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How to Become a Bartender in 2020 (even if you have no skills, knowledge, or experience)

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Become a Bartender

Learning how to become a bartender (even with no experience) isn’t as challenging as it sounds. In this guide, we’re breaking down our step-by-step process for becoming a bartender—backed by our own decades of experience and through interviews with 3 successful bar managers. We’re covering everything from building your bartending skills, to establishing the right relationships, how to get a bartending job and more.

If you read our recent bar terminology 101 blog, you know that we take our bar schooling seriously. But how does one actually get a job as a bartender?

Many would-be bartenders don’t go after their dream bartending job (or even any bartending job) because they don’t feel like they have the right experience. That’s the wrong reason to pass up your dream gig, and we spoke with 3 bar managers to show you that it IS possible to get a job as a bartender with few bartending skills or credentials.

In fact, if you apply the right mix of the strategies we’re about to describe, it’s actually very likely that you will get hired with little to no experience.

How to Become a Bartender in 9 Easy Steps (2020)

  1. Know What’s Expected of a Bartender
  2. Identify Your Bartending Goals
  3. Build Your Dream Bartending Job List
  4. Write a Confident Bartending Resume
  5. Start Building Rapport In Your Bartending Community
  6. Find A Bartending Mentor
  7. Do Smart Bartending Job Outreach
  8. Be Open To Working Your Way Up (in a Bartending Job)
  9. Develop These 3 Bartending Skills At Home (Soft and Hard Skills)

Alright, now let’s dive into my ultimate guide on how to become a bartender (even if you have no experience).

1. Know What’s Expected of a Bartender

While many bartenders live a charmed lifestyle of not waking up to an alarm clock, chatting up folks from all walks of life, and making great money — it’s important to weigh all aspects of the job.

To give you a sense of what’s expected of you as a bartender, here is what a typical bartending shift looks like (source: over a decade of bar shifts at many different bars):

  • Setup the bar → Juice citrus, get ice, setup your station with syrups, egg whites, and garnishes, ensure everything is adequately stocked
  • Pre-Service → Many bars and restaurants will host a ‘pre-service’ where front and back-of-house will come together and discuss features, evening objectives, and what’s out of stock
  • Service → During service you’ll be expected to greet guests warmly, pour water, take their food and drink orders, prepare drinks for the entire restaurant, have conversations with guests, work with your team, delegate tasks, take charge of the bar, sometimes cut people off, operate a point-of-sale system to input orders, run food.

Many of these tasks can be happening at the same time which means service can be intense at times.

  • After Service → Clean tools and mats, refrigerate perishable items, sweep and mop floor, clean bar surfaces thoroughly (lots of sticky stuff to get rid of), cash out, turn lights off, set alarm, lock up

Sometimes you’ll have support and bar-backs who can help you with this, but ultimately you’re accountable for YOUR bar.

Shifts can range from 7 hours to 11 hours.

2. Identify Your Bartending Goals

Having goals is important in any career, and learning how to become a bartender is no exception. 

While it might be tempting to ‘hit the pavement’ and start looking for bartending jobs right away, your journey to becoming a bartender will be more successful if you lay out some clear bartending goals for yourself.

By answering the following questions you’ll not only get clearer on your bartending goals, you’ll also be better prepared for the bartending interview process:

What kind of bar do you want to work at?

Many new bartenders don’t realize how many different types of bars there are to work at!

When considering what bar you’d like to work at, start by thinking about what you’re most interested in learning.

For example, if you want to learn about…

  • Beer →  microbrewery, beer bar, or pub
  • Wine → elevated chain restaurant, wine bar, wineries, fine dining
  • Cocktails → most bars, but particularly cocktail bars
  • Spirits → any cocktail bar, tasting bar, or whiskey bar

While every bar is going to have an element of all of these, being enthusiastic about a specific area is a desirable trait. Think about it, if you show up to a fine dining bar and you’re oozing with enthusiasm to learn about wine — that’s very promising to the employer!

