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Advice for becoming a bartender as soon as I legally can.
April 6, 2011 5:44 PM   Subscribe

Advice for becoming a bartender as soon as I legally can.

Hello, I'm a 19 year old college freshman majoring in computer science in Dallas, and I would like advice as to how to go about qualifying myself to be a bartender as soon as I am legally allowed to do so. While I'm crazy for beer (not that much premium/craft stuff tends to come my way), and tolerate white wine, I pretty much actively despise every other alcoholic drink I've ever tried, though I'm sure that could be adjusted if I ever really wanted. Anyway, I think bartending would be a good thing for me to get into because I imagine it would help me become a more interesting person, develop greater people skills and thus become more confident in myself, and the extra money would be great, especially if I were to ever lose my scholarship for whatever reason. I'll probably include more information as needed as the comments start rolling in, but does anybody have any pointers/suggestions so far? Can I get my bartending license as soon as I turn 21? What's actually involved in getting this job in the state of Texas? Advice for upping the ratio of beer to mixed cocktails I would be serving would be great, since I imagine it would be much easier to be good at the job if I actually had a passion for what I was serving. I've never been a waiter before or anything like that (I've actually never had a job aside from a paid internship I had at my university this past summer), so I dunno if it's anything like that but any kind of advice from anybody who's had this kind of a job before, even if it's not bartending, would be nice.
posted by bookman117 to Work & Money (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Get a job at a restaurant so you know how to work at such a place, work there for two years, tell them you want to bartend.
posted by thylacine at 6:01 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I pretty much actively despise every other alcoholic drink I've ever tried, though I'm sure that could be adjusted if I ever really wanted.

As a former bartender of 7 years, it would best help if you start this "adjustment process" sooner rather than later, or else you will be a failure as a bartender anywhere except maybe a dive bar.

You will be expected to be familiar (1st hand) with all the drinks on offer, enough to be able to describe & recommend them to customers. You will also have to taste cocktails to ensure they are mixed correctly, before serving them up. You'll also need to be able to tell if a wine is 'corked' or has gone bad.

A good bartender has an enjoyment for alcohol, to put it mildly.
posted by skauskas at 6:02 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


You are legally allowed to serve alcohol once you're 18. I think it's the same in most states.
posted by lesli212 at 6:05 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, no license is needed. Some places offer "certifications" but those aren't needed; they just teach you how to pour shots, memorize mix drinks, etc. Which you can learn at any restaurant/bar. Mixology schools say they'll help you get jobs but it's really up to your own hustle, whether you attend a formal school or just leverage your connections as thylacine suggests.
posted by lesli212 at 6:07 PM on April 6, 2011


You want to get a restaurant job -- ideally not in the kitchen; you want to bus tables or host, and then work your way up. There aren't 'bartending licenses.'

I never knew a run-of-the-mill student with a nice part-time bartending job. They exist, but. This is a little bit optimistic, I think. You would need exceptional experience and skill (possibly also: exceptional looks) to be attractive as a p/t bartender with limited availability. You really need the 'people skills' to come before the job.

The restaurant industry is very word-of-mouth-hire, promote-from-within. But it's not too hard to get a job bussing tables, and once you're doing that you hint at waiting tables or doing 'bar back' scut work and working your way up a bit.
posted by kmennie at 6:08 PM on April 6, 2011


Learn to pour a shot with colored water. Test pour shots so that you know what an ounce pours like. Learn it to the poin where you know whether the speed pour is pouring too fast or too slow. Always testpour your first shot of the night, a random shot in the middle of the night and the last shot before you call last call. The point being: precision will ensure a manager and an owner makes money with you behind a bar. Also, an owner worth their bar will periodically wheigh their bottles. They will know if you are can't hack it.

Also, no free pours for friends, don't bring in a bottle from outside, and never knowingly short change a customer. All things will cost your employer their profit and ou your job.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:09 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I pretty much actively despise every other alcoholic drink I've ever tried, though I'm sure that could be adjusted if I ever really wanted.

