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15 Things to Know Before Choosing a Bartending Career

Kathryn has tended bar in a variety of venues and settings and knows all about the highs and lows of serving drinks professionally.

Like most careers, bartending has its ups and downs. Here's a look at 15 aspects of the job that a lot of people don't think about.

Like most careers, bartending has its ups and downs. Here's a look at 15 aspects of the job that a lot of people don't think about.

Is Bartending a Good Job?

For some people, bartending can be a terrific job and a 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.

Bar traffic isn't always steady, and an uncrowded bar can mean minimal tips.

Bar traffic isn't always steady, and an uncrowded bar can mean minimal tips.

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.

Just because you're a bartender doesn't mean you have to work at a typical bar. What about the bar cart at the zoo? The patio bar at the golf course? The bar on a restaurant's brunch patio?

Just because you're a bartender doesn't mean you have to work at a typical bar. What about the bar cart at the zoo? The patio bar at the golf course? The bar on a restaurant's brunch patio?

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 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.

Mixing up a rum and coke is fairly straightforward, but preparing an obscure craft cocktail takes memory, skill, and practice.

Mixing up a rum and coke is fairly straightforward, but preparing an obscure craft cocktail takes memory, skill, and practice.

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.


Sarah on July 09, 2016:

I been bartending now for 11 years. The past few years on my days off I can't be bothered with people or want to leave my home. It's getting really difficult to have a life out side of work. I was wondering if this is a common problem with us ?

poetryman6969 on June 09, 2015:

Voted up as an informative hub.

Not my cup of tea as a job. Whenever I hear stories of bartenders being held liable for drunk drivers, I tend to think it's not for me.

rosalesjohnjefferson on November 27, 2014:

Bartending can be a lot of things, for some people it’s a temporary job where they earn the income needed to survive, while others turn it into a solid career and earn quite a lot of money from it. Just like any other job however, bartending might come with its dull moments, but on the other hand it allows you to meet a plethora of new people, sometimes very influential, and through that you can make great connections. Bartenders can gain a good income that ranges from $10000 per year up to $20000. And this doesn’t even take the tips into account, which might double the revenues.

nesh on November 16, 2014:

so true.

robbie cifaldi on December 07, 2013:

ben working as a bartender for 3 years in italy since im amercian its eseyer to finde work plus the driking age is 16 18 its not that controled the laws arent that hard and i dont give free drinks nobody even friends the only bad part is little tips

KatNance on March 13, 2013:

great hub..good money .i ve always wanted to bartend...

giving free drinks to friends causes other risks

Sergio2013 on February 27, 2013:

Thanks SO MUCH Katherine; I needed to see the panorama !!

I was considering this field but after reading this article, I KNOW I do not want to do it.

I wish more articles were so thorough and candid.

Lovelovemeloveme from Cindee's Land on August 03, 2012:

well written, easy to read. good HUB!

Helena Ricketts from Indiana on April 24, 2012:

Very good and accurate info! I was a Bartender until I just got completely burned out on it. The money is nice, the hours can be brutal if you are working at a good club and the superficial friends is dead on. I've been out for a little over two years now and am happy with that decision but it was fun for the first few years.

Dr Pandula from Norway on April 20, 2012:

Really good hub! Not that I am interested in choosing bartending but because it gives an insight to an interesting career! Thanks for sharing!

Kapil Rana on March 31, 2012:

I can relate to this, I ran a busy banquet for a last 8 months in jwmarriott. Never a dull moment!really love to do bar there any job available in abroad...just lemme knw.....thanx....

princesswithapen on March 14, 2012:

Obligation of giving free drinks to friends and the other risks associated with bartending including brushes with the law, and with violence could be some of the obvious risks that aspiring bartenders may overlook. I'm sharing this post with the hope that it helps someone make a well informed career choice because it sheds light on some of the not-so-glamorous things associated with being a bartender, despite how fun a job it is perceived as.


Kimberly Quevedo from New Jersey on February 18, 2012:

Socially shared!

Kimberly Quevedo from New Jersey on February 18, 2012:

Awesome hub! I was a bartender/server for a while and I can definitely tell you it is hard work! Another thing for people who get into bar tending need to think about as well is there will always be those slow boring days or shifts they will have to deal with. It goes along with your tip that it is not always steady money. Thanks for sharing these tips! Voted up!

wonderingwoolley from Madison, WI on February 06, 2012:

Nice hub. Thanks for sharing, I learned a lot about bar tending that I might not otherwise.

chelseacharleston on November 28, 2011:

Great, comprehensive post! And SO true!

OkandStuff on November 01, 2011:

Need to touch on not agressively hitting on your clientele as well (no, I'm not talking about flirting for tips). I'm sure your job has it's "perks" and all, but. Yes, he's attractive but I'm not creating animosity in a place that I like to frequent. I'm smarter than the bartender. A female in this town recently experienced the same in another venue. In hindsight, he put a lot of work into this. I really, really just took it as a guy trying to make a living but ultimately.......I just go to the other bartender because of the tension it's caused. I'm not the only one either.

