Bar managers explain why they’ve hired new bartenders who had no experience in the past and how you can get hired and become a bartender using this counter-intuitive strategy.
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 four strategies we’re about to describe, it’s actually very likely that you will get hired with little to no experience.
Want to accelerate your bartending prowess? Learn more about the Nimble Bar School here.
The Four Strategies
Introducing our expert bar managers
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.”
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.”
As an ambitious youngster in the world of hospitality, Brant knew that he’d have to make some big 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%.”
Okay, so now that we know the importance of attitude, we asked these bar managers to help us put together actionable strategies and tactics to help you in your dream bartending job search.
Shawn, Simon, and Brant are going to let us in on how they would get a job if they were starting from scratch with no skills, knowledge, or experience.
Part I: The simple 10-Bar Hitlist Strategy
There’s a very simple reason why the 10 Bar Hitlist Strategy works: it’s the opposite of what 99.9% of people do.
Most people don’t get the bartending job they want because they rely on hope. They use hope as a strategy by popping into a bar or restaurant with a (usually lackluster) resume, strike up a conversation with the manager, and simply hope for the best.
Worse still, they often show up awkwardly at busy times during the day, and so their resume ends up in the trash.
But you’re reading this article, which means you’re a smart cookie. Use this strategy to differentiate yourself and get the bartending job you want.
Step 0: Polish your resume and make it professional.
This article isn’t about resume writing, and you probably wouldn’t read it if it were. But, if you want to work as a bartender, you need to give your resume a little shine. Here’s how…
Make an investment in your resume that will pay for itself in half a bartending shift.
If you absolutely can’t afford to spend any money on professional help (you’d better be living in a cardboard box and eating Cup O’ Noodles to convince me you can’t afford the investment), here are two simple ways you can improve your resume on your own:
- Ask three people you respect to give you objective feedback on your resume. Even better if they’re hospitality professionals.
- Use a resume template. There are tons out there.
Step 1: List your 10 dream bars you’d love to work at.
By simply writing down where you’d like to work, you’re giving yourself a clear framework that will help guide your efforts.
With this list you avoid aimlessly walking into any and every bar that you happen upon, and you give yourself a better chance of ending up with a job you’re really excited about.
The names of your 10 dream bars
Start by gathering the names of the 10 bars you would most like to work at.
This list might take some time to develop because it requires research. Try to visit the bars you think you’d want to work at. You could simply write down bars you’ve heard of, but you’ll get a much better idea of whether or not you’d want to work at any of them by going in person and experiencing it first hand.
And don’t stop at one bar. A key point of this strategy is that you have several bars you’re going to work on to increase your odds of getting a job. If you don’t know ten different bars, that’s ok. Do some searching (be it online, on foot, or in local magazines and guides) and ask everyone you can. You’ll get there.
When you visit, ask yourself some questions…
- Do the staff seem happy?
- Does it seem like there’s a good sense of ‘team’?
- Does the bar seem well-managed (i.e. is everything under control? Cool, calm, and collected?)
- Would I be proud to work here?
Take the time to imagine what it would be like to spend an entire 8-10 hour shift working at this bar, with these people.
Step 2: Research each bar in detail.
Research its history and what it’s trying to accomplish.
Simon says that when getting the bartending job you want, it’s important to leave preconceptions about how things are done at the door. That’s why we research.
Every manager and restaurant owner has a vision for the establishment. You can find out what they’re trying to do through visiting their website, observing the ambiance of the establishment, or simply striking up a conversation with the staff.
If you can show that you’ve taken the time to learn about an establishment (especially before speaking with the hiring bar manager), you’ll quickly set yourself apart from other candidates.
When you show a manager or owner that you know who they are, why they do what they do, and what makes them unique, you communicate that, for you, they are the only pebble on the beach (they’re the one and only bar you’re willing to work at).
This type of knowledge is also massively helpful because it shows you’re serious about adding value to their establishment and becoming part of something bigger than yourself. Most applicants sound like they’re just looking for a job, any job, and they don’t really care.
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.
Okay, so there are 4,000 spirits in their current collection. If you want to work here, now you know what else you need to study (spirits, bar lingo, and, of course, essential classic cocktails).
Want to fast-track your bartending knowledge? Learn more about the Nimble Bar School here.
Next I’d look to social media to find out what they’re up to currently. Do they host events? What’s the tone of their posts? Humorous? Ironic? Sarcastic? Do they feature seasonal items or specials? This will help you get acquainted with what they’re focusing on right now
As of the writing of this article, our target bar, Canon, recently posted about a Maker’s Mark collaboration:
Pretty cool! Here are some things you can say about this project to your point of contact that will help you set yourself apart in conversation.
- “Such a cool project! How do you think this whiskey contrasts with other MM products?”
