Advice for New Bartenders
by Darcy O'Neil on March 2011
The number one email question I get is "what should a rookie bartender know before they start their first shift?" or "what should a new bartender do to becomes successful?". So instead of answering each question independently I figured I could put together a good summary post that will get the basics out of the way. This is also a good post for anyone that frequents a bar because it will give you some insight into what goes on behind the mahogany, or laminated press board.
1. Be a professional! You may be going through university, with no intention of being a career bartender, but that doesn't mean you can be a slacker. You will be surprised at how many important people come through a bar. Many of these people own businesses, law firms, sports teams and anything else you can think of. If you are working your way through school, these people can be a significant asset to have when you graduate, they may even offer you a job. It's not what you know, but who you know. People also tip better when you treat them with dignity and respect.
2. Stand Your Ground. The Food & Beverage world is an odd work environment. Most of the time the owners completely ignore the labour laws and the rights of the workers. I can almost guarantee you'll get harassed at some point in time, especially if you are a girl. You’ll also work with a lot of people who will try to boss you around. So, be strong, hold your ground and don't let anyone push you around. Don’t be afraid to quit on the spot if you feel the work conditions aren’t to your liking. There are plenty of jobs and showing integrity and fortitude are characteristics that impress real employers. But be prepared to slog it out until you get a month or two of experience. Then start climbing the ladder to bigger and better things.
New Bartender First Shift Tips
1. Keep moving and don't stop. There is always something to do behind a bar. That rules always applies to the rookie, and the pro. If you can’t find anything to do, ask one of the seasoned bartenders. If you want to impress, ask for a couple of things to do, which will help you avoid pestering the bartenders all the time.
2. Stay out of the way. When the rush hits and the main bartenders get started, watch and learn, but don’t get in their way. Bartending with other people can be like a dance and everyone needs to know the steps. Since you are new, you don’t know the steps, which means you are going to be stepping on peoples feet and pissing them off. The best you can do, is to do what they tell you to do. Stock the bar, clean the bar, clear the bar.
3. Do not under any circumstances touch the tips. Most seasoned bartenders have had to deal with thieves behind the bar. Like I said this industry is interesting and unfortunately theft is rampant in this business. Since you are new, what you make in tips is at the courtesy of the experienced bartenders. It is their skills and experience that makes the customers happy and earns the tips. You will have to spend a little time earning their trust and respect before you will be trusted touching the money. Don’t take it personally.
4. Keep your conversations short. As a new bartender it is easy to get stuck in a conversation with a lonely bar patron. Then you will fall behind, which won't make anyone happy. If you need to break a conversation, walk backwards while talking to the patron until the conversation falls apart. Do what you have to do, then restart the conversation. Or be honest and say you have work to do and you'll be right back.
Consider bartending a “trade” like a welder or pipe fitter. You don’t just walk in and become great because you stand behind the wood. It takes time and skill to develop into a professional. As you get better you will start to get the feeling that you are “in control” and it no longer feels like you are riding a mechanical bull on the highest setting. Then you will get to a point where it seems you see everything, hear everything and know everything.
Only then does it become a true joy to bartend. Then you will start to “dance” with your co-workers and it will seems like you can read their mind and predict their moves before they make them. This is because you will have the knowledge and understanding of what needs to be done and you’ll be able to do it quickly and efficiently.
Bartending is more complicated then it looks, but real pro’s make it look easy.