What kind of hours are you looking for? 

One of the benefits of learning how to become a bartender is that the job is very flexible. 

One of the first questions you’ll be asked at the door is whether you’re looking for full-time or part-time. At this point, it’s always best to say that you’re flexible.

But if you want to work days, you’ll likely be looking at brunch spots, chain restaurants, and pubs.

If you want to work nights, you can work just about anywhere.

How much money do you want to make?

Bartending is a job with a wide range of income possibilities — from $40,000 per year full time to $150,000.00 per year full-time.

It generally depends on what metropolis you’re working in and what kind of bar.

That said, there’s little rhyme or reason to this! A bartender in Sequim, WA (population: 7,481) told me she makes $400-$600 a night in tips and a bartender in New York City told me he makes an average of $180.00 a night in tips.

But it’s a good idea for you to know how much you’d like to make overall. You’ll be able to find out early on how a bartending gig will fit into your financial plan.

For example, let’s say your goal is to make $80,000 per year.

After 3 full weeks on the job, you can determine the average tips you’re making per shift.

Let’s say it’s $180 and you’re working 4 nights per week at $15.00 per hour (8 hour shifts).

That’s $1,200 per week, or $57,600 per year. You’d need to figure out a way to add $22,400 per year to your income — which could be totally doable either by adding a shift per week elsewhere, improving the bar you’re at, or doing side work for your bar.

Do you want to work locally or are you willing to travel?

I put this down as a goal because many people mistakenly think that they have to physically be in the city where they want to work before they can secure a bartending job.

In 2015 when I was a bartender working in Victoria, BC, I knew I would be moving to Toronto, Canada to finish my masters degree.

I pinpointed 2 bars that I’d love to work at, started some conversations on Facebook messenger, and I had 2 jobs lined up by the time I landed in Toronto.

What level would you ultimately like to end up at?

Bar back? Bartender? Bar manager? GM? Owner? 

This is about having the end in mind — another desirable trait in a potential employee!

3. Build Your Dream Bartending Job List

Once you’re clear on your own personal bartending goals, the next step is to identify specific bars you would love to work at.

This is a really useful strategy because it’s the opposite of what 99% of would-be bartenders do.

Most bartenders take a spray-and-pray approach where they print off a bunch of resumes and kinda just go bar to bar, dropping them off.

But if you can be focused and have a few spots that you strategically choose you’d like to work at, your efforts will be much more effective.

I call this The 10 Bar Hitlist Strategy. Here’s a spreadsheet you can use to guide your efforts.

Get the same 10 Bar Hitlist Strategy spreadsheet that we give our students

4. Write a Confident Bartending Resume

I’m personally kind of lazy and have no desire to become an amazing resume writer, so my recommendation is to invest in a bit of professional help to make your resume stand out. 

The truth is that it’s kind of hard for us as individuals to notice the value in the experience and the work we’ve done — so it’s often best to seek the help of an objective party.

Go to UpWork or Fiverr and find a resume writer who can help you craft a resume that will pack a punch.

BTW, this is an investment that could pay for itself in half a bartending shift!

If you absolutely can’t afford to spend any money on professional help, here are two simple ways you can improve your resume on your own:

  1. Ask three people you respect to give you objective feedback on your resume. Even better if they’re hospitality professionals.
  2. Use a resume template. There are tons out there.

Here’s an example of a successful bartender resume that you can use as a model:

Bartending Resume Template
Simple. Scannable. One Page.

5. Start Building Rapport In Your Bartending Community

Once you’ve done your research, identified your bartending goals, know what kinds of bars you’d like to work at, and have a confident bartender resume / portfolio ready to go. Now it’s time to actually go check out those bars as a guest!

This is the one step that could make all the other steps easier or unnecessary. It can also be the most fun 🙂

But first, I’d do a bit of research on social media and find out as much as you can. This could possibly give you some interesting conversation starters.