- “That Maker’s Mark collaboration is awesome. How many bottles of that did you have made?”
- “Are those the different types of wood and char levels attached to the bottle? Wowie. That’s really smart.”
You don’t need to blow their mind with your knowledge, you’re simply expressing interest and knowledge, seeking common ground, and building rapport.
A quick note: When you compliment, make sure it’s authentic and sincere. Don’t say something is cool or awesome if you don’t believe it. People can tell.
Step 3: Research the key contacts at each bar.
The next step in the hitlist strategy is to write down the name of the primary point of contact for each of your ten bars.
If you find the names of additional points of contact in the process, just add them to additional rows to your spreadsheet. Sometimes you won’t get ahold of the primary contact, so it’s helpful to have another option.
The primary point of contact is whoever is responsible for hiring for the bar. A secondary point of contact is anyone else in the establishment who can say they know you (whether a bartender, server, host, or otherwise)….
Simon makes this suggestion for reaching the primary point of contact:
- 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.
Which brings us to…
Part 2: Rapport before resume.
I know, I know. We just told you earlier to work on your resume. And you need to. But your resume isn’t your strategy. Yes, it needs to look professional. A professional resume is a necessary formality, but a killer resume, by itself, won’t get you the bartending job.
Remember what Brant said, “Attitude is 100%!” Your resume can only communicate, like, 5% attitude.
When it comes to rapport, most people shoot themselves in the foot…
Most people approach their job search as a means to an end. They need the job, but the employer certainly doesn’t need them.
As a result, most people come across as needy. It’s like they’re saying “I’m helpless, and you have to help me.”
Humans are hard-wired to avoid neediness. You’ve felt this before: A needy friend or stranger seems nice but kind of creeps you out or turns you off. When you approach a potential employer with an air of desperation, they feel the same way.
Here are three beliefs I’ve adopted that have helped me when looking for jobs (it’s helped me in life in general too):
- “I’m the expert bartender, and I’m the prize.”
This gives me the confidence I need to approach any person and any situation. Even if I’m not at the expert level, I still say to myself, “This bar would be lucky to have me.”
- “I will be genuinely curious about the bar, its story, and its people.”
This shows humility and an eager willingness to find common ground with the bar and its people. This attitude attracts people to you. If you can demonstrate this in conversation with your point of contact, they will trust that you will do the same with your colleagues and guests.
- “I’m looking for this relationship to be a win-win, and I’m looking for a good fit. We’re both in this together.”
When you demonstrate through your words that you actually have the establishment’s best interests in mind, you develop trust, and they might give you the opportunity to prove yourself. Then you can demonstrate that through your actions, build more trust, and rock your dream job.
If you cultivate these beliefs and attitude, you can’t help but build rapport with people.
Step 4: Go to the first bar on your list and make some friends.
The more relationships you cultivate with members of the establishment, the stronger your rapport will be with each individual.
So before reaching out to a decision maker, go to the bar and strike up a conversation with your bartender or server. If you already know the bartender or server, make friends with another team member.
Before we dive into actionable steps you can take to develop rapport, here’s a rapport-building mindset that you will want to adopt:
“He/she who is of few needs, and is easy to serve, swiftly finds rapport.”
— The Buddha said something like this
Generally, the best way I’ve found to build rapport with a team member at a hospitality establishment is…
Show genuine appreciation for the product they present to you.
For example, if someone puts a cocktail in front of me, I’ll enthusiastically say “Ooo! Yummy!” (Might not be your style, and that’s okay–find what works for you).
This type of appreciation says, “I’m not a judgy asshole, and I appreciate what you do.”
Basically, people will feel safe around you, think you’re cool (or, if you’re like me, kind of a goof).
Once they’re warmed up to you and your presence…
2. Observe the bartender to see if they’re open to a conversation. See if you can follow their lead.
Don’t make any assumptions about your bartender. He or she might not want to talk. Despite the stereotype, not all bartenders are extroverted alphas who want to talk and talk and talk.
Also pay attention to how busy they are.
3. If you think the bartender is open to chatting, ask a question or two. If not, simply be well-mannered and tip well.
Again, I’d ease into the conversation with general, open-ended questions…
- You been bartending for long?
- Have you worked at other spots in town?
If you don’t think the bartender’s up for chatting, come back in a day or two and try again.
4. Ask them their name, and shake hands.
Asking for someone’s name shows confidence, and it shows you see them as more than a cog in a machine.
Do this as early as you can, because the earlier you do it, the more opportunities you’ll have to actually use their name.
That said, sometimes the most appropriate time might be just as you’re about to leave. Feel it out.
5. Actively listen to them. This is the most effective way to demonstrate that you’re genuine.
Be engaged — this means that your body language is at attention, it’s alert, and you’re ready to receive whatever they’re saying.