Heather Lea from Tennessee on September 14, 2011:

I absolutely adore this hub. I've been a bartender for 2 years now as a part time job, and you've touched base on so many aspects that go unnoticed.

The money is great, but it sometimes becomes difficult to walk that fine line between being a nice and fun bartender, and remembering it is a job that has rules and regulations. Even on my bad days I have to find a smile for my customers, stick to telling friends no, and go in ready to work my tail off.

Again, you wrote this wonderfully.

Venture Boyz from Floating in the clouds on September 02, 2011:

"It requires you to be nice to people." - I think a lot of people overlook this one! You can't just be nice and give drinks to the cute customers.. LOL.. Props to bar tenders they are almost like chemists with all of the mixing and formulations.

ShaneMorris from Springfield, MO on August 18, 2011:

I completely agree. I haven't done bartending myself, but being near downtown where I live I am in bars a lot - mostly working in bars with a kitchen or a restaurant with a bar. You've made many points that are all spot on, you really didn't miss anything. Excellent hub!

MarloByDesign from United States on July 27, 2011:

Rated your Hub INTERESTING. I especially like "but chances are that most of those friendships are going to remain superficial and those people aren’t going to be there when you really need someone." Great point!

Freegoldman from Newyork on July 20, 2011:

Great Hub.......Keep it up.

kaitiaki on May 19, 2011:

Funny how such an obscure subject matter can reach out to various populations (including me, I guess). You have touched people with this. My younger sister tells me that women are all after a male bartender (for what that's worth), and my younger brother tended bar in Corsica for a few summers, loving every minute. Good post, I enjoyed reading it!

BarsAndBartending on May 11, 2011:

Bartending is a fantastic career if you've got the travel bug. I spent years travelling around Germany, Ireland, Greece, Australia, England, and of course Canada bartending and they were the most exciting times. Working pubs, club, festivals, and private events. Currently bartending in Taipei, Taiwan. Bartending is not just for the west!

Weber Genesis E320 on April 22, 2011:

thanks for the great tips

Neon_Letters on March 13, 2011:

Your friend will expect free drinks.... that is absolutely true... and anoying even more when they have other friends you don´t know and they also expect at least one free drink.

lender3212000 from Beverly Hills, CA on November 10, 2010:

Bartending is a great way to make money but you do really have to put in some hard work and tough hours. I made my living that way for quite a few years when I was younger. I think a lot of people don't realize just how demanding it is, especially at a busy bar or restaurant. Great money but you have to have the right work ethic and people skills to really be good at it!

Boogr from Louisiana on October 28, 2010:

Great hub! And oh so true! Esp #10! I've lost many a friend because I wouldn't give them free drinks! Bartending is a GREAT source of income if you know what you're doing! It is very hard work, (depending on where you work), and it requires a lot of saying "no" with a smile on your face. If you are a people person, the job is great, but if you get claustrophobic easily, then this isn't the job for you!

Alternative Prime from > California on September 11, 2010:

Plus, as an extra added bonus and for your nightly entertainment pleasure you get to listen to all those old jokes your Uncle used to tell you like.. " What did the termite say when he walked into the bar? Is the barTENDER here "..Or.. " What did the Bartender say to the horse? Say fella why the long face? "..And the best part is, sometimes a patron might leave you one of these instead of a TIP!..

Abinash on September 08, 2010:

i like a bartender so it is nothings for me.

thank you

Tony from At the Gemba on August 09, 2010:

Some good points, I owned my own Bar on the coast whilst I also had a day job. Very hard work to do both but I loved the social side of the bar, I would love to do it again but it just did not make enough money..

Jeff Davis from California on July 29, 2010:

nice hub. i cant disagree with any of the points you've made.... especially the part about having it be something you can fall back on...ive definitely done that. keep up the well written and informative hubs.

Bartend823 on July 21, 2010:

Thanks for sharing-excellent hub! I really like it!

Jesusjohn78 from Ohio on January 26, 2010:

Awesome article!! I worked a college bar for a few years and this is spot on advice. I loved bar tending!

danjutsu from UK on March 09, 2009:

I can relate to this, I ran a busy pub for a few years in England. Never a dull moment!

bgpappa from Sacramento, California on March 09, 2009:

Good hub and good information. I bartened my way through undergraduate school. The night owl thing is really true. I still have trouble falling asleep and a decent hour because I got so use to getting off of work at 3 a.m.

Triplet Mom from West Coast on March 09, 2009:

KV - Great hub and oh so true! Another thing is having to deal with the people in the bank when you are depositing a bunch of crumbled up ones lol. I was often questioned about my occupation at the time!