot, but money’s money and they didn’t have to walk nearly so much as I did on the floor!

Each time I’d think, “Why aren’t I doing that?” Then I’d remember: "Oh yeah. The smoke. "

I can’t stand cigarette smoke and the phrase ‘a smoky bar’ is pretty much redundant. If you don’t smoke, think again about bartending. You’ll be spending hours two feet from a phalanx of smokers. Your clothes will stink, your hair will stink, and you’ll be sucking down an impressive amount of carcinogens.

If on the other hand, you *do[i/] already smoke, bartending could be a great secondary source of income. Plus, you can save a few bucks by getting your nicotine fix ambiently.

Use the search function on this page. There have been a few threads about this topic in the past.
If you have no knowledge and don’t feel like you can handle barbacking, by all means take a bartending course. The reason why barbacking is so important is that there are many places that have no barback, and it’s incumbent upon the bartender to carry out these duties, such as restocking, icing up the bins, washing glassware, keeping the bar clean. If you’ve never bartended, there are certain things that you simply won’t place as much importance on - the dirty work.

I bartended for many years and I only ever met one person who learned by going to a school. In my opinion, those schools can teach you how to make drinks. They cannot teach you how to bartend.

Most places are not going to hire someone to bartend unless you already know how to bartend. When I managed, I would have never dreamed of hiring someone who had never bartended before. Your best bet is to start as something else and watch, listen, and ask questions. I started as a cocktail waitress and watched the bartenders ALL the time. I watched how they mixed, I watched how they set up the glasses, I watched which ingredients went into what drinks, I watched the order they would make drinks in. I kept bugging the manager until finally they agreed to let me try some slow shifts. If you’re a guy you probably don’t want to be a cocktail waitress; the barback route might be the way to go, as long as you watch, listen, and ask questions. (Barbacks usually help set up, restock, and clean up the bar. It is definitely not the most fun job on the planet and it’s very tiring and dirty.)

Frankly, I’d rather be a server. Bartenders almost always work much longer shifts, they have much more set-up and clean-up, they are trapped in a little box forced to talk to people they might not like, they are in a constant cloud of smoke and they have to clean filthy disgusting ashtrays all the time because even smokers don’t want to look at a pile of butts even if they are the ones who made it. They are also much more liable for determining who is drunk and should be shut off and who isn’t, and I can tell you, it’s damn easy to fool a bartender that you’re not drunk when you really are. I did it hundreds of times. And you would not believe how filthy it is behind a bar at the end of a shift. Repulsively disgusting. And you get to clean it all up.

And bartenders don’t always make more money than servers. It depends on the place.

I do smoke, so no problem there.

Yeah, I know I’d probably get bigger tips if I were a chick, but my mammaries just aren’t up to it. I can talk shit with the best of them; small talk is one thing I do well.

What about knowing the recipes for various mixed drinks? I don’t plan on working in fancy bars or anything, but ya never know. What’s a bartender’s main duties? Filling the servers orders? Tending to those patrons sitting at the bar? I can’t think of what else I’ve seen bartenders do.

Location, Location, Location.

If you work in an exclusive Country Club where the clientele are rich, you need to be quiet and efficient.
If you work in a tourist trap, you need to be open and humorous, and full of information about the place.
If you work in a good resturant, you have to work well with the Wait Staff.

The best bartenders I have ever met were; capable of making people laugh a lot, capable of de-fusing a volitle situation, and occasionally capable of being very tough, (most bars do not have bouncers, that’s the bartenders job).

Okay, I got 2 replies in the time it took me to reply to the first two.

I know bartending can be dirty work. I was in the active military for 8 years and I’ve cleaned up some pretty disgusting places (like latrines). I can do that with no problem. I’m also a people person, but I can put on my ass hat if I need to with a drunk.

I guess I’m interested in what qualifications a manager would look for when hiring. I know previous experience would speak volumes in this type of job. missbunny states that working your way up the ladder (ie, barback/waitress first) is usually the way to go for those with no experience. How long does it take to learn the ropes?

I was a bartender in a hotel bar for many years. I liked it, and the money was pretty good. I would also bartend weddings and other functions that the hotel booked. I started out there as a cocktail waitress. I got my foot in the door that way. I put myself through college, and then stayed on for a few more years after that to supplement my crappy entry level salary. I actually DID go to bartending school, but it I think it was a waste of money. My ‘certificate in mixology’ didn’t help me get a job. They were more interested in personality. What I learned about making drinks I learned as I went along. Anyway, it was rare that I got an order for some obscure crazy fruity drink. Mostly it’s self-explanatory, i.e. scotch/rocks, etc. There are little memory tricks you can teach yourself to remember the more complicated ones.