Make direct eye contact, and smile with your eyes to show that you’re genuine.
Nod at key moments when they’re trying to make a point. Be careful not to nod excessively, though, as this suggests over-eagerness (which is another form of neediness).
6. When the time is right, mention your interest in joining their team.
You don’t want to push yourself on the establishment, but you don’t want to wait too long before making your intentions clear, either. If the staff you know is warm to you, mention your interest.
A great way to seed your interest in a job is to ask a question like, “Working here is actually a dream of mine. How did you end up here? I’d love to be a part of what you’ve got going on.”
Finally, ask, “Is there a good person I could send my resume to? Printed or email?” Then, follow their advice! You’re getting closer to getting that job as a bartender at your dream bar!
7. Don’t leave yet!
Once you’ve got this info, don’t leave. If you leave now, it’ll feel like an insincere transaction to the person you’ve been speaking with. Keep building your relationship before you take off.
But when you do drop that resume to that hiring manager, you can say…
“[Bartender/server name] suggested I reach out to you about joining your team.”
Mention your connection that you made when you finally reach out to the hiring manager. The manager might talk to the bartender about you, and your new friend will have the chance to vouch for your coolness 😎.
If you’ve followed all these steps, you’ve just planted the seeds for a real relationship — not a mere transaction.
Part 3: Take a supporting role.
Since this is your dream bartending job we’re talking about here and not just any old job, you might have to start lower on the org chart than you prefer. If, in your conversations or interview, a staff member says you don’t have the qualifications they need, or they don’t have an opening at the level you want, offer to take a supporting role.
Imagine you’re the hiring manager…
You’re interviewing someone without much experience and they’re obviously eager to serve, but you don’t want to hand them the keys to the kingdom yet. Then they say, “I’d love to be a part of your establishment; is there anything more entry-level I can do so I can learn the ropes or demonstrate my ethic?”
Also, if you can show that you’re actively investing in your own education on your own time, that goes a long way. You don’t expect THEM to teach you everything. You have the drive and initiative to learn on your own. Good sign.
How do you feel about the potential hire now? You might feel flattered, or appreciative.
Begin actively investing in your bartending education, today. Become a high-performance bartender with the Nimble Bar School.
So now let’s get back to you, the job hunter. If you run into this lack-of-experience obstacle, offer to take a supporting role. Hey, you could even start out bussing tables for a while to build deeper relationships. When shifts get slow, you can pick up some skills behind the bar. Or offer to volunteer a few hours a week to learn new skill sets.
The power of offering to stage
Another approach you could take–before even mentioning an interest in a job–is requesting to do a stage shift. This is where you work for free as an intern or apprentice so that you can learn from them.
This request is best made of the primary point of contact by simply asking, “would it be possible to do a stage shift with you/your head bartender?”
This is a great low-barrier and low-commitment way for you to determine whether it’s a good fit, deepen your rapport, and show them your commitment.
Pro tip: If you have a great attitude in a stage shift, you’ve set a great foundation for being at the top of the list when there’s an opening at that establishment.
Even if they don’t accept your offer to stage, the mere willingness you show by making the offer is powerful. This kind of devotion and determination goes a long way.
Part 5: Followup followup followup followup
Ok. You’ve built some relationships at the first bar on your list. It’s up to you to keep yourself in their sphere of awareness.There’s a good chance that, if they don’t have a position the first day you show up, they’ll have one in the future. But if you never come back, they’ll forget about you and someone else will get that job you want and already put effort into.
Keep showing up. Get to know those same people you met the first time you walked into the bar, and then get to know them better. What do they like or dislike? What do they do outside of work? And don’t bring up your job search every single time; it gets annoying. When people feel like you’re interested in them for them, and not just what they have to offer you, they’ll reciprocate the friendship.
Now, do the same with the second bar on your list. And then the third.
There’s a reason we had you make a list of ten bars instead of just one. You’ve gotta cast a wide net. You might not have months to wait for a job to open up at the number one choice on your list, so you’d better have more than one option.
Thankfully, if you’ve followed our advice so far, you’ve got nine more choices! Start again with the second bar and follow the steps above. Then the third bar. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. (I don’t actually know why that’s a saying. Is it cause if you drop the basket all the eggs will be cracked?) Anyway, you get the idea.
If you follow these strategies for two bars instead of just one, you double your chances at getting a job as a bartender. Three bars, triple your chances. Four bars… you get the idea!
At the same time, you’re actually being intentional about your search. You’ve narrowed the list of dozens of bars in a city down to 10, which allows you to focus your efforts instead of ‘spraying and praying.’
Then, when you land your dream job, let us know!
Or reach out to us in the meantime to share your journey or ask for advice. We’re here to help.