Like a bartender
June 25, 2008 8:31 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in doing some bartending this summer and fall. I worked in several restaurants before, but not as a bartender. What is it really like?

There's already a thread on how to get a job as a bartender, but it didn't touch on how it was like day-to-day.

I want to know what I'm getting myself into. If you are/were a bartender....

What did you like about it?

What did you hate about it?

What were your specific duties?

What were the most popular drinks you served?

I have evening it possible to get hired doing weekdays only?
posted by sixcolors to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm currently a bartender who works only weekdays, Monday through Friday until 5. I think that schedule is a little tough to come by in the bartending world though. My lunch business is comprised mostly of business people who are on their lunch break. I love working during the day because I don't have to work with anyone else behind the bar, it's just me and my own space. I also don't have to split my tips with anyone either. I come in an hour before we open and set everything up for the day like cutting fruit and making juices. It gets a little hectic during the lunch rush since I have to juggle a full bar, making sure food is timed and coming out properly and also making all the drinks for the servers.

One thing about my job that gets a little tedious is that I have to stock beer...and not just any beer. We have 250 different types of bottled beer and 45 on draft. So I'm constantly stocking and rearranging bottles when I'm not doing other bartender duties.

As far as jobs go, I really like it and I can't really complain much. I don't really "hate" anything about my job and of course there are things that annoy me from time to time, just like any job. You do a lot of talking and schmoozing with people and I genuinely enjoy talking with most of the people that come into my bar. Everyone has a story to tell and it's fun and interesting to learn about people. Of course, the money is good too. I say go for it. Being a bartender has definitely taught me skills I can apply to my life outside of work. I feel like I'm rambling here so I'll just leave it at that. If you have any more specific questions, I'll answer those too.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:10 PM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: It all kind of depends on where you live. I've bartended both in the US and Europe. Here's my perspective on bartending in the US:

I liked the money from bartending and the fact that the customers had to come to *me* to get their drinks. You have a little bit of leverage and customers tend to be nicer to bartenders because they want their drinks fast and correctly made. As the bartender, I usually got to pick the music and dress kind of outrageously if I felt like it. I had loyal regular customers who all came in to visit and sit at the bar and wanted to hear about my day.

I didn't like being trapped behind the bar and having to cut people off when they'd had too much to drink. You sometimes have to deal with homeless folks and underage kids. If you are a bartender and you overserve someone and they go off and kill someone in a drunk driving accident, you can be held partially responsible. I didn't like going home reeking of smoke. You might have to clean up vomit at some point...I never had to, but knew it was a possibility. As a woman, I sometimes had to deal with a variety of inappropriate commentary about my body from customers. Another good thing about being a bartender is if someone makes you mad, you don't have to serve them.

Bartending involves a lot of fruit cutting, restocking, inventorying, getting buckets of ice, constantly wiping down counters, washing glasses and cleaning stuff. You have to be quick on your feet, graceful and attentive. If you break something behind the bar, it can screw up your workflow big time if you are busy. Bartending is great if you want to be a writer or artist. I met so many interesting characters while working behind the bar.

Everybody wants to be a bartender and most restaurants/bars have a hierarchy of bussers, hosts and servers that want to be bartenders really bad. Everybody wants to work the weekends because those are busy nights and you can make a lot of money. You might have a better shot getting hired on for some day shifts somewhere, but the tips during the day are not very good because most people do their drinking after 5pm. If you bartend at a place that serves food, you will most likely be serving food to people who sit at the bar. Which can be good, because you can make more tips. During the days, bars tend to attract regular customers who may hang out nursing their beers/coffees and doing crossword puzzles and telling you their life stories.

So, in other words, picking up some day bartending shifts might be a good way to ease your way into being a bartender. Just go into it know you might spend most of your shift stocking bottles of beer, cleaning and chatting with old regulars and you'll be fine.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:19 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I worked in bars for almost ten years while I went to Uni.

What did you like about it?

Being around a lot of people - it was almost like going out a lot, without spending the money or waking with the headaches.

I liked the adrenaline rush. On a good night, it could feel like a really good, energetic workout, and when you work with a team and you're in a groove, it's kind of a thrill to move fluidly around others behind the bar, like a well-oiled machine.

Hospitality people are also a lot of fun, so you'll probably enjoy your co-workers.

I was single in those days too, so I liked flirting with boys over the bar sometimes too. I had a lot of fun and made a lot of friends.

What did you hate about it?

Dealing with jerks, watching people get plastered, the late nights, sore feet, and cleaning the bar afterwards. Back when I did it, I hated the smoke too, but around here (Sydney) that's no longer an issue. Sometimes I was the only woman on duty, so it was my job to throw a bucket of water over some vomit in the women's bathroom - I hope I never have to do that again.

