How to Become a Bartender (Getting in is the Easy Part)

All of you who wish you could have my job, pay attention. I’m about to share the biggest secret of bartending (and piss off every bartending school in the country at the same time): how to get my job. Not mine, mind you. I like my job. But a job just like it. Or at least passingly similar — maybe it won’t be as much fun, and you won’t be able to drink on the job or tell your customers that you’ll feed them that bottle if they have a problem, and you might even have to wear a tie. But it’ll be close enough that you’ll understand why I kept telling you you didn’t really want my job.

Ready?

Show up and ask.

“Nuh unh. No way.”

Yup. That’s all there is to it. Maybe more than once, mind you — you think George Lucas sold Star Wars to the first people he pitched it to? You think Stephen King sold a first draft of Carrie to the first editor he met? You really believe that Heidi Fleiss didn’t have to show some serious stick-to-it-iveness before she was able to begin building her empire?

How I started was this: I applied for a job, waiting tables. And I expressed interest in bartending — because in the wonderful world of chain restaurants, bartending is moving up — and I stuck around until it was my turn in line. I got trained — as much as you can be trained to do things like “tapping a keg” and “popping a bottlecap” and “mixing a drink” — and that was that. I was a bartender.

Whee.

Guess what happened when I quit (like Kiss and Elton John and Mick Foley, I liked to say “retired”), but then decided that I liked the money enough to do it again a night or four a week? Hell, I even knew the right people — the barbacks, the bartenders, the owner — and they knew me, my skills, my history. Did they ask me to pick a weekend night and start whenever I was ready?

Well, actually, knowing the right people doesn’t hurt. Since I was already working forty hours a week at a day job, I did get to grab Friday and Saturday nights, the coveted high dollar nights at just about any bar. But I started right back at the beginning, proving myself and earning my place in line as a barback and door guy.

Glamorous? Nope. Fair? Maybe not. But it’s no different than getting anything else in life: figure out what you want, take the first step on the path to getting there, and be patient and determined to get through everything between you and your goal.

Waiting tables was not fun, any of the times I did it. It was, certainly, lucrative, and an easy job for me, but I hated it, particularly in the corporate environments that I found myself in all too often. But it was a step on the ladder, at the top of which was bartending.

I’ve known many people that have gone to bartending school, and I feel terrible for them (although Barnum was certainly correct about a fool and his money). Everything you need to know about bartending I could teach you in a single busy shift; the rest is repetition (there are a billion shot recipes in the world, and you only get those down by making them until you want to break the larynx of the next moron fucktard who thinks that Sex With an Alligator is a good shot), practice (the more you do it, the faster you get), and inborn ability (you’ve either got the personality to sling booze, or you don’t).

Getting anything good in life requires a lot of hard work for little reward 99% of the time. Standing in my boots on a Friday or Saturday night is as good or better than being a rock star, but no one is going to hand it to you. On the other hand, there’s nothing really mythical about the job or those of us that do it.Take that first step, and be ready for a fair number of unpleasant ones between you and that top shelf — no different really, than anything else you might choose to pursue in life.

Except here, being a little drunk is okay. Maybe even encouraged.

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One thought on “How to Become a Bartender (Getting in is the Easy Part)

  1. I agree with you that the only real way for bartending skills to stick are from practice on the job and more practice. I still think that going to school that @ least teaches the basics (especially for the timid) is a good step in the right direction. From there on you can find potential employers to practice the craft. Besides, in the end it’s not all about who you know and the amount of experience one may have. The real skill to learn is having personable relations with even the most discriminate of customers. That way your tip rate will be just as good for them as the regulars that show up to one’s place of work day in and day out.

    Have a great weekend and thanks for writing up the article. No way! 🙂

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