For example…

Let’s say I wanted to work at Canon in Seattle (#6 on the World’s 50 Best Bars).

I would start by checking out their website to get an overall feel.

Image of a great bar's website. How to research becoming a bartender

Okay, so there are 4,000 spirits in their current collection. Cool!

Then look to their social media to see if they have anything cool going on.

I’d also go a step further and start engaging with them on social media. Comment on posts like this one — if nothing else, it’ll put you in the right frame of mind that you’re making some friends with these folks.

Once you’ve ponied up to the bar, here are some best practices for building rapport:

  • Be easy to serve → Don’t ask for a Ramos Gin Fizz while they’re clearly very busy
  • Show genuine appreciation for the product and service you’re receiving
  • Ask the bartender questions. Good conversation starters include:
    • What’s your name?
    • How long have you been here?
    • What are your favourite bars around town and why?
  • Be mindful of how busy they are
  • Tip well
  • Shake their hand

If you follow these steps, you will have planted the seeds for a real relationship – not a mere transaction.

6. Find A Bartending Mentor

As you’re building rapport on your journey to become a bartender, you’ll likely notice some bartenders who really stand out to you.

A simple way to take one of these relationships a bit deeper is by asking if there’s any way you could learn from them.

You could even offer to pay them for their time. A one-off session on how to mix drinks would not only flatter them, it’s also a way for you to learn, and get your foot in the door.

Plus there’s nothing that looks better to an employer than someone who’s willing to take charge of their own development and invest in themselves.

7. Do Smart Bartending Job Outreach

Now that you know a bit about the bars you’d like to work at the most, you can start reaching out to decision makers.

Before you go door-to-door, I’d start by just using the internet.

My favourite tools for this are…

  • LinkedIn → Folks who are serious about the work they do at bars will usually list their role and place of work
  • Lusha → A LinkedIn plugin that can sometimes source personal emails and phone numbers
  • Facebook Messenger → Good for casual, rapport-building, outreach

Here’s an example of a successful cold outreach message I sent over Facebook Messenger 6 years ago:

I would shorten this a lot today, but it still manages to do some things right…

  • I planted the seeds 6 MONTHS before moving. This gave me a ton of runway to follow up (without being annoying)…
  • It’s humble…
  • There are no expectations…
  • I callout the things I appreciate about them — my ‘why’ for wanting to work there…
  • I callout a personal experience…
  • It’s confident…

These are good best practices for any kind of cold outreach — whether via email, phone, or otherwise.

The best part? When I landed in Toronto, I had a gig ready for me. There was no interview — we just had a ‘chat’ to make sure I wasn’t a psychopath.

When trying to find the decision maker for the bar, the job titles you’re looking for, in order, are…

  1. Bar manager
  2. Beverage director
  3. Owner
  4. Partner

Finding the decision maker in-person

If you’re at the point where you’re going door-to-door totally cold, bar manager Simon Ogden offers this:

  • Ask for whoever does the hiring for the bar—not the day manager, not the bartender on shift, not the restaurant manager if the bar manager does the hiring, it’s “please may I speak to whomever is in charge of hiring for the bar.”
  • If the answer is “they’re not here right now,” the return is “no problem, when’s a good time to catch them, and by the way, what’s their name?”
  • Then come back until you can shake that particular hand.

8. Be Open To Working Your Way Up (in a Bartending Job)

When you’re only going after bars you’re really excited about working at, you probably won’t mind starting from the bottom!

Just be sure that at every step of the process of finding your dream bartending job, you mention that you’re willing to start at the bottom to learn how they do things and work your way up.

The power of offering to stage

I landed my first two pro bartending jobs by offering to ‘stage’. This is where you work for free to learn — with no expectation of future employment.

(It’s kind of similar to asking a bartender you admire if they’re willing to teach you in exchange for payment).

This is another strong indicator of attitude and that you’re willing to invest in your own development. You don’t expect anything to be spoon-fed to you.