I also really hated the grunt-work of it... all the fetching of large buckets of ice, carrying trays etc. Someone else might have enjoyed that, but not me.

I have to say I really didn't enjoy the indigent nature of the whole business either - my shifts could be cut at any time, and my boss didn't hesitate to call me to come into work with a moment's notice when I was just walking out the door to go to a family dinner or something.

What were your specific duties?

Setting up the bar with ice, glasses, and cutting lemons, serving drinks, collecting and washing glasses (in a dishwasher), cleaning up the bar. I also had money counting/til balancing responsibilities from time to time.
What were the most popular drinks you served?

I have evening it possible to get hired doing weekdays only?

Oh, I'm sure. A lot of people mix bar work with weekday study,a nd can't work during the week.
posted by lottie at 11:22 PM on June 25, 2008

I worked at a bar (or a club that had several different types of bars) for 4 years.

What did you like about it?

I liked the flexability and the social aspect of the job - working in a team of young people, it was quite vibrant, dynamic and involving. Also on busy nights there is an adrenaline rush to the hectic nature and it also (in my experience) has a singular focus.

What did you hate about it?

Social life with non bartenders took a huge hit. Due to the hours, you are working when most other people are partying. Watching people get trashed and doing very very very silly things when you are stone cold sober isn't much fun either. Having to stop them from doing things can be uncomfortable. Fights etc can be spontaneous and erupt around you with no warning.

What were your specific duties?

Serving drinks. Cleaning the bar/bottles. Stacking glasses, cleaning glasses, fetching glasses. Working formal functions from time to time. Balancing the till. One that a lot of people leave out is that you are responsible for refusing intoxicated people service (here at least). Quite a repsonsibility it is as well.

What were the most popular drinks you served?
Here, in Sydney Australia. VB or New, both cheap local brands of draught beer.
posted by Admira at 11:50 PM on June 25, 2008

I've done a bit of bar work along the way. It's much more enjoyable if you can mentally distance yourself from stressful situations. If there is a crowd five deep at the bar and you're out of glasses and someone says 'Peroni' but you heard 'Corona' and you're all out of vodka... it helps to be able to not get too stressed about it. Just do your work, deal with it all, and not let it get to you. There are moments when it will be very full on with lots of demands on you that are actually impossible to do in the time you've got. If you can deal with that... you're fine.

The good times are great. You're friends with people behind the bar, and some of the regulars. You're favourite song comes on and you dance behind the bar and have a soda fight with your mate. You have more than a few free drinks after work. You learn how to make a good cocktail. You get to meet a pretty wide range of people. And you have first-hand experience of a job that you'll probably come into contact with regularly for the rest of your life. Whenever you're a customer now, you'll know how to be a good one.
posted by twirlypen at 11:50 PM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: I bartended part-time for about 7 or 8 years, in both Ireland and the US.

I liked the other staffers (hospitality people tend to be either very fun or genuine nutcases and there is a whole subculture of bars and nights that they frequent); busy nights when you just get on a roll; and the rare witty, friendly punters who would chat away during slow shifts. Also the activity - I work in an office now and even with regular gym-going am nowhere near as fit as I was as a bartender.

I didn't like slow nights, Icelandic customers, or dealing with drunk DO-YOU-KNOW-WHO-I-AM vice presidents of sales at xmas parties (but at least you could laugh at the latter). I also didn't like some of the muckier jobs like sorting skips (which is possibly Ireland-specific).

Beyond pulling pints depending on the place I worked my duties ranged from bar "setup" stuff (stocking shelves, changing kegs, hauling ice, chopping fruit, etc) to stocktaking, serving food, separating recyclable from non-recyclable bottles in skips (a messy, nasty job), mopping floors, putting out sales crap (posters, beermats, etc) from breweries, balancing the takings, cleaning toilets, you name it.

Re weekdays, yes they're available depending on the place. You could also consider getting a hotel gig. Banqueting events happen every night and you can get your experience in a very training-focused environment. Bartending is a "cool job" that everyone thinks they can do, so it's often hard to get an in.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:42 AM on June 26, 2008

I used to bartend in college, in a pretty high-energy, albeit small, place in Birmingham. One of the most fun jobs I've ever had.

It was like being the host of my own party every night of the week, all the girls love you, all the guys love you, because you control the booze. You have the power to kick out people that are causing trouble, and it's a great way to meet LOTS of dating prospects.

The worst part is that you are on your feet all night, and you have to be able to handle belligerent drunks diplomatically. Plus bars tend to come and go, so it's not the most stable career you can have.

If I ever get fired from my current job, I would definintely consider going back to bartending (at least for a while).
posted by tadellin at 8:27 AM on June 26, 2008

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