Quitting the office to become a bartender - am I crazy?
December 28, 2012 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm a mid-20s secretary and I want to quit and become a waitress or bartender, a field in which I have no experience. Am I crazy? How can I make this happen?

I managed to get an office job straight out of college and have been working as an "administrative assistant" ever since. I have worked at several companies and am absolutely miserable doing office work and would like to try my hand at something else while I am young and directionless.

Unfortunately, I have virtually no marketable skills outside of an office environment, other than a couple years' experience in retail during college. I have a completely useless BA in history and no other training.

I miss working in a store where I could walk around and talk to people instead of sitting in a cubicle all day. I was thinking that being a waitress or bartender would be a similar job that would give me more money with tips. I am also a night person and would appreciate getting away from a 9-to-5 schedule.

Am I totally crazy for wanting to change careers like this? Am I too old now (24) to get into the field with no experience? I have been seriously considering bartending school, but I don't want to go if I'll have no chance at getting a job without any experience at my age. Any relevant experience or advice is welcome.

Bonus: what other jobs are accessible to a bored, quarter-life-crisis 20-something without many qualifications?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, bartending school is not so expensive that you'd be destitute even if you didn't get a job or didn't like the job you got after it.

So I say take bartending classes at night, see if you get placed somewhere (many bartending schools offer placement services) or can get hired. Even if you don't get a job immediately, there's usually part time bartender positions available to get your feet wet as you work your day job. And if it doesn't work out, at least you have an awesome skill that will be useful at parties.

Also, 24 is not too old to chase happiness and the only way to get experience to to just do it. But don't jump without a job to jump to. Good luck!
posted by inturnaround at 9:28 AM on December 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Not crazy at all.

Sign up with a temp agency or ten, and tell them you want to do bar work and waitressing nights and weekends. Obviously, don't take shifts that will stop you getting enough sleep to do your day job.
posted by tel3path at 9:29 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can get someone to hook you up with a serving or bartending (well, bar-backing first, then bartending once you're good at it) job, you can absolutely work at it. If you can't, it will be a lot harder. Most places you'd want to work at -- I assume you're not aching to work at Romano's Macaroni Grill -- hire people that people who work there already know. An employee saying "yeah, anon is cool for this" is worth more than a thousand Official Bartender Certifications.

However, least in the United States, bartending and waitressing are very, very rarely sustainable jobs. There are people who have made a life out of it -- I know several! -- but they are few and far between, and generally don't have health insurance of any kind.
posted by griphus at 9:30 AM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Leverage your retail experience (customer service, cash handling, working under pressure, etc) to get part-time work at a restaurant and see if you like it. Waitressing is demanding work. Especially as you get older. And as you age, you might want the security of the office job. On the other hand, you might love it- some people do. But try it out first.
posted by windykites at 9:37 AM on December 28, 2012

One thing you should think about doing is learning something new within your existing company, or transferring your admin skills to another job where your chances for growth are better.

By all means, explore serving or bartending, but do it part-time, in addition to your job. How much would it SUCK, if you discovered that not having benefits, a stable pay-check or set hours suddenly made you financiall unstable?

One thing I did was take a bunch of occupational tests. Turns out I'm interested and good at finance. Who knew? My company paid for my MBA and now I'm an analyst. Trust me, it was the furthest thing from my mind at the time.

See if your company offers this type of testing, or if you can get it at a local Community College. You might surprise yourself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:40 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

24 is not too old to switch to any career. You're really, really young and this is a great time to make a change if you've already figured out that what you're doing now isn't working for you.

I would suggest not quitting your job, but instead picking up a few hours doing something bartender or waitressy to make sure you enjoy it. One thing you might look into is working for a beer or liquor supplier or distributor. My company (an alcohol beverage wholesaler) employs young people part-time to promote products in bars and at special events (beer festivals, etc.) and also to pour wine & beer samples at places like specialty grocery stores. It would get you some exposure to the industry and the type of clientele you would be working with as a bartender, and requires no experience at all.
posted by something something at 9:42 AM on December 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Compare the percentage of office workers who are middle-aged women with the percentage of bartenders who are middle-aged women. This goes to the point on sustainability that griphus made.