The thing that eventually got on my nerves about it were the regulars…It was clear to me that they had major drinking problems and it was just so sad to watch it up close and personal. Bars can be pretty lonely places.

As far as what I did, it was a lot of listening to ‘those were the good old days stories’. Making sure people didn’t get too drunk, or at least appear too drunk. I hated it when I had to cut someone off, but it had to be done. If we were slow I would cut fruit, clean…watch tv with the customers. We served food, too, whcih was nice, as the bill would be more, meaning a bigger tip for me.

I think about going back to it to supplement my income now, but…I just don’t think I have the energy after working all day. If it’s a busy bar, it can be a lot of running around. Maybe I’ll just go back to banquet bartending once in a while. You can set your own schedule for that, and it’s mainly weekends.

The type of drinks you will need to know really depends on location. I bartended at a small neighborhood bar and the most common drinks ordered were beer and mixed drinks. Mixed drinks usually included easy stuff like Jack and Coke or 7 & 7, although I did get occasional orders for stuff like Tom Collins or Tequila Sunrise. To me, the mark of a really good bartender is how well they can make a Bloody Mary–not the easiest drink in the world, and everyone likes them different.

It’s absolutely essential that you know how to pour 1 oz. of liquor, quickly and easily, in order to make a cocktail. It takes some practice to get this down.

Besides filling drink orders, my responsibilites included re-stocking liquor cabinets, emptying ash trays, and washing glasses. I didn’t have to work my way up at all, given how small the place was.

And don’t assume you can’t make great tips as a guy…if you are willing to listen, smile, and crack jokes, the ladies will love you. Remembering the names and favorite drinks of your regulars really helps too.

Male bartenders can definitely make very good tips. In fact sometimes it works out better for them, because men often tip female bartenders based on how “friendly” they are while they tip male bartenders based on how good the service is. (Not everyone acts like this, of course.) If you’re female and you don’t want to be “friendly” with gross drooling half-drunk smoke-blowing blathering idiots, then they don’t tip you. If you don’t want to trade sexual innuendos with said people, they won’t tip you. Plus you have to deal with people referring to you as the “bar maid.” That’s got to be one of the most unflattering job names on earth.

I don’t have much to add, but will add this (as I’ve done in pretty much every thread where tending bar has come up): find out if your locale requires BASSET certification. I can’t ever remember what the acronym stands for, but basically it’s training to comply with local liquor ordinances - dram shop laws and such. You’ll learn some simple mixology too, but as others have said, it doesn’t require a sh’load of knowledge to pour shots of booze.

If you’re MY bartender, you only need to know how to uncork a bottle and make a Cuba Libra. You don’t even have to twist the top off a beer for me, my friend.

Having worked in restaurants and bars for almost three years now…

Generally, managers are looking for someone with a good personality, open, engaging, the kind of person people like to talk to. You have to be able to take alot of things with a smile. It’s good if you can remember the names, drinks, and interests of your regulars. And you have to be able to deal with people, the good and the bad, for hours on end.

Also, managers want someone consistent. Show up for your shifts, be in a good mood all the time, leave your emotions at the door.

You don’t have to go to bartending school. Personally, I don’t know any bartenders that have. A better idea would be to get a job as a server or cocktail waiter, and get used to the way people order things, the questions they ask, and the way you have to sweet talk them. Tell the bartenders you want to learn, and have them teach you the drinks. I have noticed that the recipe for certain drinks varies by region. It’s better to know what people around you like to drink, than it is to know the so called correct mixes.

Be warned though, bars and restaurants aren’t for everyone. Some people just can’t stand working in them, for no real reason. I simply cannot work retail. I just can’t do it. I did for a month, and I was miserable. But I love working in restaurants. Make sure you are one of those people.

I just read an interesting, quick read that might be helpful. The book is called “Behind Bars”. Non-fiction, written by a ten-year bartender in NYC, gives you insights, tips, what the job’s really like, and the main recipes/tools/items you need to be a bartender.

[nitpick]It’s actually Cuba Libre; and it is different than a rum and coke due to the garnish (same with a cape cod and a vodka cranberry).[/nitpick]