I don't drink at all and I have worked as a bartender at a high-profile bar. Not for 7 years, mind you. But I did a good job, made great money, tips, etc. and was always told by everyone I worked with and the bar's patrons that I did a great job. I learned how to mix the drinks right and learned how to describe and recommend them to customers just fine. I may not have been the greatest bartender in the world, but I was certainly good.

It's certainly unusual for a bartender not to have an enjoyment for alcohol. But it's not impossible to be a good bartender without enjoying the drinks. There is, I suppose, a zen master level of bartending that can be achieved only by following the path of the true bartender. And I suppose I never achieved that level of oneness with the bartending universe.

As for how to get the job, I was waiting tables in an upscale restaurant and a bartender friend of mine called one day to tell me that one of the bartenders at the bar/club he worked at had been in a car accident and hurt his back and asked if I could fill in in a pinch. I showed up and did a good job the first night and that was that. Nobody ever asked me if I liked the drinks or noticed that I didn't drink them. They had me fill in because they knew I could wait tables well and they kept me because I mixed the drinks right and kept people happy.
posted by The World Famous at 6:18 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


You don't have to be TABC certified in Texas, but many employers require it. (It gives the employer a certain degree of release of liability if the bartender does something illegal.) It's probably worth looking into - it's pretty cheap. Here's an online course (via random Google) for $25.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:22 PM on April 6, 2011


Also, no license is needed.

Not technically true. There's no such thing as a bartending license per se, but most states require you to register and do some bullshit abuse prevention training before you're allowed to serve booze. As indicated above, TABC is the agency that runs this, and most of the better restaurants and bars will require this of their servers. Many of them will pay for it too.
posted by valkyryn at 6:27 PM on April 6, 2011


Get good at standing for long periods of time.
posted by pompomtom at 6:44 PM on April 6, 2011


I'll echo the others: start working at a restaurant. I work for a teppanyaki chain, and all four of our current bartenders started out as busboys and dishwashers. Of course, it will probably be more money for you right now if you can start out as a server.
posted by Xere at 7:10 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you don't have any restaurant experience, I don't think most places would hire you as a bartender. A lot of places promote within the staff or hire experienced bartenders. The best thing for you to do is either host or wait tables and get at least a year of experience. You need a thick skin to work in the food service industry and an even thicker skin to work behind a bar. Also taking a responsible service of alcohol certification class is pretty much a no brainer.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:01 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't drink at all and I have worked as a bartender at a high-profile bar...I learned how to mix the drinks right and learned how to describe and recommend them to customers just fine.

I'm not sure if this was specifically a cocktail bar or not, but at any high profile bar I've ever encountered bartenders are strongly encouraged to taste (via suctioning a part of the drink with their finger over a straw, placing the straw in their mouth, then throwing it away) every single cocktail that goes out. Afterward the drink can be given a little extra this or that in order to make it properly balanced.

Cocktail making can be like cooking. Like a chef wouldn't send out food without tasting to see whether it had the right balance of flavors, nor would a serious cocktail maker.

However the OP is probably not looking for this level of advice yet. While I agree that working in a restaurant is one way to get your foot in the door, I also started working underage - at the crappiest bar on the crappiest street. And boy did I have fun. I had no idea what I was doing to start with and it was fine - the standards were low enough for me to be a slow learner! From there I just took a step up at each job change.
posted by skauskas at 1:35 AM on April 7, 2011


Bar tending paid for my tuition. Granted it was 20 years ago but I don't think that much has changed. In most large cities there are schools that will teach you how to be a bartender. I took a class that was full-time for one week. I took it in the summer right after my freshman year. It was very intensive, required a test to pass, but was a lot of fun. We used colored water for drinks.

Besides learning how to mix drinks we were also "Certified" meaning we knew how to handle drunks.

A lot of these schools also have another purpose, they are essentially employment agencies for the industry. The school can often place you at a restaurant or bar for your first job. Like anything else- more experience means more opportunities. But they can help with that first job and maybe more down the road.

I wouldn't worry too much about not liking drinks. I didn't touch brown liquor until a few years ago, but that never hurt me when I was working. You really are working, not drinking. Now after work is a different story....
posted by JohntheContrarian at 6:38 PM on April 7, 2011


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