The office job is going to offer more security and benefits. And, do not sell being a secretary short. As a lawyer, I can tell you that around here, a good secretary is prized above little else. Lawyers here will even brag to each other about their secretaries. If you can make yourself invaluable to someone, that is not only security but also something that I think should give great satisfaction.

For your bonus, if you miss working in retail, go back to retail. Maybe the security and benefits are good there, but I don't know. However, I think it is a mistake to think that since you liked working in retail, bartending would be a great fit. If you are determined to tend bar, do as others have said and do it on a part-time basis while still working your day job.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:44 AM on December 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

uh. don't do it.

People who are pro bartenders are not often happy. It's difficult to sustain and it sucks to give it up. Suddenly you're 35 and you don't want to give up the 300 bucks a night- but there isn't any health insurance or retirement, the hours are awful and people are shitty- plus moving FROM bartending to another job is goddamned hard.

I bartend on the weekends. It's great great great part time money. I have lots of friends who have been doing this for five, ten years and it's all the same- they are either opening up a bar for themselves, or much more often, are in a holding pattern where they go out drinking most nights that they aren't working and have zero future plans.
posted by Blisterlips at 9:44 AM on December 28, 2012 [17 favorites]

HOWEVER: This is how you do it in NYC. I don't know how you do it in other places, but I doubt it is all that different. you go out and make friends with bartenders. you hang out. you tell them you want to barback- and you want to train as a bartender.

you have to hang out a lot never get so bombed they need to call you a ride. Make yourself a regular that doesn't cause trouble and show them you can handle your liquor AND can talk to other regulars without sleeping with OR arguing with everyone in the bar.
posted by Blisterlips at 9:53 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Look it's not like once you do one job, all other options are closed to you. If you get tired of bartending, you can go back to being a secretary.
posted by tel3path at 10:29 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you go to bartending school, only go to one that offers placement. You'll work at a Chili's or something like that until you have the experience to get a job at a real bar (sometimes people bank at these places, but come on, it's a Chili's), but if a place doesn't already have an arrangement with a school like that, then they dont' give a shit about someone having gone to bartending school.
posted by cmoj at 10:35 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bartending school would be a waste of money and time, in my experience (waiting tables, bartending, and/or managing in five different restaurants).

Don't quit your job. If you really want to transition into food service (I would never go back, but I have several friends from one of my jobs that stayed on and make six figures managing the place), start part-time, and keep in mind that your first position with no experience will likely be as a host or busser, MAYBE an actual server, so you will need the money of your regular job. Those six figure friends of mine started as a host and hostess. If you find a good gig, THEN decide whether you want to get out of the office setting.

That said, I am still close friends with multiple people from all but one of the restaurants I worked in between 1993-1999 (age 19-24). I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, for so many reasons (learning customer service and appreciating what physical work is but also my old friends and just the special day-in, day-out commraderie that kind of work creates), I just also wouldn't go back to the instability, no benefits etc. part, either.
posted by Pax at 11:34 AM on December 28, 2012

I joined finally, after years of reading askmefi, to answer this question.
I'm a 28 year old bartender and I love it. On and off since i was 21, I've worked in bars between retail and a couple secretarial jobs. By far, I like bartending MUCH much better. It depends mostly on where you get hired, but little dive bar types are a great place to start if you ask me. Get in there, make friends with the bartenders, and let them know you're interested. Experience has less to do with it than personality and willingness to work. It doesn't have to be a lifetime career, but its great to broaden your horizons. The trick is to find a really good place to work. Most bars have a high turnover rate, so it shouldn't be a huge problem to get hired somewhere and any experience is good though not always neccesary. I didn't go to bartending school and it's never been a problem for me, although I don't know if that depends on where you are. I was lucky enough to find my job on craigslist and get hired in a bar that all of the other girls have been there for at least 5 years. The money is good enough that I only work 3 nights a week. I'm by no means wealthy, but i own my house and my bills are paid. It IS demanding but most nights, the money is well worth it. Of course the downsides are obvious, no benefits and odd hours, but if you can handle that, it's a great way to make money and meet new people. Try it and if you like it, great!
posted by hairspray and heartstrings at 11:35 AM on December 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

I say go for it. I started bartending while Iwas traveling the world at 28. The money is much better than secretarial work usually. I worked as a secretary after graduating with a communications degree and not being able to find any comms work. I think its a dead end. Usually the only way to move up is to become an executive assistant. Start bartending or waitressing, save up and don't apply to any more secretarial positions. Look into corporate communications and marketing if that interests you. Lots of room to move up if you get into the right company.
posted by Pademelon at 12:04 PM on December 28, 2012

Go for it. Life isn't about job security (who knows if your company is gonna go belly up tomorrow?) Life is about exploring the possibilities.

