Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Become a Bartender

In my many years behind the bar, one of the questions that I seemed to get asked quite often (especially from the younger crowd) is, "How do I become a bartender?"

Well, the most traditional ways are to either go to Bartender's School or to start off as a server and to work your way up. To tell you the truth, I do not recommend Bartending School at all. Not that they do not provide good knowledge, it's just that after you graduate and have spent upwards of $500 in most cases, you usually can only get a job as a server anyway. In that case, why spend the money? As a server you already have your foot in the door with management, you have an opportunity for "on-the-job-training", you can learn the specialty drink recipes of that particular establishment, and you can watch a more experienced bartender at work. If you want to attend Bartending School while you are serving, make sure your boss/ manager knows what you are doing and understands your intentions... To get behind his bar ASAP!

There are other reasons that I do not recommend Bartending Schools. I went to one and I enjoyed it,I had already been tending bar for a few years when I went but I learned how certain drinks got their name, a few recipes (probably about 50), and how to waste my time and money. I even taught at a bartending school for a while, that was very satisfying since I love to teach, but for as much as they charge they sure didn't pay well at all. The whole problem was... they didn't teach "How to become a bartender". They basically just teach the theory of mixology. You do not get at all prepared for the life of a bartender.

The life of a bartender is different than that of any other occupation out there. There are 2 quotes in the movie "Cocktail" that say it all: 1."There is no greater place to learn life's lessons than behind three feet of mahogany." and my favorite #2, "Bartenders are the aristocracy of the working class." Plus, what can I say, the money is great!

So I still haven't answered the question "How to become a bartender". My advice, first get yourself an up-to-date bartender's guide that has drink recipes included. You can find a couple of good ones on-line for $15-$50. Memorize the recipes, the type of drinks that they are, what kind of glass they go in, and their proper mixing methods. I recommend making flash cards with the name of the drink on one side, and all the other information listed on the other. There are two advantages to this, one is that you learn while you are writing, you learn as you quiz yourself, and you have the beginnings of an awesome drink Rolodex. That Rolodex will end up being your best friend in the future, trust me. I actually still use my Rolodex, every time I come across a new recipe I get it in the Rolodex ASAP. I have over 5,000 drinks in there now. Once you feel comfortable with your basic knowledge, start checking out the bars you think you might want to work at.

Now here comes the secret that I use, it works every time. Sit at the bar that you have chosen. Drink slow and drink mature. I recommend ordering a "dark beer" and maybe a high-dollar bourbon on the rocks (something mysterious). Watch everything that the bartender is doing, and give complimentary comments when applicable. Drink no more than 4 drinks total and stay for no longer than 2 hours. Ask the bartender when he/she works again, leave a huge tip (at least 30%) then quietly walk out. The next time he/she works, go in and order the same thing. It will probably be sitting there before you even sit down (good bartenders always remember a good tipper). This time strike up a conversation with him/her as you drink. Talk knowledgeably about different drink recipes, you can always open with, "So how do you make YOUR 'Sex on the Beach'?" Pretty much all bartenders make them different, then tell them your recipe that you have memorized. But basically just talk to them about the business. Once again, ask when they work again, tip really big,and skedaddle. Then on the third visit, when you are asked what you are having... "I'm actually just having a water tonight. I am interested in working here. Is there any way I can meet with your manager?" You don't even know it, but you have an in, by the time you actually meet with the manager/owner he already knows all he needs to know about you. The bartender has filled him in, and you are either hired or the next to be hired in that establishment. CONGRATULATIONS!

To learn more on how you can become a bartender check out "So Ya Wanna Be A Bartender" only available at To join my mailing list so that you can receive bar tips, bar jokes, and drink recipes all in your in-box sign up for my mailing list at

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