9. Develop These 3 Bartending Skills At Home (Soft and Hard Skills)

Many people mistakenly think the only place they can develop as a bartender is behind a bar — not true!

I’d say the skill that are best learned at home are:

  1. Learning the 50 essential classic cocktails

You don’t need to know every drink that’s ever been made — if you can master these 50 essential classics, you’ll have everything you need.

Try them at your favourite bars and try making them at home. You’ll learn a lot about balance, texture, and dilution in a cocktail.

  1. Learn how to pour liquor

One of the tell-tale signs of a new bartender versus an experienced bartender is how they pour.

Here’s a video that should give you an idea of what I mean:

All you need to practice this skill at home are pour spouts and empty bottles.

  1. Learn about spirits

Spirits are the raw materials that bartenders use every night, but the sad truth is that most bartenders know very little about what spirits actually are!

Here’s a guide that will help you get started learning about spirits.

And here are some of the soft skills and hard skills that are extremely useful to have as a bartender…

Bartender Soft SkillsBartender Hard Skills
Communication SkillsCocktails
Work well in a teamPour Liquor
DelegationWine Knowledge
AssertivenessSpirit Knowledge
Put others at easeBeer Knowledge
Make guests feel welcomeFood Knowledge
Work well under pressureBasic Math

So there you have it, 9 steps on how to become a bartender in 2020.

  1. Know What’s Expected of a Bartender
  2. Identify Your Bartending Goals
  3. Build Your Dream Bartending Job List
  4. Write A Confident Bartending Resume
  5. Start Building Rapport In Your Bartending Community
  6. Find A Bartending Mentor
  7. Do Smart Bartending Job Outreach
  8. Be Open To Working Your Way Up (in a Bartending Job)
  9. Develop These 3 Bartending Skills At Home (Soft and Hard Skills)

Thanks to these expert bar managers for their guidance

Shawn Soole

Shawn Soole on how to become a bartender

Shawn Soole, a 20-year hospitality veteran and award-winning bartender, has managed bars from chain restaurants like Moxie’s to internationally-recognized craft cocktail bars. He’s even opened two of his own successful bars in Victoria, BC.

He currently heads the bar at Victoria, B.C.’s iconic Pagliacci’s Restaurant and is the primary consultant at his hospitality management company, Soole Hospitality Concepts.

Want to become a bartender?

Shawn says, “Personality and work ethic trump everything else.

Simon Ogden

Simon Ogden on how to become a bartender

Considered by many in the bartending community to be a sage wizard, there isn’t much that Simon Ogden hasn’t seen in his 30-year bartending and managing tenure.

From being shot at in early 90s nightclubs, to running community-building bartender bootcamps, Simon is an endless source of insight for the bartenders he mentors.

Want to become a bartender? Keep this piece of Simon Wisdom in your back pocket:

“My hiring philosophy could neatly be summed up by ‘hire attitude, train skill,’ really, and to be honest I’ve found bartenders who came in with deeply embedded and intractable opinions on the ‘right’ way to tend bar to be comparatively difficult to work with.”

 

Brant Porter

Bar manager Brant Porter on how to get a bartending job

As an ambitious youngster in the world of hospitality, Brant knew he’d have to take some leaps to get him closer to his goals.

He grew up in his family’s restaurant and already had a lot of the tools he needed to move up fast. But he still had to apply those tools. At age 24, he took on the role of bar manager at Victoria’s esteemed Veneto Cocktail Bar & Tapa Lounge.

Want to become a bartender?

Brant says, “making drinks is by far the easiest part of bartending, so attitude is 100%.

What’s your number one challenge learning how to become a bartender? Let me know in the comments below 👇

If you want to get in touch, hit me up on Facebook.

And lastly, if you got a ton of value from this post, help me impress my mom by sharing it.

Sincerely,

Kyle

Kyle Guilfoyle

Kyle Guilfoyle

Kyle is co-founder and CVO of the Nimble Bar Co, where he helps bars and bartenders create theater so that they can be more profitable and have more fun.

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