Should I bartend to supplement my income?
November 8, 2008 7:01 PM   Subscribe

I am self-employed and my work schedule has been erratic as of recently. I am looking to supplement my income, and I was thinking about bartending. Is this a viable option here in NYC for a guy who has to go to bartending school first? And furthermore, can anyone recommend a good bartending school in the area?
posted by helios410 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not in NYC but every real bartender I've known worked there way up from a busboy/girl to waiting to the bar. Most of them laugh at the bartending colleges. As far as they are concerned they are a fun weekend for non-professionals.
posted by Octoparrot at 8:10 PM on November 8, 2008

No, don't go to bartending school: it's useless, a total scam ($500 I'll never get back, but hey, I was 18 and didn't even bother showing up after the second day), and no restaurant manager will take you seriously if you mention your little "diploma".

All that matters, in my experience, is how attractive you are (being a girl was perfectly sufficient for me getting hired at restaurants--I started out as a hostess and was occasionally tending the bar before I quit due to the general misery of restaurant jobs), how sociable and smiling you are--again, factors that contribute to your attractiveness--and whether you are certified to serve liquor in your state right now.

Alcohol server training takes a few hours and should cost about $20. This place offers a NYSLA-approved online training course & exam for $25; make sure to attach a copy of your certification to your job applications. Of course, you will have much better luck if you ask your favorite local bartenders for a recommendation or a referral.
posted by halogen at 8:38 PM on November 8, 2008

no good bartender has been to 'bartending school.' FACT.

It's an honorable profession, even part-time, so work as a bar-back for a few months and take an honest interest in what you're doing. you'll be a bartender in no time. Anyone who wants money to 'teach you bartending' shouldn't be trusted.
posted by markovitch at 9:20 PM on November 8, 2008

Another "Bartending school!?!?" vote.

Here's how most bartenders I know got thier job, as well as four bar managers: Find a bar you like that you click with, befriend the staff and manager. When they have an opening they'll probably drag you in. They'll probably make you barback for a while (6 months) and work your way up from there.

Note that this can be accelerated if you meet one of the following:
a) You're super hot.
b) You have an awesome loyal posse that will follow you to a bar regularly.
c) You can really handle the shit on a crazy night.

Most bartenders only make decent money on Friday and Saturday. The senior staff gets those. When you work the Tuesday 1pm to 6pm shift you'll be lucky to make gas money.
posted by Ookseer at 11:24 PM on November 8, 2008

Bartending school = Biggest rip off evar.

You will learn nothing at bartending school that you couldn't pick up by spending a weekend reading Wikipedia and getting smashed.
posted by the latin mouse at 2:30 AM on November 9, 2008

For what it's worth, the word on the street in NYC is that the 'bartending schools' are packed with laid off or soon-to-be-laid-off wall streeters all thinking the same thing. I have never heard of 'bartending school' before last month, and I've heard in mentioned a dozen times in the last few weeks.

I've also known a lot of bartenders, and not one pro who ever went to school for it.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:34 AM on November 9, 2008

I've also never met a bartender who went to school for it, though if you're trying to get a job quickly and you have no experience mixing drinks or working in a bar then it might be worth it. Learning to mix drinks by osmosis while you work in a bar seems like it would take time. Instead of going to school you can just buy a $20 book and invest the $480 you'll be saving in a gym membership so that you can look super hot and get a job in a gay bar where you'll get mad tips.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:09 AM on November 9, 2008

I don't have the same low opinion as most upthread. My experience is in another state (with rather strict alcohol laws) from many years ago.

As far as *school* goes it can be pretty dumb, but still useful. If you've NEVER used a speed pour, changed a keg, or otherwise worked in a bar, you'll pick something up. The biggest benefit can be their "career services." Most of the guys who teach there do extensive freelance catering and most of the corporate bars and restaurants pick students up immediately. Of course, some quick recon will tell you if the schools you're considering offer the same type of "placement rates."

Plus, it can be fun.

More generally, bar tending can be fun and lucrative, but also a real pain in the ass. Making a lot of money usually means working your ass off late at night. I suppose there are places that cater to the happy hour crowd that would make some bank and get you home at a decent hour -- but they usually require late nights too. Bar tending is a decent second gig if you're schedule is truly flexible, but it definitely demands energy.

Jerks show up in every public service job. Except in a bar, they're drunk. Gets old quick. If you have low tolerance for rudeness then find something else.

Too, many service folks get sucked into the bar crowd (or were already there). Alcohol is an addictive drug: an occupational hazard for those working around it every day. I don't want to demonize it, but "sticking around after closing for a nightcap" can sometimes turn into "locking the doors and getting shit-faced until dawn." That's a good way to screw up a day gig.
posted by GPF at 7:43 AM on November 9, 2008

"Sticking around after closing for a nightcap" can sometimes turn into "locking the doors and getting shit-faced until dawn." That's a good way to screw up a day gig.


If you've NEVER used a speed pour, changed a keg, or otherwise worked in a bar, you'll pick something up.

True, but given the choice between learning it on the job (for which you get paid) and learning it at bartender school (for which you have to pay) I still think it's a no-brainer.
posted by the latin mouse at 10:05 AM on November 9, 2008

Not to burst your bubble, but if Alex Zola, who's been bartending in New York at least a decade, can't get a bartending gig there, and is running into crowds of 40–50 guys every time he applies for a bartending job, I'd say it's not a very good bet that you can, unless you're a very pretty hipster boy in your mid-twenties.
posted by limeonaire at 11:33 AM on November 9, 2008

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