15 Things to Know Before Choosing a Bartending Career
For some people, bartending can be a terrific job and great fit, while for others, it can be a huge mistake. Before you choose bartending as your career path (or even as a job that you plan to do for a little while before moving on to something else), you'll want to take a few things into consideration. This list covers 15 aspects of the job that those who haven't tried it yet may not have thought about.
1. It's Actually Hard Work
Many people go into bartending thinking that it’s a really easy job and that they'll just be hanging out at the bar all day. While it’s true that it’s a social job with a lot of fun aspects, it’s also hard work, both mentally and physically. Seriously. You'll be on your feet all day, you'll be dealing with a lot of people who all want your attention, and you'll constantly be on the go. When bars get busy, bartending becomes stressful. The ability to multitask without forgetting things is a must. Make sure that this is something that you are cut out for before you start bartending.
2. You Have to Be Nice to People
You’re going to be spending your time with a lot of drunk people, and regardless of what you think of them, you'll have to be nice to them. Sure, there are bouncers to help you out when you get in trouble, but you’re really going to need to learn to put up with some not-so-fun stuff from people if you’re going to be good at bartending.
3. You Need to Be Able to Set Boundaries
Although you’re going to have to be nice to people, you'll also need to be careful not to be too nice. People frequently hit on bartenders, and getting romantically involved with customers is almost always a bad idea. If you’re not good at setting social boundaries, you’ll probably want to avoid this line of work.
4. You'll Make Good Money, but It Won't Be Steady
A good bartending gig can earn you a lot of money, but you’re by no means guaranteed a steady income. Much of a bartender's income comes from their tips, so the shifts you're given and the customers that happen to come in while you're working can greatly impact how much you actually earn. Weather, the changing of the seasons, and sheer luck make it difficult to rely on your paycheck.
5. You Usually Won't Get Benefits
Most bartending gigs don't offer health insurance or anything like that, so you’ll need to plan on being responsible with your money and getting your own insurance if you want to stick with bartending in the long run. If a large medical or dental expense comes up and you are without savings, you could find yourself in an unfortunate predicament.
6. The Job Comes With Risks
You can actually get into quite a bit of legal trouble as a bartender if you aren’t careful. If you serve too many drinks to someone who is already drunk and then they leave the bar, get in their car, and get into an accident, there’s a chance you'll find yourself in legal trouble. If you serve drinks to an underage individual even though their fake ID looks real to you, you may lose your job or even be prosecuted. While there may be some protections in place to safeguard you from this type of issue, you should definitely be aware that you’re taking on a lot of responsibility by becoming a bartender—and it could come back to haunt you.
7. You Don't Have to Bartend in a Bar
You can tend bar at fancy restaurants, golf clubs, dance clubs, dive bars, or anywhere else that serves alcohol. Think carefully about where to apply so you can be sure to pick a setting that suits you. Some bars are fairly mellow during the week but turn into full-blown dance clubs on the weekend, whereas restaurants are slightly more predictable. Be sure to spend time at any venue you're considering applying to get a feel for its traffic and clientele.
8. Your Sleep Schedule Might Change
This isn’t always true, but if you want to tend bar where the money is, then you’d better plan on being up all night and sleeping in all day. This isn't necessarily the case when it comes to country clubs and golf courses, but most traditional bars remain open until around two in the morning, which usually means you'll be there closing until at least three.
9. You’ll Be Around a Lot of Alcohol
If you have any sort of drinking problem or you tend to have trouble doing things in moderation, then working as a bartender could be a really high-risk job for you. I wouldn't recommend bartending to anyone with addiction issues or inconsistent self-control.
10. Your Friends Will Expect Free Drinks
Once you land a bartending gig, your friends are probably going to come visit you expecting free drinks or cheap drinks that are stronger than what you would normally serve. How you deal with this depends on you, the relationship you have with your friends, and the rules of the place you’re working at. In some cases, it can be okay, but it can also cause problems for some people both at work and in their friendships.
11. It's a Superficially Social Job
You’ll meet so many people both behind the bar and in front of it that you won’t know what to do with yourself. Chances are, however, that most of those friendships are going to remain superficial. It's unlikely that those people are going to be there when you really need someone. This can make certain people feel bad about the industry after a while.
12. You’re Expected to Know Every Drink That Exists
People will get irritated with you really quickly if you don’t know how to make the hottest new drink that everyone suddenly wants. It's crucial that you’ve got a good memory for a lot of cocktail recipes if you’re going to plan on being a good bartender. This isn't as big of a deal at certain dive bars where most patrons order fairly classic drinks, but at cocktail bars or bars in high-traffic areas, many patrons will want something new, special, obscure, or high-end.
13. You Can Always Challenge Yourself to Learn More
One of the good things about bartending is that you can always try to learn (or create) new drinks, work on better rapport with customers, and pick up neat new tricks like juggling wine bottles or setting shots on fire. Bartenders who keep pushing themselves tend to like their jobs more.
14. You Don’t Have to Do It Forever
It’s important to keep in mind that bartending is something that you can do for just a little while if you want to. It can be a great job, but for a lot of people, it’s not necessarily right as a career. Many people bartend while working toward a longer-term goal as well. That said, a lot of people like bartending so much that they choose to make a lifelong career out of it.
15. You Can Always Fall Back on It
The great thing about becoming a bartender is that you’ll always be able to fall back on the experience you've gained if you need to do so in the future. It’s usually good money, and there are usually bartending jobs available all over the world, so it’s a good skill to have even if you don’t do it full-time for long.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.