How do I get a bartender job?
November 14, 2005 11:14 AM   Subscribe

How do I get a bartender job?

I live in L.A. where bartending gigs are notoriously competitive and the turnover is low, but I really want to try my hand at it anyway. I worked in a bar for a couple years as a DJ and I think I have the right manner for it. I've been studying up on cocktails, and a bartender friend of mine is going to give me a crash course in mixology.

I've been scouring the web obsessively for information on how to break into the bartending world, and there seem to be two major schools of thought: 1) start as a barback, or 2) lie and conjure up a fake history of bar work. My bartender friends highly recommend the latter, but I'm nervous to go that route because I'm a terrible liar.

My question: if you are/were a bartender, how did you get your start?
posted by tangelo to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IANAB, but my wife and several friends are. your bartender friends are right. no one is going to be checking any of your references. ask your bartender pals if they will lie about having worked with you somewhere. make up the rest. there's no need to "work your way up".

i realize i'm not answering your final direct question, but hope my advice will help.
posted by poppo at 11:22 AM on November 14, 2005

Best answer: I've worked in bars in the past and almost all new staff hired knew someone already working at that particular bar/club/lounge. Once hired, you will need to work your way up to the best shifts and a decent number of hours. I think that your best bet is to ask your bartender friends if they know of any casual/part-time openings at their workplaces - you don't want to be seen as gunning for their jobs (and their tips), after all!
posted by lumiere at 11:30 AM on November 14, 2005

Find a reputable bartending school and take their course. You'll learn a lot and have solid credentials, and the odds are they'll have a job placement program already set up for their graduates.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:48 AM on November 14, 2005

Best answer: I'd recommend starting as a barback and working your way in that way. Its one thing to be able to mix a drink at home and its quite another to do that while keeping an eye out for underage drinkers, keeping tabs on who's too drunk, keeping an eye on the register and making sure you're making a decent drink.

Not that its impossible by any means but its a good idea to get your feet wet first and then get into it more if you find it suits you.

I miss bartending but not the getting out of work at 3 in the morning part.
posted by fenriq at 12:03 PM on November 14, 2005

Why do you want to be a bartender? Is it for the money or the girls?
posted by esch at 12:14 PM on November 14, 2005

Response by poster: Faint of Butt: That's interesting -- I've always been told that bartending schools are big scams and that they don't actually do much to set up graduates with jobs. Did you have good experience with a school, or might you know of a reputable one?

esch: I want to be a bartender for the money and the hours (I like working nights). I'm comfortable with the bar atmosphere and would prefer to interact with people in that context rather than at say, a corporate desk job.

I didn't consider becoming a bartender for the girls, but then again, I'm a straight girl with a boyfriend!
posted by tangelo at 2:32 PM on November 14, 2005

Find a reputable bartending school and take their course. You'll learn a lot and have solid credentials, and the odds are they'll have a job placement program already set up for their graduates.

This advice directly conflicts with the experiences of several friends of mine who are service industry workers, and the experiences of one person I knew who actually took a bartender course expecting to get a job. As far as I know, in a major metropolitan market, bartending courses aren't going to get you anywhere near a desirable bartending gig. FWIW, most of what my service friends have said is identical to the advice you've already received -- either barback and work your way up, or lie.
posted by fishfucker at 2:59 PM on November 14, 2005

there seem to be two major schools of thought...

Lie. Construct a history.

My question: if you are/were a bartender, how did you get your start?

Lied. Constructed a history.
posted by pompomtom at 3:14 PM on November 14, 2005

For the record, I started as a waiter in a restaurant but let them know that I wanted to bartend if it was possible. After putting in my time on the floor, I was promoted to bartending, trained in-house and then took my skills west when I moved out to California.

Lying for jobs is generally a bad way to start a business relationship.
posted by fenriq at 3:36 PM on November 14, 2005

A bartending course will get you catering gigs. Yes, that's experience. Unfortunately, if that's your only experience, it won't help you get a gig at a bar whatsoever.

Work your connections to get hired somwhere. Any and all connections. Bartending, if possible. Barbacking, if that's what you can get. Combinations of crap shifts for both are fine. Then lie. You can make it as true as possible, but you're going to have to convince someone that you're more experienced than you are to get a job.
posted by desuetude at 3:42 PM on November 14, 2005

Best answer: I agree that a bartending course will not get you a job in a bar. In fact, in most of the bars I worked in for over 10 years, all it would have gotten you was laughed at.

Find a bar you like the atmosphere in, and start chatting up the bartenders. Let them know you're interested in learning more about how bars work, and you'd be willing to barback for a while for free to see if you liked the work. Once you get to that point, work your ass off. Show enthusiasm, a cheerful disposition and interest in helping the bartenders and learning their craft.

At least, that worked for me. Good luck!
posted by trip and a half at 5:31 PM on November 14, 2005

Best answer: I got my long term bartending job by becoming a regular and telling the owners that I'd like a job. I picked up a few shifts here and there and eventually ended up working fulltime.

If you tip generously (25% at least) you'll definitely endear yourself to the current staff and they may lobby for you.

An advantage to this is that you'll be able to tell if it's a good place to work before you start there.
posted by donpardo at 6:18 PM on November 14, 2005

Best answer: People are knocking catering bartending, but I made as much last saturday as I do in a week at my full-time gig. Plus, at weddings and corporate parties you don't have to deal with as many assholes.

I wouldn't give up my catering gig for the world, and I'll never have to, because noone else wants them because they'd rather be working in "real" bars.
posted by esch at 8:18 PM on November 14, 2005

Best answer: Yeah, bartending schools are scams. Even if a degree from one would actually get you a job in the business (which it never will), it would still be a better use of your time to get experience first. My advice is to get into serving at a pretty big chain restaurant, like an Applebee's or some such. The advantage to these places is that they have great training programs in place, and they also have higher turnover than most places (since a lot of people work there to build a resume). That's how I got behind the bar- 6 months on the floor, and as soon as one of the bartenders walked off his shift I was scheduled for bar training. Why pay $300 for a course when all you have to do for server/bar training at a restaurant is work for minimum wage (or maybe less than) for a few days? Trust me, when the cash starts rolling in, it is very worth it.
posted by baphomet at 7:24 AM on November 15, 2005

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