What does it take to be a great bartender?
The U.S. is home to more than half a million bartenders, and job opportunities for these drink-slinging professionals are projected to increase 10 percent by 2024. If you think you’d like to join them – and earn stacks of cold, hard cash – consider what it takes to be a great in this rewarding and challenging career.
A great bartender learns quickly.
Most first-time bartenders learn their skills on the job. “I had been waitressing for a couple years at a local bar and restaurant,” says Jen Ferraro, a full-time bartender at the Riviera 31 luxury lounge in the Sofitel hotel in Los Angeles. “The day I turned 21, my employers asked me to step behind the bar. I was then trained by two old-school bartenders who had over 50 years of experience between them.”
The best bartenders never stop learning after their initial training, continuing to pick up new skills throughout their careers as well. From resurrecting old classics to mastering the newest trends, they steadily expand their arsenal of cocktails as well as learn to speak like experts about craft beer, cider, wine or other beverages popular with their patrons.
A great bartender keeps a clear head under pressure.
Bartending isn’t just mixing cocktails and pouring drinks for the patrons who sit down at your bar. During busy times, you may be taking orders from guests stacked three deep. If you work at the bar in a restaurant, you’ll be filling drink orders dropped off by the wait staff as well. And you have to do all this quickly, efficiently and accurately while keeping your area clean and orderly, washing glassware and equipment, restocking, and ensuring you aren’t serving minors or anyone overly intoxicated.
A great bartender is strong and doesn’t tire easily.
A half-barrel of beer can weigh 140 to 170 pounds. A case of liquor can weigh 40 pounds or more. Bartenders are regularly required to move this much weight around during a shift – often more than once – when restocking the bar and changing out tapped kegs. And don’t even think about sitting down on the job. Great bartenders are on their feet the entire time and may work until 2 a.m. or even later depending on their location.
A great bartender knows his or her regulars
These aren’t just lyrics from the Cheers theme song: people really do want to go “where everybody knows your name,” particularly the bartender. But don’t stop there. If you want to be truly great at your craft, it’s important to remember other pertinent facts about your regular patrons as well. Marla Vance, a full-time bartender at the VFW Pioneer Post in Garden City, Colorado, with 12 years of experience advises, “Everybody wants their drink already made when they come in the door.” Learn to match favorites with faces and you’ll be ahead of the game.
A great bartender is intuitive
Do you have a natural talent for sensing people’s moods? You can put it work as a great bartender. “Every day, bartenders are faced with humanity’s worst moments and the ones we celebrate,” says Ferraro. “A bartender needs to be a shoulder to cry on and the life of the party, often at the same time.”
In addition to instinctively knowing if a patron needs lighthearted conversation, a sympathetic ear or time alone, great bartenders can guide the indecisive towards beverage selections they will enjoy, tell when a guest is ready to pay the tab, and recognize when it’s time to cut someone off before they may know it themselves.
“I don’t like babysitting guests,” Ferraro adds. “Know your limits, and don’t forget your manners. We’re all here to have a good time, but don’t forget you’re in someone’s place of business.”
A great bartender is consistent.
“It’s hard to focus on what somebody is saying when I know I have 50 other things I need to be doing,” says Nicole Niffengeger, a part-time bartender at the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Sarasota, Florida. But that doesn’t stop her from providing the same excellent level of service during busy or slow shifts. From welcoming patrons and serving them promptly to mixing drinks the same way every time, great bartenders are committed to creating a consistently satisfying experience for every guest every time.
A great bartender is a genuine people person.
Even the most reclusive can fake sociability for a few hours at a time. Few, however, can do so convincingly for 20 to 40 hours a week, particularly when multi-tasking at a breakneck pace. Naturally gregarious individuals tend to make the best bartenders, and “True hospitality can’t be taught,” Ferraro explains. “You have to provide for others the experience you’d want yourself.”
“You should take your job seriously but have as much fun as you can,” Niffengeger adds. “Customers want to feel very relaxed around you and they want you to also entertain them in a way. So keep smiling!”
Vance agrees. “I love the fact that I get to socialize with people and not have a hangover afterwards. And you never know, you might have made someone happier today, even for a moment.”
Think you’re ready to become the world’s greatest bartender? Check out available jobs.