Well, don't take advice from me about financial security... I'm not gonna retire rich, but I'm content with my life. If you want to retire with money, then stick with the office work. If you want to explore all possibilities, and see if you like food service and/or bartending better, go for it.
posted by patheral at 1:28 PM on December 28, 2012

Nannying is often open to people like you, as is canvassing. Nannying has long hours but pays decently and can be rewarding if you like children. Downsides too, of course. Canvassing is more seasonal, but it's a brilliant job if you like being outdoors and talking to people. I miss it. Also consider working as a secretary or receptionist in another field, like law enforcement or somewhere else with evening hours and perhaps a different crowd.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:34 PM on December 28, 2012

Wine. Get into wine. With a basic understanding of wine and some hustle you could move over to sales with a couple if good connections. Lots of opportunity to talk with people, etc.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:41 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're not crazy.

One question to consider: In some places you may need bartending credentials. If you're going to invest in new education, is that the education you want to invest in.
posted by jander03 at 3:56 PM on December 28, 2012

Yeah, steer clear of bartending school. As far as I can gather (from my years upon years in food service and restaurant employment/management), no one takes that seriously or considers it a reason to hire you. Most likely, wherever you look for employment in this field, you're gonna have to start at the bottom.

You don't mention it in your question but are you male or female? I also have no idea where you live and I imagine it's much easier to get a bartending gig as a female in larger cities but in my experience, being a female makes what you're looking to do harder. I worked at a bar in the third largest city in my state (a college town) for years and no one ever even considered letting me tend bar. When I left I was the server manager and frequently saw dudes work the door for a few weeks, move up to bar back, and then get offered a bartending position within 6 months while I slogged away working 60 hour weeks and it was always out of my reach. Take that for what it's worth...

Honestly, I think FlamingBore's suggestion of wine is your best bet. It might not fit the bill perfectly for what you're seeking but getting into sales with a distributor is a great idea, too -- the income potential is much higher, one can actually make a career out of that, and you'd have benefits plus you'd still be dealing with food service. One of my good friends got on at a small winery and later moved to a larger winery in sales where she excelled. She loved that job and was able to support her family doing it...

Also, if you're looking to tend bar and then parlay that into an actual career I'd suggest picking one successful restaurant that's filling a niche in your area, and sticking with it. It might take years but in my experience, every restaurant I've ever worked at (quite a few, btw) was keen to hire for management positions from within. My son's father left college for food service and started out as a bar back, then got promoted to a bartender, then a kitchen manager, and now he's the GM of a successful restaurant. It's his career now and he makes damn good money. That's always an option if you're looking to stick with it.
posted by youandiandaflame at 4:14 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My daughter became a bartender while working as a server at Applebee's. She told the manager she was interested in learning how to mix drinks and started slowly learning her way in the restaurant. Now she works in an actual bar, but only because the former manager left to open the new bar and took my daughter with her.

That being said, my daughter makes stupid and insane amounts of cash money for a 22 year old, $200 on a slow night and $500 on a good one, while wearing jeans and a polo shirt. She's also very pretty and slightly hyper which makes her popular with men, who tip really well. She often says that she knows she has a limited shelf life for making this kind of money since the older staff make quite a bit less, and have some rough lives. She's in college and bar tending isn't her long term career, it's how she makes her car payment and buys Michael Kors purses.
posted by hollygoheavy at 3:41 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should make a change if you want a more social job, but I presume bartending and waiting tables probably do not offer good long-term career prospects unless you work at very high end establishments (so, have you considered other types of jobs instead? Seems that a college degree qualifies you for many additional opportunities, certainly more than is needed for waiting tables or mixing drinks). The age of 24 is not too late to make a change! But the sooner you make changes, the better, because once you approach 30, it's definitely harder. So do it now. And don't worry about not having skills. Network, talk, and charm your way into an opportunity and develop skills on the job.
posted by Dansaman at 9:58 PM on December 30, 2012

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