Bartending can be a fun, lucrative job for people who enjoy engaging with customers. Breaking into the field when you have no experience can be tough, though, because many bars want bartenders who’ve spent time on the job. All hope isn’t lost, though. If you build up your bartending knowledge, practice mixing drinks, and look for an entry-level position at a bar, you can set yourself up well for a bartending gig even if you’ve never done it professionally.
EditLearning about Bartending
- Purchase a bartending manual. A bartending manual is the easiest way to learn about the proper bar set up, management, and legal responsibilities. It covers all the basics you need to know to get started as a bartender, such as drink recipes and recommendations for wines, beers, and liquors.
- You can find bartending manuals at many book stores and online retailers.
- Attend a bartending school. If you learn better when someone teaches you directly, bartending school may be a better option than a manual. You’ll not only learn all of the bartending basics, but you’ll get to practice mixing and pouring drinks with a trained bartender too.
- At some bars, having attended a bartending school may make up for a lack of professional experience.
- Some bartending schools have job placement programs that can help you land a job after you complete your training.
- Keep in mind that bartending school can be fairly expensive, so you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth the investment.
- Spend time in a bar while sober. You can see a practical demonstration of bartending skills and knowledge by visiting some popular local bars. Observe the bartenders and see how they handle their job. Don’t order any alcohol yourself, though — you want to have a clear head so you can learn.
- You don’t want to sit in a bar without ordering anything, so look for an establishment that serves food.
- If the bartender seems friendly, you might explain that you’re interested in learning about bartending and see if they can offer any tips.
EditExpanding Your Bartending Knowledge
- Study bar lingo. There are certain terms used for ordering and mixing drinks that every bartender must know. For example, you should know that “on the rocks” means with ice and “neat” means without any water or ice.
- Familiarize yourself with bar equipment. To know how to mix and serve drinks, it’s important to learn about the tools and equipment used in a bar. Read up on tools such as cocktail shakers and jiggers, but also learn about how to use more advanced equipment, including blenders, mixers, and kegerators.
- Read up on common wines, beers, and spirits. Being a successful bartender means being able to recommend drinks and knowing how to mix up cocktails. You don’t need to know every wine, beer, or liquor in the world, but it’s important to know the common types so you can help serve customers what they want.
- The nine styles of wine that you should familiarize with are full-bodied red wines, medium-bodied red wines, light-bodied red wines, full-bodied white wines, light-bodied white wines, aromatic white wines, dessert and fortified wines, and champagne and sparkling wines.
- The beer styles that you should learn about include ales, lagers, stouts and porters, and malts.
- The essential liquors you should read up on are vodka, gin, tequila, light rum, dark or spiced rum, brandy, bourbon, Irish whiskey, Canadian whiskey, rye whiskey, and scotch.
EditPerfecting Your Bartending Skills
- Invest in bartending tools. You’ll want to get comfortable making and pouring drinks so it’s a good idea to purchase bartending tools that you can use to mix drinks. It’s not necessary to buy the most inexpensive tools, but a good basic set will allow you to practice effectively. Some tools that you should have include:
- Hawthorne strainer
- Mixing glass
- Cocktail strainer
- Reamer or juicer
- Ice tongs
- Practice making classic cocktails. Once you have some bartending tools, purchase some common liquors and mixers and practice making common cocktails. Taste them to ensure that you’ve made them correctly, and when you’re comfortable, invite friends and family offer to “order” drinks on the spot.
- Get customer service experience. Dealing with customers is an essential part of being a successful bartender. If you have customer service experience, you might be a more enticing bartending candidate than someone without it. You might look for a position at a restaurant, coffee shop, store, or anywhere that you can learn to interact with customers.
EditGetting a Bartending Job
- Look for an entry-level bar job. Most bars tend to promote bartenders from within. That means getting an entry-level position at a bar can be a great way to work your way up to bartending even without experience. Look for a position as a barback, which is a backup position to the bartenders.
- A barback will handle tasks such as cutting limes and other garnishes, refilling the ice, replacing empty bottles, and setting up the bar.
- If you can’t find a barback position, a server position in a bar can also be a good entry way into bartending.
- Make friends with the bar staff. Once you land an entry-level position at a bar, it’s a good idea to befriend the bartenders and bar manager. Ask if they need extra help and have friendly conversations with them when the bar isn’t busy. Developing positive relationships with your co-workers and supervisors can help when the time comes to ask for a promotion.
- Ask an experienced bartender to work with you. If there’s a particular bartender with experience that you click with, share your desire to advance to a bartending role. They may be willing to help share some of their bartending skills and tips that can help you advance at the bar.
- You’ll want to have any “tutoring” sessions during off hours, so you don’t have to worry about customers.
- Talk to your boss about a promotion. When you have some experience in an entry-level position and have developed good relationships with your co-workers, talk to your manager about your desire to bartend. Ask if you might be able to take on the occasional bartending shift to prove yourself and see where that takes you.
- You might talk to the other bartenders about the best way to approach your boss.
- Be persistent. Even if your manager tells you that there aren’t any bartending opening at the moment, follow up periodically to make sure they haven’t forgotten about you.
- Work as a bartender for a catering company. If you can’t find an entry-level job at a bar, consider applying for a job with a catering company. They often need bartenders to work events, and usually don’t require as much work experience as bars. It’s an ideal way to learn on the job and make yourself a more appealing candidate for actual bar work.
- If you’re not sure that you’re ready to bartend, catering companies often hire barbacks too.
- Make sure to stay up to date on the newest beers, wines, and cocktails so you’ll always be in touch with what customers want.